Few words have fallen out of favor so much as “punishment.” Public school educators and administrators usually label such language “draconian” and try to replace it with the more obscure “consequences.” They want students to understand that their actions have effects, that something follows from what they do. That’s certainly an important message lacking in our common understanding of punishment, which tends to distance the offender from his action. For example, when a thief gets sentenced, he is punished by an authority, and so it’s easy for him to believe his worst mistake was getting caught. He doesn’t understand that his lot is intricately tied up with the choices he has made. 

And yet “consequences” only accomplishes so much. “Punishment” completes what is missing by providing the reason. The original meaning of punishment comes from the word ‘”penalty,” which at its root comes from the Latin “poena,” or pain. A punishment is a painful consequence for sin, and it’s painful for a reason. When we sin we reject God who is the very source of our life, joy and hope. A flower wilts without light, and we are no different. 

The world God made has a natural law of cause and effect built into it. One act of love really benefits the whole of creation, and one sin harms the same whole. On the individual level, our personal sins, as well as our acts of love, mold our character moment by moment, just as food shapes our bodies. As St. John Henry Newman explains in his sermon, “Moral Consequences of Single Sins”, understanding the impact of a single sin on ourselves can help us to appreciate the great responsibility we have.

If our character is shaped over time, our childhood is the beginning and most formative part of the process. Newman argues that the sins we committed at this time – whether we were aware of them or not – are most likely responsible for the “inconsistencies of character which we often witness in our experience of life. I mean, you meet continually with men possessed of a number of good points, amiable and excellent men, yet in one respect perhaps strangely perverted. And you cannot move them, or succeed at all with them, but must leave them as you find them. Perhaps they are weak and over-indulgent towards others, perhaps they are harsh, perhaps they are obstinate.”

It’s easy to see how this plays out in the lives of our friends and family members whose faults we see with greater clarity than our own; and yet we know this must be true of ourselves. Newman cuts right to the chase: “This indeed is all the difference between being a true saint of God, and a second rate or third rate Christian. Few men are great saints. There is always a something; I am not speaking of wilful or admitted sins—sins against the conscience (they of course exclude a man altogether from any hope), but of a defect of view and principle, a perversion of character. This is the common case even with the better sort of Christians; they are deformed in stature, they are not upright, they do not walk perfectly with God. And you cannot tell why it is;—they have ever lived religiously,—they have been removed from temptation, had good training and instruction, and they fulfil their calling, are good husbands or wives, good parents, good neighbours,—still when you come to know them well, there is in them this or that great inconsistency.”

Perhaps there is a way of thinking or behaving that has seemingly always been with us, so much so that we can’t see it for what it is. It shows up here and there in conflicts with others, but it isn’t recognized as the source. As Newman says, the individual sins we have indulged in or neglected are often the roots of other defects, which may not appear connected to these roots. If this is the case, what are we to do?

We should keep a few things in mind:

  • If we want to grow in virtue, we would be wise to seek out a spiritual director or guide. We often need help uncovering our vices and seeing them for what they are. The prophet Nathan had to do this for none other than King David.
  • Of all the knowledge man has accumulated, he is the least knowledgeable about himself. A modern saint, Josemaria Escriva, cautioned: “One’s own mind is a bad adviser, a poor pilot to steer the soul through the storms and tempests and among the reefs of the interior life.”
  • We must ask God daily to forgive us and heal us, for we know not what we do: “What need have we of a cleansing and a restoration day by day! what need have we of drawing near to God in faith and penitence.”
  • The saints – and in this sermon, St. John Henry –  enjoin us to pray for God’s mercy.

Day by day our actions have real life consequences for ourselves and our neighbors. The punishments we bear for our sins should be useful to us. They should rouse us from our sleep and show us from whom we are walking away. These thoughts are sobering and may even cause us to frighten ourselves, as Newman says. But as we take a good look at our character, we should always remember that our hope does not rest in us. We cling instead to the cross of Christ, “on which hung the salvation of the world.”

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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."

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

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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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