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Parents  often desire to have accomplished children, providing the children with the opportunity to learn many things, like music lessons, or dance lessons, for example. Most of the time this is to enhance the child’s life; but more and more it can be for the purpose of having these accomplishments in order  to put them on the child’s cv with an eye to enrollment in better high schools and afterwards the top ranked universities. Little thought is given to the right use of children’s talents.

In a thought-provoking sermon, St. John Henry Newman warns of the danger of accomplishments. The types of accomplishments to which he is referring are not those which one may at first assume, like completing a higher degree, or finishing requirements for professional qualification, or running a successful business. The accomplishments he’s warning about are those types of pleasurable things mentioned above which people may have acquired in various ways, including subjects learned in a liberal arts college.  He writes:

“I am not speaking of human learning  . . .  but of  the elegant arts and studies, such as poetry, literary composition, painting, music, and the like; which are considered . . .  to make him trifling.”

Newman refers to St. Luke and St. Paul, both who were educated and more than likely possessed these “elegant arts.” They were accomplished men. St. Luke was  “ . . . a native of Antioch, a city celebrated for the refined habits and cultivated intellect of its inhabitants; and his profession was that of a physician or surgeon, which of itself evidences him to have been in point of education something above the generality of men. This is confirmed by the character of his writings, which are superior in composition to any part of the New Testament, excepting some of St. Paul’s Epistles. . . . St. Paul was a polished writer, yet an evangelist.”

So the danger doesn’t lie in possessing the accomplishments, but in our use of them. These accomplishments, like other goods, can be abused. Newman explains, 

“But the abuse of good things is no argument against the things themselves; mental cultivation may be a divine gift, though it is abused. All God’s gifts are perverted by man; health, strength, intellectual power, are all turned by sinners to bad purposes, yet they are not evil in themselves: therefore an acquaintance with the elegant arts may be a gift and a good, and intended to be an instrument of God’s glory, though numbers who have it are rendered thereby indolent, luxurious, and feeble-minded.”

The saint asks how it is that excellent things, even things divine in nature, can be so commonly perverted. He gives a straightforward answer:

“Now the danger of an elegant and polite education is, that it separates feeling and acting; it teaches us to think, speak, and be affected aright, without forcing us to practise what is right.” 

What we need to be aware of, then, according to Newman, is choosing carefully in how we enjoy these accomplishments. In all things we do with our time, even those things we may enjoy in leisure, these should bring us closer to God. St. John Henry uses the example of novel reading: 

“ . . . the works of fiction I speak of [ought] to inculcate right sentiments; though such works  . . . are often vicious and immoral.” 

Newman warns against many types of leisure activities which were common during his time, and we can extrapolate to the current age and all the ways that our time may be misused.

In other words, our accomplishments should result in right action. Newman echoes St. Augustine who was a highly accomplished man. At first, St. Augustine misused his education, and became one who wallowed in luxury and trivial pursuits. What Augustine came to learn is that education is measured by its service of the good. Looking back on his former life, he prayed, “Let every useful thing I learned be devoted now to your service.”  

Newman taught that education was about learning to be wise— we can know we are wise when we utilize our accomplishments to His glory.

Human accomplishments are ephemeral. Their highest value, as Saint Josemaría Escrivá also taught, lies in the fact that God awaits us there. Life only has full meaning when we do things out of love for Him—and to serve others for love of Him.  

Newman ends his sermon inviting us to follow the example of St. Luke and St. Paul, who: 

“ . . .  show us that we may be sturdy workers in the Lord’s service, and bear our cross manfully, though we be adorned with all the learning of the Egyptians; or rather, that the resources of literature, and the graces of a cultivated mind, may be made both a lawful source of enjoyment to the possessor, and a means of introducing and recommending the Truth to others”

These lessons of St. John Henry brings us to one of the first questions of The Baltimore Catechism: “Why did God make me?” The response is, “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.” Perhaps this is a good place to start in taking a critical look at where we store our treasure of time. Does your use of your accomplishments help you to know God, to love God, and to serve God? The danger of accomplishments comes from misuse of our time and talents. 


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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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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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Fr. Juan Velez

The Indwelling Spirit

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