St. John Henry Newman’s chair features his personal coat of arms and motto, “Cor ad cor loquitur,” which translates to “heart speaks unto heart.” (Courtesy of the Birmingham Oratory)

 

In Heretics, G.K. Chesterton writes, “we admire things with reasons, but love them without reasons.” Love is utterly gratuitous; true love is not conditioned by merits, recompense or worthiness. However admirable a thing, one may still not love it. And much love may be lavished on things that are wholly unadmirable. Love alone will remain in heaven; faith will give way to sight, hope will be fulfilled, and the God who is Love will abide with us in perfect peace. 

And so we should dwell often upon love, “the one thing needful,” as St. John Henry Newman does in a sermon he wrote preparing his hearers for Lent. Although the penitential season of Advent has just ended, Newman’s exhortations are pertinent as we head into a New Year and resolve, with rekindled zeal, not to just make grandiose and novel promises, but to infuse what we already do with a true spirit of love, to examine ourselves to find, beneath all apparent surfaces and pious practices, where our love has perhaps grown cold. 

St. Paul’s life and his famous dictum from 1 Corinthians 13 are Newman’s touchstones for reflection: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” Many of us who earnestly pursue faith in God will come to a point where we are disenchanted with our own feebleness, frustrated we can’t offer more to God, discouraged by our lack of zeal and fortitude, disquieted by our frailty and fickleness, aggravated to discover time and again our “reason tending heavenwards, [our] heart earthwards.” 

These experiences may be evidence of relying too much on our own selves for virtue, spirituality, and Christian living than on God Himself. To save us from this trap, Newman would remind us: love alone fulfills the Law (Romans 13:10).

St. Paul is known for his heroic endurance of persecutions, beatings, imprisonments, ship-wreck, and sleeplessness on behalf of Christ and His Kingdom. But it is not just through great sacrifices that we fulfill the law. As the greatest of missionaries, St. Paul was replete with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, pious and courageous with great depth of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. Yet it is not just missionary work and spiritual gifts that fulfill the law. St. Paul had a faith no doubt much larger than a mustard seed, admirable for his utter trust in the ways of heaven, his “prompt, decisive, simple assent to God’s word,” holding fast to the unseen in spite of mere appearances. But it is not just great faith that fulfills the law. 

St. Paul gave up everything, all his possessions, even his very life, and even sanctified his humble, everyday work as a tent-maker for the sake of the Gospel. Even so, it is not just poverty, martyrdom, or humble everyday righteous living that fulfill the law. One may give up everything, die a martyr, and perfectly fulfill every duty, but still be “deficient in love.” These external manifestations of faith, service, and virtue are great, admirable, and to be emulated. But they are in themselves not the “one thing needful.” 

Love, the one thing needful, must infuse all that we are lest we become outward Christians while remaining worldly in spirit, else we fail to realize that we are indeed children of God. Such a failure may not be devoid of good, but is certainly not the goal or end of our journey. It is a subtle spirit of worldliness, a Christian striving for the sake of accomplishment or show of virtue, and not a true spirit of filial abandonment to God. A worldly Christian may “if possible, serve God and Mammon, and, whereas religion consists of love and fear, give to God their fear, and to Mammon their love.” Rather, true Christians in spirit should not merely glory in the external manifestations of a Christian life, but should “lament to perceive that they obey God far more than they love Him,” lest they keep “hearts set on the world… only restrained outwardly by religious rules.”

We must strive not only for “conviction of the reason,” for “remorse, regret, self-reproach, self-condemnation,” but also for “conversion of the heart,” the sole source of “saving penitence.” We should investigate our depths to see if our love has grown cold, since Christ said of the penitent Mary, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven her, for she loved much; but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little” (Luke 7:38, 47). 

History—salvation history and our personal history—shows that God’s love is lavish, indulgent, extreme, and even seems reckless. Opening ourselves to this torrent of love transforms us into the same. Abiding in love secures the true peace and joy of Christian living, makes burdens light, ignites the Holy Spirit’s fire, and wins souls. As St. Augustine has it, “Love—and do what you will.” The utter filial abandonment to God’s will in a spirit of true charity is described profoundly by St. Peter Chrysologus (Serm. 147).

…the flame of divine love enkindled human hearts and its intoxication overflowed into men’s senses. Wounded by love, they longed to look upon God with their bodily eyes. Yet how could our narrow human vision apprehend God, whom the whole world cannot contain? But the law of love is not concerned with what will be, what ought to be, what can be. Love does not reflect; it is unreasonable and knows no moderation… It is intolerable for love not to see the object of its longing. That is why whatever reward they merited was nothing to the saints if they could not see their Lord. A love that desires to see God may not have reasonableness on its side, but it is the evidence of filial love.

St. J.H. Newman’s writings and intercessions can aid us to a deepened self-knowledge and a greater openness to the inner transformation of God’s love. This New Year, make a simple, yet most grandiose resolution: to make love for God abound in everything that you think, say or do. 

 

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Newman lays down a firm rule in the light of life's abundant blessings: the Christian is not allowed to be gloomy.

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.”

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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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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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