Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman
Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman
Inward Witness to the Truth of the Gospel: Part 1

That it is possible to know the truth is great relief to the believer.  It was Jesus who said “The Truth shall set you free,” and we dearly want to be free.  How good it is to know that God is not hiding or holding back the truth of his Gospel.  But what remains is how we can know the truth.  There are some who are looking in all the wrong ways, and others who think they will find it when they need to, and still some who have given up hope and stopped looking.  In Cardinal John Henry Newman’s sermon, “Inward Witness to the Truth of the Gospel,” we learn how to know the truth and why some find it and others don’t.

Today, knowing is the work of one’s mind.  But in the Bible, and in cultures before and besides our own, knowing is an activity of one’s whole body and soul.  In Genesis 4:1, we read that “Adam knew Eve” in a description of the most intimate act of love between spouses.  In “knowing” each other, Adam and Eve “become one flesh.”  Knowing is personal, communal, and transformative.

We should not be surprised then when we come across the verses that inspire Newman’s sermon: “I have more understanding than my teachers, for Thy testimonies are my meditation; I understand more than the aged, for I keep Thy commandments” (Psalm 119:99-100).  According to Newman, the Psalmist is not boasting over his teachers, but rather praising the God who lets us know Him more deeply than facts and figures.  It is as if the Psalmist is saying that his teachers introduced him to truth, but more importantly;

“…they set me in the way to gain a knowledge of religious truth in another and higher manner. They not only taught me, but trained me; they were careful that I should not only know my duty, but do it. They obliged me to obey; they obliged me to begin a religions course of life, which (praised be God!) I have ever pursued; and this obedience to His commandments has brought me to a clearer knowledge of His truth…” Newman writes.  

The Psalmist is rejoicing in his discovery that he can know truth in a more powerful way than studying theology or listening to wise teachers share their wisdom.  He says that one knows the truth by the act of living it; more precisely, by the act of obeying the commandments of God.  For what are the commandments of God if they are not prescriptions of how to live in reality, that is how to be fully human?

What is so powerful about this fact is that one need not be a theologian to witness to the truth of the Gospel.  Blessed Newman says that though it is a good thing for us to accept the authority of wise teachers, “the most unlearned Christian may have a very real and substantial argument, an intimate token, of the truth of the Gospel, quite independent of the authority of his parents and teachers;…”

Newman explains, “…by trying we make proof; by doing, we come to know.”  But how does doing cause this authoritative knowing?  He says there are several ways, the first being the character and state of mind of someone who approaches Scripture: 

“Consider the Bible tells us to be meek, humble, single-hearted, and teachable. Now, it is plain that humility and teachableness are qualities of mind necessary for arriving at the truth in any subject, and in religious matters as well as others. By obeying Scripture, then, in practising humility and teachableness, it is evident we are at least in the way to arrive at the knowledge of God. On the other hand, impatient, proud, self-confident, obstinate men, are generally wrong in the opinions they form of persons and things. Prejudice and self-conceit blind the eyes and mislead the judgment, whatever be the subject inquired into.”

This is obvious, Blessed Newman says, from our experience with others.  How many young people, for example, end up in the wrong crowd and make poor decisions?  How many of us fail to learn from our mistakes because we fail to see that we are responsible for them?  Newman says when he sees a “person hasty and violent, harsh and high-minded, careless of what others feel, and disdainful of what they think” trying to seek religious truth, “I am sure beforehand he cannot go right—he will not be led into all the truth—it is contrary to the nature of things and the experience of the world, that he should find what he is seeking.”  It is the fear of the Lord that gives one the patience to wait, to listen, and to see; and without these characteristics, one will not apprehend the truth.

One’s approach to truth has to be honest and open.  This approach opens the door.  But walking through that door in acts of obedience serves to transform one in such a way as to increase the clarity with which one sees and the certainty with which one believes.  Next week, we will listen to Newman explain this experience.  For now, we ask ourselves if we are open.  How do we approach knowledge?  Are we the kind of people who listen carefully and intently?  Do we seek to know the truth, even if it is uncomfortable?

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The true light of Christ’s divinity was made visible to the Apostles at the Transfiguration.

We call His presence in this Holy Sacrament a spiritual presence, not as if ‘spiritual’ were but a name or mode of speech.

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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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