In this Octave of Easter, we continue to contemplate the empty tomb, the Living God, the Risen Lord. Although the Easter Vigil resounded with Alleluias, we still look about to a world that is deaf to its ring, indifferent to its joy, and incredulous of its hope. The resounding praises of our Risen Lord have echoed for 2000 years—why do more not hear its magnified refrain? St. John Henry Newman offers us the key to understanding this: God hides beneath the surface of things and acts quietly in people’s hearts.

From its very inception, God’s work in the world has always been quiet, hidden, humble. God spoke to Abraham in the depths of his heart, not with violent reproaches upon the people of Ur. The Blessed Virgin Mary received the Annunciation while in prayer, closed up in her room, not shouting from the housetop. Christ was born in obscurity and raised for thirty years in a backwater town, the son of a carpenter. A few mournful and weary disciples laid his body in the tomb—his Mother, Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea. And it was a quiet, dewey morning in the garden when he spoke to St. Mary Magdalene and she encountered her risen Lord. We look back now at the grandeur of his resurrected appearance to 500 witnesses, we read the power of his works in the Gospels—yet His has always been the way of quiet intimacy. He appeared behind locked doors, along the seaside over a breakfast of fish, in the quiet cool of a garden.

In this way, although he will be revealed one day to all in glory, Christ’s manifestation is “hid” beneath a “servant’s form,” as St. John Henry Newman describes in his circa 1840s sermon “Faith and Experience.” Although Christ comes to us in ways that we can understand, the call of faith is at utter odds with our common experience of the world. We cannot judge the things of faith as the world judges things—through outward appearances, through the “visible.” Our “bounden duty” as Christians, “our very profession,” is “to walk by faith and not by sight.”

Newman would ask us to be judicious in discerning if we have worldliness still lingering in our piety—if we mistake the outward, visible forms of faith to be the true substance and heart. Around the same time Newman wrote this sermon, Charles Dickens in nearby London was publishing his novel Martin Chuzzlewit. As in many of his novels, Dickens sounds a famous critique of Christian hypocrisy, self-righteousness, sanctimonious sententiousness; this time in the figure of Mr. Pecksniff, from whom is coined the term “Pecksniffian.” While he outwardly and frequently quotes Scripture, imparts wisdom, and reproaches friends and family for their sins, Mr. Pecksniff is a down-right scoundrel, a charlatan teacher of architecture. He portrays himself to be  a “moral man,” but only his “throat” is truly moral—his moralizing words mask his true deceptive genius, “ensnaring parents and guardians, and pocketing premiums.” 

Newman invites us to look beneath pious surfaces and have eyes of faith—to “trust the revealed word” of God and not any merely human appearance. He notes how for example, the truth of our baptismal regeneration is a fact of faith that may not correspond to any outward human measurement of personal character, virtuous development, or worldly success. The unbaptized may appear moral, while the baptized may appear scoundrels. Even in the world of religion, “We see wrong principles, unsound doctrines, apparently making men what Christians should be, and what the true Gospel can alone really make any one,” and often heretics or divided sects appear more zealous, more missionary, more effective and apparently successful at winning converts. But faith requires that we look beneath all these appearances to the works and promises of God, not what shines in promises of worldly power and success. Much in human formation and experience can change our outward demeanor, but only God can transform the heart and renew the soul. We should strive for an integration of our character and heart, our inner and outer lives, but should not mistake one for the other.

Here and in many passages of his writings, Newman makes an important distinction: the refined gentleman of manners and taste, even of high religious sensibilities, is not the same thing as the regenerated Christian. Newman describes a man of no faith but high worldly morals, “not merely amiable, benevolent, and friendly—this might be easily allowed—but showing forth an integrity in his daily business, an honorable view of things, a correctness, a delicacy of sentiment, a considerateness and generosity of conduct, and, in a certain sense, a reliance upon Providence, a feeling of the greatness of religion and of its awfulness, a knowledge and admiration of Scripture, and when he comes into trouble, a recurrence to it, and a touching application of its words to himself.” What could a life of faith possibly offer this sort of man? Would God not be cruel to damn such an upright man for lacking certain doctrinal beliefs, for failing to have eyes of faith because of such an accomplished human experience? 

Newman’s essential response is that such a Pecksniffian portrait is, first, entirely fictional. No man who has faced real trials can boast of austere moral ground in his own self. And what truly honest man will say he loves the world—the world of vengefulness, of caprice, of back-stabbing and indifference and character assassination? What strange moral toxin dulls our senses to believe that we are indeed sufficient in the world, without God? Newman counters that the truly honest man sees that “we need His teaching; we are very blind,” that “God alone seeth the hearts of men,” that only God is true, and “every man a liar” (Romans 3:4). We seek real knowledge, knowledge of the Creator, His Creation, and His work redeeming fallen man’s waywardness—not a “mere barren knowledge of things that ‘perisheth with the using,’” based only on “human precepts and doctrines,” which St. Paul cautions against in referring to false teachers (cf. Colossians 2:20-23). 

We must not measure the things of faith by the things of the world; we must learn to see as God sees, to will as He wills, and to abide in that peace which surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7). Learn to wait in God’s presence and, in fidelity to Christ on the Cross, sink beneath the appearances of the world in order to rise with Him in faith. This Easter, consider spending extra time reading Scripture, in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, assisting at daily mass more frequently, or augmenting some other spiritual practice that will deepen your faith beyond appearances. Rest your inner gaze upon the things of God, like the hidden seed that dies in the burying but grows into new, everlasting life (cf. John 12:24). 

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What is the doctrine of the Trinity? The Athanasian Creed, in common use around the sixth century, formulates it this way: "We worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity, without either confusing the persons or dividing the substance; for the person of the Father is one, the Son's is another, the Holy Spirit's another; but the Godhead of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal."

The true light of Christ’s divinity was made visible to the Apostles at the Transfiguration.

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What is the doctrine of the Trinity? The Athanasian Creed, in common use around the sixth century, formulates it this way: "We worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity, without either confusing the persons or dividing the substance; for the person of the Father is one, the Son's is another, the Holy Spirit's another; but the Godhead of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal."

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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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