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Lord, what do you want from me today?” is a natural question for any child of God. Most of us would like to hear a clear voice with specific instructions, but rarely, if ever, does He address us this way. Instead, God asks His children to spend time talking to HIm, listening to Him in silence, consulting the documents of the Church, speaking with a spiritual director or mentor, and of course reading Holy Scripture.

Despite God’s revelation to us through these many sources, it is normal to feel uneasy as we attempt to interpret them. The words of Scripture, for example, can at times be difficult to apply to our own lives. “How do those ancient passages from the Old Testament have anything to do with my conflict at work?” one might ask himself. In fact, some of these passages do not seem Christian at all – what are we to make of the Psalmist hating his enemies and asking God to kill them? Yet, St. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction.” St. John Henry Newman was also interested in these questions, and his sermon, “Jewish Zeal, a Pattern for Christians” teaches us how to understand and apply these difficult passages for our benefit.

A sound approach to Scripture, Newman says, is to look for the “the lesson to us as individuals; for surely it is with reference to our own duties as individuals [sic], that we should read every part of Scripture.” The Old Testament is full of stories and sayings a contemporary believer can apply to his life, but not without effort. Newman faces head on some difficult passages like the following:

  • “So perish all thine enemies, O Lord! But thy friends be like the sun as he rises in his might.” – Judges 5:31
  • “Thou shalt consume all the people which the Lord thy God shall deliver thee; thine eye shall have no pity upon them.” – Deut. 7:1-5
  • “O that thou wouldst slay the wicked, O God, and that men of blood would depart from me, men who maliciously defy thee, who lift themselves up against thee for evil! Do I not hate them that hate thee, O Lord? And do I not loathe them that rise up against thee? I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them my enemies.” – Psalm 19-22

As Christians, should we hate our enemies, and have no mercy on them? Newman says emphatically, “There can be no doubt it is not our duty to take the sword and kill the enemies of God as the Jews were told to do.” Rather, what we can draw like blood from these passages is the zeal, the passion, and the commitment of one totally surrendered to God.

Newman defines the zeal of our Jewish forefathers in the faith, “ … as essentially a duty of all God’s rational creatures, as prayer and praise, faith and submission; and, surely, if so, especially of sinners whom He has redeemed; that zeal consists in a strict attention to His commands—a scrupulousness, vigilance, heartiness, and punctuality, which bears with no reasoning or questioning about them—an intense thirst for the advancement of His glory—a shrinking from the pollution of sin and sinners—an indignation, nay impatience, at witnessing His honour insulted—a quickness of feeling when His name is mentioned, and a jealousy how it is mentioned—a fulness of purpose, an heroic determination to yield Him service at whatever sacrifice of personal feeling—an energetic resolve to push through all difficulties, were they as mountains, when His eye or hand but gives the sign—a carelessness of obloquy, or reproach, or persecution, a forgetfulness of friend and relative, nay, a hatred (so to say) of all that is naturally dear to us, when He says, ‘Follow me.’”

Passion for God and righteous anger for sin are marks of Christians as much as they were marks of believers before Christ. If we blush when we hear these passionate denunciations of sin and all God’s enemies, then we are more children of this age than children of our God. He is the one who gave us these words to form our attitudes and characters after His own character. If we are embarrassed by these passages, we are embarrassed by Christ, who overturned the tables of the moneychangers in zeal for His Father’s house.

Our zeal will not be expressed in the same way, and we must carefully avoid the danger of applying Scripture too literally, just as we avoid the danger of dismissing a passage because it is old. You should see by now how we have come full circle: God is not interested in mindless obedience. He created us free because only free creatures are capable of love. If we are ever tempted to believe God keeps us at a distance – guessing His will and agonizing over interpreting His words – let’s remember there is nothing cruel about it if we understand it correctly, if we read it in the context of the whole of Scripture, in particular with God’s condescension and love for mankind. The agony originates with us, not with Him. The anxiety lies with our desire to understand and control, or to do it right, or to have no regrets; but if we are concerned about these things, we have already lost our way. Love has no time for these things. That’s why St. Augustine wrote, “Love and do what you will.” Lovers of God can rest freely in the uncertainties that are part of this life, because they know God as their certainty in the midst of it.

Next week we will hear from the final part of Newman’s sermon, where he teaches us how to apply these Scriptures specifically, with love as our motivation. If something else is our motivation and leading us astray, we can share this with our Father right now, honestly and plainly. He already knows, and will guide our feet back onto the path.

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For forty days we are in ‘spiritual circuit training’, with the goal of joining St Peter on his morning run to Christ’s tomb.

But our Lord is clear: He said “to all” that “if any” man, and in doing so both offers Himself to every man and leaves no room for half-hearted disciples.

Newman encourages us to be more of what we are: courageous Christians who do all we can, to our utmost, for His Kingdom.

In this ingenious poem, “Candlemas,” Saint John Henry Newman weaves together the entire liturgical year using the theme of light as the thread

Newman approached his teaching from an obviously Christian anthropology. He saw every young person from the start as a being in the image of God.

Do we treat time, which is always slipping through our hands, as the precious resource it is?

Dominic abundantly shared with John Henry the gifts inspired by the Saints he admired, who are recorded in his spiritual journal.

The contemplation of Him, and nothing but it, is able fully to open and relieve the mind, to unlock, occupy, and fix our affections.

Our Books

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.
Fr. Peter Conley

For forty days we are in ‘spiritual circuit training’, with the goal of joining St Peter on his morning run to Christ’s tomb.

David Warren

But our Lord is clear: He said “to all” that “if any” man, and in doing so both offers Himself to every man and leaves no room for half-hearted disciples.

Robert Kirkendall

Newman encourages us to be more of what we are: courageous Christians who do all we can, to our utmost, for His Kingdom.

Prof. Barb H. Wyman

In this ingenious poem, “Candlemas,” Saint John Henry Newman weaves together the entire liturgical year using the theme of light as the thread

Scott Goins

Newman approached his teaching from an obviously Christian anthropology. He saw every young person from the start as a being in the image of God.

David Warren

Do we treat time, which is always slipping through our hands, as the precious resource it is?

Fr. Peter Conley

Dominic abundantly shared with John Henry the gifts inspired by the Saints he admired, who are recorded in his spiritual journal.

Robert Kirkendall

The contemplation of Him, and nothing but it, is able fully to open and relieve the mind, to unlock, occupy, and fix our affections.

Fr. Juan Velez

Merry Christmas to all! In the following video from Colombia, I send you a warm greetings for Christmas. May God richly bless you and your families, and may St. John Henry Newman continue to be a source of inspiration for