St. Joseph


In the next three weeks, we will be exploring Blessed John Henry Newman’s masterpiece, The Dream of Gerontius. The poem in its entirety has been read and put into context previously on this site. The new reflections will be an expansion of these posts, not for the purpose of explicating the poem line by line but, instead, to give a deeper glimpse into a few points of this fascinating work of Newman who, at the end of his long and holy life, was thinking of and preparing for death. Because the “four last things” should be something all Christians contemplate, this magnificent poem of Newman may be studied and revisited throughout all stages of one’s spiritual growth.

The poem, divided into seven parts, follows an everyman character – (the word “Gerontius” come from the Greek for “old man”) – and relates the emotions and prayers of this dying man, with corresponding angelic responses. The work, written after Newman’s conversion from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism, explores his mature Catholic beliefs. Newman uses the death and judgment of Gerontius as a means to entice the reader into the contemplation of death and the necessary feeling of fear and unworthiness before God. “In effect, this poem is a sort of compendium of his [Newman’s] insights into the teaching of the Catholic Faith on life after death. It is also the expression of his personal experience of illness and his perception of the death of many loved ones” (Velez).

In Part One, we find that Gerontius isn’t confident of what will happen to him after he dies. He  acknowledges that he could be going to Hell. His friends pray to God, listing all the figures from the Bible who were provided with similar passages into Heaven. At the end of the first part, a priest intones the “Proficiscere.” “The first part of the poem, in fact, contains a lengthy and novel description of death from a psychological perspective. It also includes a consideration of the concept of time at the moment of death and in eternity.”(Velez)

Gerontius, afraid, calls on the Lord for help, even as he peers into the “blank abyss” which seems a “horror.” He is so afraid that he begs again for his friends to pray for him. In addition to the friends, he asks for the saints’ prayers as well. “The saints inspire and intercede for men and women who, without danger of idolatry, invoke their assistance. Gerontius’ friends, the souls in purgatory and the angels, all constitute the Church as a communion of faith and charity. For the author, now a Roman Catholic, the communion of saints is a natural and undisputed part of Christian life: the individual is alone before God and at the same he is accompanied by the community of the Church” (Velez). After many more intercessory prayers,  Gerontius continues to describe, in chilling words, his vision and fear, in dreamlike regularly metered verse. Gerontius finally commends himself to the Lord.

It is now time for the priest who comes to the door in silence with the Viaticum. He is led into the room and all genuflect or kneel in the presence of the sacrament. The priest then intones the “Proficiscere”, which is the first prayer in the Roman ritual for the dying and is a prayer of commendation for the departing soul. The earliest written text of this powerful prayer is included in two eighth-century sacramentaries.The priest, through the Proficiscere,  bids Gerontius to go forth to the inexpressible joys that await him.


Proficiscere, anima Christiana, de hoc mundo!

Go forth upon thy journey, Christian soul!

Go from this world! Go, in the Name of God

The Omnipotent Father, who created thee!

Go, in the Name of Jesus Christ, our Lord,

Son of the living God, who bled for thee!

Go, in the Name of the Holy Spirit, who

Hath been pour’d out on thee!


Could there be a better way for a Christian to begin the journey to meet Christ? We must pray for the gift of a holy death and final perseverance in the battles against the devil. As Catholics we must renew the good practice of invoking the angels and saints – especially St. Joseph, who is considered the patron for a holy death – asking for the grace to die after receiving the sacraments. As Newman preached: “What we see is but the outward shell of an eternal kingdom.” The visible world is the veil of the invisible. Blessed John Henry Newman, pray for us!



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About Cardinal John Henry Newman

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A Guide to John Henry Newman will interest educated readers and professors alike, and serve as a text for college seminars for the purpose of studying Newman.

Review by Catherine Maybanks
(Catholic Herald, April 1, 2023)

Review by Serenheed James
(Antiphon, April 2023)

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Fr Peter Conley takes us on an exciting journey into the spirituality and inner life of Saint John Henry Newman.

