Trinity College, cloudy day

Blessed John Henry Newman’s birthday is in February, in the winter and during lent, an appropriate time to discover his fascinating poem, “My Birthday.” As is the case with many of his poems, this one gives an insight into the man, Newman. When hearing a poem entitled “My Birthday” one would expect something merry and light … but this is not what Newman wrote. Instead, he calls us to contemplate the 4 last things. Newman was an introvert – and though he had many friends, still, he loved to study and to read in quiet. His birthday poem reveals Newman contemplating both the actual time of year (February), and the passing of time as well. Newman relates how many people celebrate birthdays by worldly parties with food and drink, in contrast to how he wishes to celebrate, that is, by contemplating the last things. Although this may sound like an odd thing to bring up in a birthday poem, isn’t it perfectly natural and something that everyone growing older thinks about? Newman doesn’t think of growing old with despair — but with hope and gladness! And this is an attitude from which all can benefit.

My Birthday

Let the sun summon all his beams to hold

Bright pageant in his court, the cloud-paved sky

Earth trim her fields and leaf her copses cold;

Till the dull month with summer-splendours vie.

It is my Birthday;—and I fain would try,

Albeit in rude, in heartfelt strains to praise

My God, for He hath shielded wondrously

From harm and envious error all my ways,

And purged my misty sight, and fixed on heaven

my gaze.

The first stanza is referring to the winter world around Newman in February, and though all is frozen and perhaps dull — the beauty of the sky (paved with clouds!) nevertheless is filled with pageantry! The leafless trees, which make the “copses” that is the grove of trees “cold” since the limbs are bare, does not appear bleak to Newman, but “trim” that is, tidy and uncluttered … an optimistic way to view a winter scene. This leads Newman to thank God, who protected him from error and sin by keeping his eyes fixed on heaven.

Not in that mood, in which the insensate crowd

Of wealthy folly hail their natal day,—

With riot throng, and feast, and greetings loud,

Chasing all thoughts of God and heaven away.

Poor insect! feebly daring, madly gay,

What! joy because the fulness of the year

Marks thee for greedy death a riper prey?

Is not the silence of the grave too near?

Viewest thou the end with glee, meet scene for

harrowing fear?


Go then, infatuate! where the festive hall,

The curious board, the oblivious wine invite;

Speed with obsequious haste at Pleasure’s call,

And with thy revels scare the far-spent night.

Joy thee, that clearer dawn upon thy sight

The gates of death;—and pride thee in thy sum

Of guilty years, and thy increasing white

Of locks; in age untimely frolicksome,

Make much of thy brief span, few years are yet to


Stanzas 2 and 3 speak of worldly men, who by folly with the wrong crowd — drive thoughts of God and heaven away, and by giving in to pleasures of the world … these men fail to see the passing of time; they try to forget that the grim reaper might call them that very day … they are too busy with pleasures to realize how feeble they are, almost like a “poor insect” — these men with their “guilty years” that have been wasted in frolic, will, when they grow old — realize they have squandered years which should have been spent living for God. In these verses the young Newman is considering his college peers at Trinity, Oxford who gave into worldly indulgences and excesses.

These birthday thoughts of Newman can help us during this season of Lent to examine our use of this world and time  while giving us pause to consider our desire for success. Next week we will see how Newman gives direction to his own self-examination, while instructing on the proper outlook one must have upon the passing years.

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The world which sees only appearances cannot comprehend the hidden reality of a heart captive to Christ. 

With this indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we have the indwelling of Christ in our souls. Christ is born in us. The Holy Spirit makes us children of God, crying out Abba Father, and restores in us the likeness of Christ.

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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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Though the invitation is open to all, not everyone responds to it in faith. Those who accept the call, embrace Christ, and live according to His teachings; they are the chosen ones.

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