To truly live the Christian faith is not easy. It is marked, among many other things, by taking risks, by making what St. John Henry Newman calls a “venture.”  As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI says, we are not made for comfort; we are made for greatness. To enter glory, we must bear the cross.

To really imagine this truth, take a moment to entertain a thought experiment that may sound odd at first: imagine that the Christian faith is proven untrue, that Christ was not raised from the dead, that heaven is not real, that there is no salvation for our sins. If this was the case, would your life change significantly, or only superficially? Would it undermine the very fabric of your life, what you have wagered everything on, or would everything pretty much stay the same, perhaps except going to church?

Answering this question honestly is important because it reveals the extent to which we actually have faith. St. John Henry Newman’s sermon, “The Ventures of Faith,” describes faith as a “venture,” a risk, a sacrifice, something we stake everything on without the complete certainty of success, something we are not complacent about because losing it would cost us everything. A good venture requires significant sacrifice, and its failure would make our “present condition” worse off. Newman uses trading as an analogy:

A trader, who has embarked some property in a speculation which fails, not only loses his prospect of gain, but somewhat of his own, which he ventured with the hope of the gain. This is the question, What have we ventured? I really fear, when we come to examine, it will be found that there is nothing we resolve, nothing we do, nothing we do not do, nothing we avoid, nothing we choose, nothing we give up, nothing we pursue, which we should not resolve, and do, and not do, and avoid, and choose, and give up, and pursue, if Christ had not died, and heaven were not promised us. I really fear that most men called Christians, whatever they may profess, whatever they may think they feel, whatever warmth and illumination and love they may claim as their own, yet would go on almost as they do, neither much better nor much worse, if they believed Christianity to be a fable.

Newman’s serious “fear” is that most Christians would answer “no” to our thought experiment. They have staked nothing on it, made no venture, made no sacrifice. But Christ, in stirring words to his Apostles, reminds us that we must cultivate holy ambition for a “high and unearthly spirit,” to make a bold bid for the things of heaven, to stake everything on our faith, to make great sacrifice with Christ that we may join Him in his great glory. If we wish to “earn the Crown,” we must embrace “the duty of bearing the Cross.”

The Apostles James and John were filled with such holy, “noble ambition” when they asked Christ to place them beside his Throne in glory, and claimed that they were able to drink the same cup Christ drank (Matthew 20:22). St. Peter likewise, filled with zeal, wishes to follow Christ always, even to death (John 13:36). But Christ admonishes all three Apostles to be sure to count the cost. As Newman puts it, they don’t yet realize that they are asking for a Cross on the way to a Crown, that they must embrace a “venture for eternal life without absolute certainty of success.” They will need to actively choose Christ in the midst of adversity, and possibly fail.

Our duty as Christians is to risk “upon Christ’s word what we have for what we have not” in a “noble and generous way,” not “rashly or lightly.” We must lean and wait and trust upon Christ to fulfill his promise in all things, knowing that He knows fully the path that we will remain largely ignorant of. If we had complete knowledge or certainty, faith would not be a venture; indeed, faith would not be faith. Even so, Newman thinks there are five clear signs by which we can know that we are making the venture, that we do have an active, non-complacent faith that is making progress in sacrifice:

  1. Almsdeeds: using “unrighteous mammon” for the sake of “everlasting habitations,” using worldly wealth to perform corporal and spiritual works of mercy (Luke 16:9), investing “interest in the next world with that wealth which this world uses unrighteously.”
  2. Poverty: nobly “striving after perfection” by giving up wealth or status in order to be “nearer Christ,” to spend more time in prayer and praise.
  3. Work: nobly “striving after perfection” through laboring for the Kingdom with a “solitary heart” and rejecting “worldly comforts.”
  4. Penance: in a spirit of repentance, mortifying our flesh through spiritual and physical discipline, denying ourselves “innocent pleasures,” being subject to “public shame,” being severe upon our own flesh in fasting, physical labor, etc.
  5. Abandonment of our wills to the will of God: with Christ, sacrificing our own will by saying “Thy will be done” to the Father, and joyfully embracing what comes. 

All of these are not mere arbitrary standards, but flow out of the heart of a true disciple of Jesus Christ who endures sacrifice of earthly things for the sake of Heavenly reward (Matthew 19:29-30). They flow out of love, a true desire to obey God’s commandments. We are promised eternal life, which is not a mere quantity of an unending series of moments, but is a supernatural quality of life, a sharing in what St. Thomas Aquinas calls the “wholeness” of God in Christ, which requires of us much maturity, responsibility, and participation.

This Easter season is a perfect time to make new ventures, new bold experiments in the life of faith. Would our lives be any different without our faith? If not, we are perhaps in need of a reconversion, of ongoing reconversions, of reconciliation with the Holy Spirit who filled us at our Baptism and Confirmation, and longs to fill us again in the Confessional, where Christ told St. Faustina He is “hiding” behind the priest awaiting the return of his beloved children to forgive them, and in partaking of Christ’s true Body and true Blood in the Eucharist, where He hides beneath the appearance of bread and wine and longs to fill us with Himself. 

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There is a clear picture that emerges from these glimpses into life at The Oratory School: Education was in service of man, not the other way around. Play found its proper place, not only as a balance to rigorous academic study, but as an important part of human development.

O most Sacred, most loving Heart of Jesus, Thou art concealed in the Holy Eucharist, and Thou beatest for us still.

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What is the doctrine of the Trinity? The Athanasian Creed, in common use around the sixth century, formulates it this way: "We worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity, without either confusing the persons or dividing the substance; for the person of the Father is one, the Son's is another, the Holy Spirit's another; but the Godhead of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal."

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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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