V0032900 Saint Philip Neri. Engraving.
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
Saint Philip Neri. Engraving.
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Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman
Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman
The Joyful Apostle


Saint Philip Neri. Engraving. (photo from Wellcome blog post)
The Joyful Apostle

John Henry Newman, in his ‘Fragment of a Life of St Philip’, has left us an unexpected (and often overlooked) hermeneutic key to unlock the nature of holiness in both canonized saints and those in the making – including with our benefit and hindsight – himself.

…a saint’s life may often have in it things not directly and immediately spiritual.  To find a saint sitting down to cards, or reading a heathen author, or listening to music or taking snuff, is often a relief and an encouragement to the reader, as convincing him that grace does not supersede nature, and that  as he is reading of a child of Adam and his own brother, and he is drawn up to his pattern and guide while he sees that pattern can descend to him; whereas that shadowy paper-Saint, as I may call it, bloodless, ideality which may be set up in the mind from the exclusive perusal of a roll of unconnected details, may, from the weakness of our hearts, chill us unduly, lead [us] to shrink from the Saints and to despond about ourselves. (Newman’s Oratory Papers, p.258-259).

Partly ‘tongue in cheek’, Newman makes serious points about the importance of human details, as well as a person’s good works, being made an intrinsic part of official, contemporary, canonisation accounts. They would help bring a Saint closer to us. He would, he laments, like to know much more about the practical spirituality and fun-filled, earth-grounded humour, of St Philip than is recorded.

Those commenting on Neri’s life highlight his capacity for spontaneous practical jokes and witty repartee.  His preaching was inspired by Dominican street evangelists, like Savonarola, who emphasized the importance of conversion, and the role of scripture, in dramatic style.  Philip learned the art of communication, in the public spaces, amongst passers-by, merchants, warehouse workers, and traders. He imitated the ardour and child-like simplicity of Blessed Colombini and the story of a Priest called Piovano Arlotto, known for his generosity and ability to engender laughter, was one of Neri’s favourite books (Turks, P, The Fire of Joy, p.4; 6-7; 11).

Philip realised that the way to a person’s heart was by beginning with normal discourse of daily life before, by God’s grace, taking them to a different place they might find challenging.  Then, return them to the familiar with renewed new eyes.

Sometimes know as the ‘Columbus of the catacombs’, Neri, during his period living a hermit-like existence in Rome, meticulously explored the graves of the martyrs of the early Church, in order to pray with the communion of saints for a deeper relationship with the Lord they had given their lives for.  This was no morbid preoccupation.  It helped form, within his being, a wellspring of unquenchable joy.  Philip’s desire for Christ eventually led him to have a ‘Pentecost’ spiritual experience, which manifested itself as an ‘inner burning’.  He interpreted this as the purifying love of God.  It made him focus on disciplined living and the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist as the means of growing in the love of God and neighbour.

As John Paul II concludes in a letter for the Fourth Centenary of the death of St Philip:

May St Philip, a man lovable and generous, holy, chaste and humble, an apostle both active and contemplative; may he remain the constant model for the members of the Congregation of the Oratory.  He transmits to all Oratorians a programme and a life style which still retains today a special relevance.  The so-called quadrilateral – humility, charity, prayer and joy – remains always a most solid foundation on which to erect the internal structure of one’s own spiritual life.

Fr Peter Conley




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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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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.

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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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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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“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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