sedes sapientia

A model for our time of crisis

This month of May gives us a chance to consider how the Blessed Virgin Mary relates to every area of life. But since we are not just individuals, but are also social beings, this includes our public and communal life. Her life bears upon our questions about education, politics, and society, since she presents to us the startling reality of humanity fully unified with God. A theme woven into Newman’s thoughts about Mary is that, by God’s grace, Mary’s human nature was perfected in her earthly life and is glorified in her heavenly life. While it is God’s grace that kept Mary from all sin and the taint of Original Sin, it is Mary’s choice for virtue and choice for faith that made her a worthy co-operator with God’s grace. Her total reliance on God in her heart, mind, and soul allowed God to totally rely on her and be raised as her child in her womb, arms, and home. Newman explains these thoughts in a letter to his friend E.B. Pusey, an Anglican priest. Just as Eve, writes Newman, was a “real agent” of the fall by her sinful choice, Mary is a real agent of redemption by her grace-filled righteous choices. Mary completely co-operated with the Holy Ghost’s work in her mind, soul, and body.

Therefore, Mary was totally justified, totally just, totally perfected. This defined her earthly life and defines her heavenly mission as a powerful intercessor, close to Christ and his throne in body and soul. Mary lived a perfect life of virtue, both divine and human. In the letter to Pusey, Newman says that awe and surprise should attend the realization that “a creature has been brought so close to the Divine Essence,” which creates a “new idea … new sympathy, new faith and worship.” True love and worship of God in the human sphere are only made possible by his Incarnation, by the fact that he had and has a human mother. This new idea does not just change our private religious devotion–it changes the way we perceive the trials, history, and progress of whole human cultures and peoples. Mary models to us, and effects for us by her supernatural motherhood the possibility for both the theological virtues (faith, hope, love) and the cardinal or natural virtues (prudence, moderation, justice, courage), with the help of grace to take root and actually be achieved in sanctified human persons and societies.

In particular, Mary’s model of the virtue of prudence is important in the immense crises in our culture. Prudence is seen by philosophers as the governor of the other virtues, since it includes one’s ability to see and choose the good. In education, government, ethics, medicine, and many other fields, it is increasingly difficult to see and choose the good. James M. Hanlon, in his wonderful little book Living the de Montfort Consecration, argues that in times of cultural crisis people fall away from prudence in one of two ways: either to a “Leftist pelagianism,” wherein man can make his own decisions for himself without the aid of grace, or to a “Rightist quietism,” wherein man can neither do nor choose anything at all, but is utterly dependent on grace at the expense of any action, hoping God will simply intervene and do everything for us without our effort.

Hanlon says that prudence is the ability to choose the good with “solertia,” or “clear-sighted objectivity in the face of unexpected situations.” Mary, immaculately conceived and free from all concupiscence, did not have a mind darkened by sin. She could clearly perceive the good objectively. Scripture shows us: the Angel Gabriel appears and tells her she will conceive a son. Mary asks a clarifying question: “How can this be? For I do not know man.” The angel explains the Holy Spirit will overshadow her. She pauses. She considers. And responds: “Let it be done to me according to thy word.” She sees and perceives the good from God’s perspective. God gives her a choice, and she prudentially chooses the good for herself and the redemption of the world. Hanlon says that, today, “prudence [is replaced by] cunning and mere planning techniques … moral decisions grow ever more numerous, more bewilderingly complex, and more significant for individuals, nations, and mankind.” But Mary presents to us her life as a model for prudence. Unlike Eve, who sought private knowledge at the expense of life, Mary submitted, was open to, the mystery of Divine life by seeking to understand. As we seek to know and choose the good in our difficult times, let us allow the Virgin Most Prudent to be our model, intercessor and guide to God, that his Presence may be truly rooted in our hearts, our families, our schools, our communities, and our nation. As we consider, with prudence, how to be open to God’s life and human life, how best to educate our children, how best to cultivate in them knowledge of truth, how to foster and support institutions that adhere to truly Catholic educational principles, let us take the Blessed Virgin Mary as our model and guide to choose the good, and let us consecrate our families, and our children, and our schools to her.

N.b. For a short and powerful collection of Newman’s thoughts about Mary, see Mary the Second Eve, a compilation of Newman’s writings on Mary from his letters to friends and reflections, edited by Sister Eileen Breen, F.M.A. This collection includes evidence of Newman’s hearty affirmation of and love for all the Church’s Marian dogmas, including the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption, and her titles as “Second Eve” and “Theotokos,” as well as the power and efficacy of her intercession.

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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.

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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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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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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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