“Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” John 1. 47.

Using the well-known story of Nathanael, known also as Bartholomew, one of Christ’s first converts, St. John Henry Newman teaches us how we should live. Newman’s insights are particularly helpful in the current situation, since many of us are living lives of relative upheaval and unease, due to the ongoing coronavirus threat. The gospel story of Nathanael is short. Philip told Nathanael that he had found the Messiah; however, Nathanael was unsure and wanted to investigate for himself. And Philip told him to go and see, which he did, humbly desiring the truth. Seeing Jesus, Nathanael (Bartholomew) converted. In Newman’s words: 

“Now, from what occurred in this interview, we gain some insight into St. Bartholomew’s character. Our Lord said of him, ‘Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!’ and it appears . . . before Philip called him to come to Christ, he was engaged in meditation or prayer, in the privacy which a fig-tree’s shade afforded him. And this, it seems, was the life of one who was destined to act the busy part of an Apostle; quietness without, guilelessness within. This was the tranquil preparation for great dangers and sufferings! We see who make the most heroic Christians, and are the most honoured by Christ!”

And what are the attributes of heroic Christians, most honored by Christ? Newman muses that often, during the course of life, when someone first encounters the living Christ, inviting Him into his heart, the person is so moved that the natural response is to consider what grand things must be done in thanks for such a gift of grace. However, we learn from the story of Nathanael that “… we need not give up our usual manner of life, in order to serve God; that the most humble and quietest station is acceptable to Him, if improved duly, [gives us] means for maturing the highest Christian character, even that of an Apostle.” 

St. John Henry continues with the observation that many believe the contrary. That is, many believe that to get ahead in the world, to be a success, a person must be the opposite of Nathanael.  “Men of the world think an ignorance of its ways is a disadvantage or disgrace; as if it were somehow unmanly and weak to have abstained from all acquaintance with its impieties and lax practices.” 

These worldly men, according to Newman, feel that being overly religious makes one unfit for a successful life. He writes, “When they hear of any young person resolving on being consistently religious, or being strictly honest in trade, or observing a noble purity in language and demeanour, they smile and think it very well, but that it will and must wear off in time.” These men feel as though one should be ashamed to strive for innocence and purity of heart. However, this is the key to heroic Christianity. This guilelessness or innocence is the “surest mark of Christ’s elect.” Of what does Newman say this guilelessness consists?

“  . . . to mean what we say, to love without dissimulation, to think no evil, to bear no grudge, to be free from selfishness, to be innocent and straightforward . . .  take everything in good part and make the best of every one; thus [these persons] have always something to be pleased with, not seeing the bad, and keenly sensible of the good. And communicating their own happy peace to those around them, they really diminish the evils of life in society at large, while they escape from the knowledge of them themselves. Such men are cheerful and contented; for they desire but little, and take pleasure in the least matters, having no wish for riches and distinction.” 

How does this apply to us today? One must only look around to see the turmoil resulting from the fear of illness or death from the coronavirus.  Many find themselves at loose ends, unable to pass the time contentedly at home or to venture out with the necessary prudence. Newman writes, “Men of irreligious lives live in bondage and fear; even though they do not acknowledge it to themselves. Many a one, who would be ashamed to own it, is afraid of certain places or times, or of solitude, from a sort of instinct that he is no company for good spirits, and that devils may then assail him. But the guileless man has a simple boldness and a princely heart; he overcomes dangers which others shrink from, merely because they are no dangers to him, and thus he often gains even worldly advantages, by his straightforwardness . . .”  

Newman concludes that this is the other requisite besides guilelessness for a person living in the world, and this virtue of prudence must be joined to innocence. Prudence will allow us to meet the trials of life “with discretion, self-command, gravity, patience, perseverance in well-doing, as Bartholomew doubtless learned in due season under his Lord’s teaching; but innocence is the beginning. Let us then pray God to fulfil in us ‘all the good pleasure of His goodness, and the work of faith with power;’ that if it should please Him suddenly to bring us forward to great trials, as He did His Apostles, we may not be taken by surprise, but be found to have made a private or domestic life a preparation for [heaven].” 

Today, these great trials come in the form of many things, of illness, of loss of jobs, of financial hardship and insecurity, and even loss of family who are not able to visit because of the risk of infection. These words of St. John Henry Newman and the witness of Nathanael’s guilelessness with prudence can help us persevere, even as we stay home.


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Newman wrote, “I have been accustomed to consider the action of the creator on and in the created universe, as parallel in a certain sense to that of the soul upon the body.”

For a Christian, death is no longer defeat nor something to fear, rather it is the sign of Christ’s victory.

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We need to remember our mortality, so that we may be ready to meet Our Lord each and every day. Lent and lenten mortifications have a role in this preparation. We must die to self daily, so that we may be brought to the glory of His resurrection. 

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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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