saul-and-the-witch-of-endor-1777-benjamin-west

If Saul was born this century, teenagers would decorate their rooms with posters of his athletic image, young ladies would scream at his concerts and parents would ask him to kiss their babies as he worked the rope lines at rallies. Saul of the twenty-first century would inspire the weakest among us to join his armed forces and unite our divided citizens under the banner of his leadership. He would win an election with 100 percent of the vote. Naturally, he was God’s gift to Israel.

Saul was in fact God’s gift to Israel, but a begrudging one. Israel wanted a rockstar king like their pagan neighbors and that’s exactly what they got. But as St. John Henry Newman explains in his sermon “Saul,” their king was patterned after their own hearts—fickle, proud and lacking the fear of God. His hardness of heart was his undoing from the very beginning, and it’s something Christians are also susceptible to.

When Israel asked God for a king, their hearts had already been hardened by unbelief. Newman says, “They had ever been restless and dissatisfied, asking for flesh when they had manna, fretful for water, impatient of the wilderness, bent on returning to Egypt, fearing their enemies, murmuring against Moses.” They wanted God to act HOW they wanted Him to act WHEN they wanted Him to act, and they were angry when He didn’t comply. Their impatience was rooted in unbelief—they became angry and afraid because they didn’t trust God to take care of them. 

The king God gave them reflected their own hardened hearts. Though Saul was “naturally brave, active, generous, and patient,” these attributes were personality traits, not virtues honed by effort and experience. In two noteworthy moments, faced with following God’s command or his own, Saul chose the latter and moreover “thought it mattered little whether he acted in God’s way or in his own.”

This most basic fear of God is, in the end, what matters most. The vast majority of saints were not as gifted or naturally successful as Saul, but they had this fear of God that Scripture calls “the beginning of wisdom.” Wisdom begins by teaching us how little we know and how low we are. Before God, and without God, we are nothing. If God builds the house, it will stand. If we build it according to our own design, we labor in vain. These simple truths that even schoolchildren learn were lost on Saul.

In lacking the fear of God, both Saul and Israel were anxious, angry and dissatisfied. They wanted a more exciting and easy life. “There is, in true religion, a sameness, an absence of hue and brilliancy, in the eyes of the natural man; a plainness, austereness, and (what he considers) sadness,” Newman says, but the supernatural man sees it differently. He meets God in the ordinary and plain things, like bread and wine. 

The sins of Saul and Israel are familiar, and we will see them in ourselves if we reflect for a few minutes. “Let us only reflect on our hardness of heart when attending religious ordinances, and we shall understand something of Saul’s condition,” Newman says. Are our hearts really joined to our Lord in the Eucharist, or do we merely go through the motions? Do we trust God to take care of us, or do we try to make our own plans? Do we get impatient and complain about the way things are going in our lives? Are we growing in virtue?

These are important questions. How we answer them matters far more than how the world sees us, how polished our resume looks or how full our pockets are. We can ask God now to reawaken a supernatural outlook on our lives: “Father, teach us to meet you in the ordinary circumstances of our day. Don’t leave us alone for even a minute and help us to trust in Your will and Your way. We don’t want it any other way.” 

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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
(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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