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Endorsement by Neyra Blanco (Amazon)
I bought this book for my son and he loved it, he wrote this review and urged my to submitted: “I think this book has a very beautiful message, because it shows how the young Newman was so determined to achieve his dream of becoming a priest, but even after his dream he continued to work in the church with passion until the day he died, it’s so admirable that even Newman so old and so weak still had that urge to continued his work of being a priest. And the book is well written with words not too complicated with very enjoyable texts and well illustrated pictures. I highly recommend this book for a 5th grader.  

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What is a Classical Liberal Arts Education? Why is it so important for the development of a person?

Fr. Juan R. Vélez answers these and more questions you might have about University Education in the 21st century. This book is aimed for parents, prospective University students, and educators. It will help you discern why adding Liberal Arts electives to your education will help it form it better, and help the student learn to reason, and not just learn.

He also explains how many Universities have changed the true meaning of Liberal Arts, and the subjects, and gives advise on how to choose College Campus, Subjects, and Teachers.

A wonderful book that every parent should also read way before your children are College bound. A Liberal Arts education can start earlier in life, even from home.

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Endorsement by Christopher Moellering (Goodreads, September 14, 2019)
In Passion for Truth Fr. Vélez gave us an outstanding biography of Cardinal Newman. In this work, he provides a concise overview of his thought and his devotion. This is a great work for someone who, perhaps hearing of Newman for the first time because of his beatification 13 October, 2019, wants to know more about this English saint.Vélez is a wonderful writer in his own right, and the frequent quotations from Newman round out the work nicely. I especially appreciated the frequent citing of Newman’s Meditations and Devotions, which show a different side of his spirituality than his more well-known works, Development of Christian Doctrine and the Grammar of Assent.

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Take Five: Meditations with John Henry Newman, endorsement by Illow M. Roque (Amazon, September 3, 2010)
“There is a time to put direct inquiry on hold and give ourselves to prayer and practical duties.” Sound advice from one of the earlier, thought-provoking reminders in this sparkling gem of a book: Take Five | Meditations with John Henry Newman, written by Mike Aquilina and Fr. Juan R. Vélez and published by Our Sunday Visitor. This particular paragraph, referenced above, which begins with a direct quote from soon-to-be canonized priest, cardinal and poet, John Henry Newman: “Study is good, but it gets us only so far . . .” is actually the 15th in a series of 76 concise, logically organized meditations moving from the elementary to the sublime. Each meditation–one per page–is built upon the great man’s writings and remarkably rich spirituality. Whether taken whole in one reading or in part page-by-page over a course of weeks and months, these wonderfully insightful meditations will open up, even to the busiest reader in the midst of the world, a unique pathway into prayer and contemplation. My advice to spiritual inquirers at all levels, from the novice to the spiritually adept, is to follow the authors’ recommendation to use this book as a guide for daily prayer and meditation. The structure of the book itself is ideal: first, the authors introduce us to Cardinal Newman, the man, where we are given the opportunity to get to know him through a brief sketch of his life and spirituality at the beginning of the book. This is something readers will likely find themselves referring to again and again, prompting many, I suspect, to even wider explorations of this most gifted Christian leader. Then comes the meditations, consisting of a short summary of Newman’s thoughts on subjects taken, as the authors explain, from various salient points for which Newman is justly remembered: The pursuit of objective religious truth; Teaching on the Virtues; Defense of the Catholic Church; A devout spiritual and moral life; and Generosity and loyalty in his friendships, which sets the topic and tone for each meditation to follow. Each meditation consists of an excerpt taken from Newman’s thirty-plus volumes of writings and diaries. Next comes three brief and extremely useful sections entitled: “Think About It,” which establishes a prayerfully resonant tone throughout the book; “Just Imagine,” which provides a vivid, prayerful experience of the Scriptures that tie in, and finally, “Remember,” a pithy summation which the authors suggest may be used as a daily aspiration. Each meditation is given its own page, which makes it ideal for daily reflection for readers on the go. This book is a must have for every serious Catholic who wants to take their faith to the next level, which is to respond appropriately to the universal call to holiness and seek interior union with God.
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