Many non-Christians today are under the impression that religion consists of burdensome rules that are not only unnecessary, but even damaging. The truth, of course, is that the easy and light yoke of Christ opens us to divine vistas of beatitude beyond our imagining. St. John Henry Newman offers a firm, inflexible rule that is neither burdensome nor unnecessary: the Christian is not allowed to be gloomy. Newman’s sermon “Present Blessings,” preached sometime in 1839, exemplifies the Christian duty, and real ability in Christ, to be joyful no matter what. The passing emotion of sadness or discouragement does not abrogate joy. Neither do sorrows, even those of lasting and difficult nature. Newman notes that sorrows, trials, losses, and other hard experiences happen upon life, a life already and still given. They are not themselves the substance of life, which remains intact as a fundamental gift. Further, whatever happens visibly, we always have the gift of the Giver of gifts who is invisible, and he is the real and only source of joy. “His absence only is a cause for sorrow.” The prospect of hell and unredeemed sin, by our own choice, would be the only real condition for a fundamental lack of joy, a joy that in Christ is readily available, that would be withdrawn only by our own grim choice—perhaps, too often, our very unwillingness to give up our gloominess. 

Newman may have appreciated C.S. Lewis’ depiction of the damned in his small classic The Great Divorce. Whereas for Dante hell becomes more and more cramped at its lowest pit, hell is a vast and ever-expanding waste in Lewis’ mind, because the damned are so gloomy that they move farther and farther away from each other, preferring to remain isolated and eternally brooding over their petty attachments. Napoleon Bonaparte is a particularly sad example, who for all eternity marches back and forth in his room muttering over how he really should not have lost the Battle of Waterloo. Truly, Lewis imagines the damned as those who will not give up their gloominess, as if their regrets and past sins and nostalgias are more real to them than God Himself, his mercies and forgiveness and promises.

But the Christian is marked by ever moving forward from “light into light.” God’s mercy abounds for the very worst of sinners: 

“Our sins are more in number than the hairs of our head; yet even the hairs of our head are all numbered by Him. He counts our sins, and, as He counts, so can He forgive; for that reckoning, great though it be, comes to an end; but His mercies fail not, and His Son’s merits are infinite.”

If we remember that the word grace most literally means gift, we can say that God’s abundant graces to us pervade and saturate every detail of our lives. Newman lays out five fundamental gifts that provide reasons for constant, infinite joy: 

  1. The Gift of Life—food, shelter, and temporal blessings that, even after temporary deprivations, are promised in the Gospel and born out in the Old Testament stories of Patriarchs. After trials will come refreshment, after fasting feasting; modest abstinence from life’s blessings sharpens our view of their enjoyment and right use.
  2. The Gift of sleep—I share Newman’s love for the balm of sleep. He calls it a  “holy-day time, like children at school, in an unknown and mysterious country.” Truly, sleep at the end of each day arrives like a very small vacation—and it is free, open to rich and poor alike. No matter what the day brings, we can find literal rest and comfort in the gift of sleep.
  3. The Gift of Christian Brotherhood—God does not leave us alone. Following Christ may require leaving behind certain friendships, but that loss will be recovered:  “He began our life anew [in the Church], but He built it up upon the same foundations; and as He did not strip us of our body, when He made us Christians, neither did He of social ties.” No one can be a Christian on their own. They are incorporated into a Body that shares many mutual blessings, temporal and divine. 
  4. The Gift of Religious Freedom—speaking of his own time and place, he remarks at how easily Christians can live in the modern world compared to times and places of hostility. While our culture today is largely indifferent to religion, we nonetheless cannot deny that we enjoy an unprecedented level of religious “freedom of speech and action.”
  5. The Gift of Worship and the Eucharist—most importantly, we have God Himself in sacramental form. We receive from God the way He wills for us to worship Him: by the sacrifice of His Son made present in the Eucharist. We can “day after day, quietly and calmly, kneel before our Maker… week after week, we can meet our Lord and Savior.” In the Eucharist He gives Himself to us, pours “forth milk and honey for our sustenance, though we [see] Him not. Surely we have all, and abound: we are full.” For what more can we ask? Christ has over-abundantly kept his promise to be with us “even to the end of the age,” (Matt. 28L:20), body, blood, soul and divinity, giving Himself to us as food as he said he would (John 6:53-55), which St. Paul clarifies is indeed happening in reception of the Eucharist (1 Cor. 10:16-17). How quickly bringing this sublime fact of the Gospel to mind dispels all gloom even as sorrows abound! Christ has not, and will never, leave us alone.

At the end of a long poem chronicling a man attempting to flee from God, poet Francis Thompson wonders, “Is my gloom, after all, / Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?” Newman would say yes: gloominess arises from our ungrateful selves turned away from God, but turning toward him bathes us in his light. We may experience sorrow, sadness, and suffering on a human level, and even just punishments or desolations from God on a divine level. But none of this is reason for gloom; our fundamental joy cannot be taken away. All things call us to the loving embrace of God, who does nothing and allows nothing except what will bring about our salvation and holiness. Sorrow and desolation are no excuse for gloominess; joy is the perennial fruit of the Christian.  

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There is a clear picture that emerges from these glimpses into life at The Oratory School: Education was in service of man, not the other way around. Play found its proper place, not only as a balance to rigorous academic study, but as an important part of human development.

O most Sacred, most loving Heart of Jesus, Thou art concealed in the Holy Eucharist, and Thou beatest for us still.

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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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David Warren

Newman, Education and Sport

There is a clear picture that emerges from these glimpses into life at The Oratory School: Education was in service of man, not the other way around. Play found its proper place, not only as a balance to rigorous academic study, but as an important part of human development.

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The Mystery of the Holy Trinity

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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The Eucharistic Presence

We call His presence in this Holy Sacrament a spiritual presence, not as if ‘spiritual’ were but a name or mode of speech.

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