Every Sunday at Mass, we bow our heads as we say, “By the power of the Holy Spirit He was born of the Virgin Mary and became man.” In doing so, we honor what St. John Henry Newman calls “The chief mystery of our holy faith”—the incarnation. How easy it is to forget this shocking and powerful truth despite this weekly reminder. Unlike the adults who can’t hear the sound of the bell in the classic children’s tale, “The Polar Express,” we must be like little children if we want to take hold of this mystery. 

“Taking hold” of a mystery is something more like grabbing the handrail on the outside of a moving train and letting it whisk you off. As we think of God becoming man, we encounter a world unexplored, with lots of questions. “Take, for instance, His temptation. Why was it undergone at all, seeing our redemption is ascribed to His death, not to [His temptation]? Why was it so long? What took place during it? What was Satan’s particular object in tempting Him?” Newman asks. One knows he is in the presence of a mystery when there are more questions than answers. But a mystery, in Catholic doctrine, is not about complete ignorance. We do know some very definite truths, we just don’t understand them as fully as we wish.

In his sermon, “The Humiliation of the Eternal Son,” Newman points to a few of the revealed truths of this sacred teaching:

  • Christ is God’s true Son who has always existed and enjoys the fullness of the Godhead. “What, then, is meant by the ‘Son of God?’ It is meant that our Lord is the very or true Son of God, that is, His Son by nature. We are but called the sons of God—we are adopted to be sons—but our Lord and Saviour is the Son of God, really and by birth, and He alone is such.”
  • God took on human existence and was tempted in all points as we are. “‘The Word was made flesh;’ by which is meant, not that He selected some particular existing man and dwelt in him … but that He became what He was not before, that He took into His own Infinite Essence man’s nature itself in all its completeness, creating a soul and body, and, at the moment of creation, making them His own, so that they never were other than His.”
  • God humbled Himself. “After this manner, then, must be understood His suffering, temptation, and obedience, not as if He ceased to be what He had ever been, but, having clothed Himself with a created essence, He made it the instrument of His humiliation; He acted in it, He obeyed and suffered through it. That Eternal Power, which, till then, had thought and acted as God, began to think and act as a man, with all man’s faculties, affections, and imperfections, sin excepted. Before He came on earth, He was infinitely above joy and grief, fear and anger, pain and heaviness; but afterwards all these properties and many more were His as fully as they are ours.”

Scholars have written whole tomes on each of these points, but Newman is primarily concerned with our understanding one thing: Christ is both God and man at the same time. Don’t try to reconcile this apparent contradiction, as if Christ was man some of the time and God at other times, or as if He looked like a man on the outside, but was God hidden on the inside. No, these are heresies, and as such they come from a weakness in our nature to grasp mystery rather than to be grasped by it.

Newman explains this awesome truth: “Thus He possessed at once a double assemblage of attributes, divine and human. Still he was all-powerful, though in the form of a servant; still He was all-knowing, though seemingly ignorant; still incapable of temptation, though exposed to it; and if any one stumble at this, as not a mere mystery, but in the very form of language a contradiction of terms, I would have him reflect on those peculiarities of human nature itself.” For example, Newman says, think about a baby, which for the first few months doesn’t seem to have a soul, but “only the senses and functions of animal life, yet has, we know, a soul, which may even be regenerated.” The incarnation is certainly a mystery, but our nature is a mystery too.

Don’t fall into the trap, Newman warns us, of “distinguish[ing] between the Christ who lived on earth and the Son of God Most High, speaking of His human nature and His Divine nature so separately as not to feel or understand that God is man and man is God.” 

What do we do with a mystery? What is its use? Already we are on the wrong track if we are thinking only of its practical function. A mystery is meant to be contemplated, pondered, and embraced. We should allow it to envelop us in itself. In doing these things, or in letting them be done to us, we fall deeper in love and understanding of our Lord. 

On Sunday at Mass, when we bow our heads at the mention of the Incarnation, and before receiving Holy Communion, let’s remember who it is we worship. And let’s ask our Lord to open the eyes of our hearts to contemplate Him whom we cannot fathom, but whom we can call our Lord, Father and intimate friend. 

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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
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Review by Serenheed James
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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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