Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman
Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman
Saintliness not Forfeited by the Penitent

The idea of heaven can be upsetting for a few different reasons, not least to Americans, who expect that everyone should and will be treated equally. But from what we know of it from Scripture, there are different states for different people. On several occasions in the Gospels, we glimpse that paradisiacal place through the words of Christ; Jesus himself is our source of knowledge about the different ranks in the kingdom of God. He said that the last would be first and the first last. His disciples accepted this as a natural matter of fact. When, for example, two of his disciples asked for places of honor in his kingdom, he demurred, saying those honors were not His to give; but he accepted their existence. Our Lord also stated that the 12 apostles would sit on 12 thrones judging the tribes of Israel.

None of this should surprise us or worry us. Our Lady enjoys an intimacy with Christ that we cannot imagine, but we can still be as close to Christ as we desire. And if we happen to be great sinners, there’s nothing stopping us from becoming great saints. Look at St. Paul, the great persecutor of the Church, who became its greatest missionary. Or St. Olga of Kiev, who was responsible for the massacre of thousands as ruler of the Kievan Rus’ in the 10th century before her baptism and conversion. That said, the holiest of men do not usually proceed from the most degenerate state. St. John Henry Nemwan, in his sermon “Saintliness not Forfeited by the Penitent,” explains what the path of sanctity tends to look like and how we are to travel it.

The earlier we befriend Jesus, the greater potential we have to grow in intimacy with him throughout our lives. “The greater the sinner, the greater the saint” is a catchy phrase, but it’s only seldom true, Newman says, because the great sinner loses time: “And in this sense I must certainly grant he never can be so great a saint as if he had never sinned; that is, the efforts which he must now make merely to undo what he has done, would, in that case, simply have told towards his advancement in holiness, and would of course have brought him forward to a higher point than they now enable him to reach.”  

The story of a great conversion, like St. Paul’s, from persecutor to apostle, is both inspiring and beautiful; but it should not be envied or emulated. While our sins are forgiven, they still carry a punishment: “Further, it must not be supposed, because sinners have sincerely repented, that therefore they have no punishment for their past sins; and this puts a vast difference between the state of the innocent and the penitent. In this sense they never can be on a level: the one, if God so wills, is open to punishment, and the other is not; for God does not so pardon us, as not also to punish. When His children go wrong they are, in St Paul’s words, ‘judged.’ He does not abandon them, but He makes their sin ‘find them out.’”

In his Confessions, St. Augustine describes his early life as a pursuit of created things rather than a pursuit of the Creator. When Augustine finally found the Lord and converted to Christianity, he wrote, “Late have I loved Thee, O Beauty so ancient and so new; late have I loved Thee! For behold Thou were within me, and I outside; and I sought Thee outside and in my unloveliness fell upon those lovely things that Thou hast made. Thou were with me and I was not with Thee. I was kept from Thee by those things, yet had they not been in Thee, they would not have been at all. Thou didst call and cry to me and break open my deafness: and Thou didst send forth Thy beams and shine upon me and chase away my blindness …” Though he did not follow Christ until later in his life, he is known as one of the greatest saints in the history of the Church.

Yet, though we may have lost time in following God, though we may have punishments for our past sins, we are not without hope of becoming great saints. “Not by languid efforts, not without great and solemn trials is it reached; not without pain and humiliation, and much toil, will they make progress towards it; but it can be gained. This is their great consolation,—it is in their grasp; they have not forfeited, they have but delayed…if they have but the will for great things, they have the power.” Whether we become great or not, nothing can stop us from becoming saints, from allowing God to forgive, heal and sanctify us. Sanctification is His work, after all, and nothing is impossible for Him. He only needs our “yes” to proceed. 

When we feel weak and unable to respond, we can think of St. Therese who tells us that Jesus is like an elevator. “We are in a century of inventions; now one does not even have to take the trouble to climb the steps of a stairway; in the homes of the rich an elevator replaces them nicely. I, too, would like to find an elevator to lift me up to Jesus, for I am too little to climb the rough stairway of perfection … The elevator which must raise me to the heavens is Your arms, O Jesus! For that I do not need to grow; on the contrary, I must necessarily remain small, become smaller. O my God, You have surpassed what I expected, and I want to sing Your mercies.”

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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.”

For a Christian, death is no longer defeat nor something to fear, rather it is the sign of Christ’s victory.

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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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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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