Gustav_Jaeger_Bileam_Engel

(Gustav Jäger, painter)

The Old Testament story of Balaam is, according to St. John Henry Newman, a lesson of “obedience without love.” In a sermon titled with these words, Newman explains how Balaam, endowed by God with prophetic gifts, seemed from outward appearances to obey God, but in fact tried to twist His hand. 

Newman sets out to explain a difficult passage in this history: why God reproves Balaam even as He gave the prophet permission to go to Balak, the heathen king who wanted him to curse the Israelites. Newman describes what took place: “God’s anger was kindled, because he went” with the princes of Moab, and so God sent an angel who, with a sword drawn in hand, stood in his path. When Balaam saw the angel he recognized that he had sinned against God, and offered to go back. Newman notes: “What makes the whole transaction the more strange is this—that Almighty God had said before, ‘If the men come to call thee, rise up, and go with them;’ and that when Balaam offered to go back again, the Angel repeated, ‘Go with the men.’ And afterwards we find in the midst of his heathen enchantments ‘God met Balaam,’ and ‘put a word in his mouth;’ and afterwards ‘the Spirit of God came unto him.’”

How is it possible that  such a man can be good and at the same time God’s enemy? Newman replies that it is possible to be called honorable and high-principled but be lacking in fear of the Lord, a situation which the world calls superstition and narrowness of mind. With this in mind we can perhaps find a solution to our perplexities concerning Balaam.

The key to understanding this apparent contradiction is Balam’s disposition. Newman explains that Balaam obeyed God without fear or love, instead “ to please self without displeasing God; to pursue his own ends as far as was consistent with his duty. In a word, he did not give his heart to God, but obeyed Him, as a man may obey human law, or observe the usages of society or his country, as something external to himself, because he knows he ought to do so, from a sort of rational good sense, a conviction of its propriety, expediency, or comfort, as the case may be.”

Balaam wished to go with Balak’s messengers but knew he should not go, so he attempted to resolve the problem of how to do so  without offending God. Instead of being content with ascertaining God’s will he attempted to change it. He inquired of Him a second time, and this was to tempt Him. Thus, while God allowed him to go, his anger was kindled against him. 

As in other sermons, Newman hits the nail on the head when he writes that so-called honorable, upright men think “not how to please God, but how to please themselves without displeasing Him.” He adds that men act, “not from the love and fear of God, but from a mere feeling of obligation to be so, and in subjection to certain worldly objects. And thus they are what is popularly called moral, without being religious. Such was Balaam.” He acted from calculation to keep straight with God.

St. John Henry Newman draws various lessons from the history of Balaam. One of these lessons is that we often misjudge the character of men, praising them for external events without knowing what is in their hearts. Another lesson is that when we know God’s will, we should not badger Him, as Balaam did, by asking again to do what we know is displeasing to God. Furthermore, we should hasten to act upon what we hear in the Word of God, since the impression it makes on us may die away and never return. We should seek to understand supposed contradictions in the Scriptures, and when we do not find an answer we should be patient and accept what we fail to understand. As St. John Paul II teaches: “conscience is the witness of God himself, whose voice and judgment penetrate the depths of man’s soul, calling him fortiter et suaviter to obedience.” Lastly our obedience to God should be borne out of a filial fear —which is the desire to not offend a Good Father, but to please Him out of love. True obedience is born of love, from the heart and the will. Let us thus pray for the grace to obey with love and without question when we hear the voice of God.

 

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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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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
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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.

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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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“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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