Three Minutes with Newman
Three Minutes with Newman
Prophetic Witness of the Laity in the Present Crisis of the Church

In a recent article Rev. James Schall, SJ. asks if the present sexual abuse crisis is the greatest upheaval of the Church since the Protestant Reformation. I would argue that in some sense this crisis is worse. It is a very deep moral and doctrinal crisis connected with grave faults of commission and omission by the Church’s shepherds.

Many refer to the current crisis as a purification by God of His Church, a reality that reminds us of Jesus’ purification of the Temple. The instrument of this purification has been, as in 2002, the voice of the public media and the courts, rather than the Church’s bishops. God established in the Church an office for teaching, sanctifying,and governing. Many pastors have seriously failed in their duties. Each pastor needs  to examine his own actions.

In light of the public silence of the overwhelming majority of US bishops to this crisis we must ask: What is the role of the faithful laity in this purification? Like the clergy they share, in their own way, in the triple gifts or Office of Christ. As baptized members of the Body of Christ the laity participate in Christ’s priesthood, in His threefold office of teaching, sanctifying and governing. They must safeguard the faith and the spiritual life, and as much as possible, the material well-being of the faithful.

The laity not only teach the faith at home but in schools, universities, and seminaries. Lay people work in ecclesiastical tribunals and chanceries in ways sanctioned by canon law. And in living their own vocations they sanctify themselves and others: they sanctify the Church.

In a special way the laity strengthen and safeguard tradition. As Blessed Newman explained they serve as witness of what the Church believes and has always believed. Furthermore they do so by holding the clergy accountable, both in the daily exercise of their commission as well as in matters of greater importance.

No one in the Church is above the truth. No one is above the moral law. There are times when lay persons must speak the truth boldly to oppose grave abuses by the teachers of the faith. Two notable examples in Church history, although different in nature, are those of St. Catherine of Siena and St. Thomas More.

In the Gospel Jesus enjoins His followers to correct one another when necessary, and He specifies that when someone does not accept correction, that person should be denounced publicly. Jesus’ words are not addressed to the clergy; they are addressed to all of His followers.

The faithful laity are called to exercise a prophetic defense against evil actions in the Church. To correct bishops, the pope included, the laity must establish, after much prayer and consideration with the help of prudent advisors, that there are sufficient grounds for doing so.  Ordinarily such a public act is limited to extraordinary circumstances, and, after private attempts, to correct errors.

As St. Josemaría Escrivá insisted, the laity are not second-class citizens. Yet, they are often treated in this manner by the clergy by an attitude and practice called clericalism. It is said that once, upon hearing of a Vatican official sneering at the laity, Blessed Newman quipped: “… how ridiculous the Church would look with only clergy.”

The laity should exercise their royal priesthood; to do so they must study the faith, grow in piety, and sacramental life, and act with prudence.

Jesus told those following Him to settle disputes among themselves, but warned them that if they did not they would be ‘taken to the judge and they would pay to the last farthing.’ This has been happening, and will continue to happen. But now it is likely that bishops will be prosecuted in court.

The prophetic voice of the laity has been manifest in this past week with two letters addressed to the pope and bishops of the Church. Both letters, one by women, and another by men, written with great respect and sorrow, ask for truthful and transparent answers, and effective actions to combat a host of disorders in the Church.

All Christians are called to pray for the Church and to offer sacrifices for Her, including fasting, as Pope Francis asked in his August 20, 2018, letter. We must consider how much we are praying and fasting. And each one must look to himself to examine his own life to root out with God’s grace any evil actions.

As baptized faithful we cannot close ourselves to the truth of widespread and serious disregard for liturgical and sacramental practices, the moral life and fidelity to doctrine. Christians must read about and analyze the causes of the present crisis. It is a mistake to see this as an attack against the pope. On the contrary it is a sign of love for the Office of Peter, the successor of the Apostles and the Bride of Christ.

In the 19th century Blessed Newman told his fellow Oratorians words which Catholics need to take to heart today: “You must not hide your talent in a napkin, or your light under a bushel. I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold, and what they do not, who know their creed so well, that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it. I want an intelligent, well-instructed laity.”

History teaches us about bishops and popes who have made grave mistakes; it gives us lessons about many abuses: the sale of ecclesiastical offices and privileges (Church titles, properties and benefits), worldliness, and gross immorality of the hierarchy during various periods of Church history. Then like in the past, new saints are needed to lead a spiritual renewal in the Church, and the exercise of the laity’s prophetic office opposing these wrongs contributes to this necessary purification.

In all this, we must strive to follow St. Paul’s inspired teaching of “proclaiming the truth in love” (veritates facientes in caritate), Eph 5:14, always keeping our eyes on Christ, who promised to remain with us until the end of time.


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Newman lays down a firm rule in the light of life's abundant blessings: the Christian is not allowed to be gloomy.

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.”

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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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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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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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