Nativity

St. Josemaría Escrivá, in an Advent sermon, said that the Christmas season is all about mercy. St. John Henry Newman, in his sermon “The Mystery of Godliness,” complements this meditation on mercy at the core of Christmas with a focus on grace, and its growth into glory. His sermon, likely preached sometime in the 1830s or 1840s on Christmas day, offers a hope-filled glimpse into the glorious mystery of grace that Christmas brings: by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, we can share in Christ’s divine nature by his human nature, becoming living members of his Holy Family, the New Paradise, the New Creation.

Newman calls us to read the biblical account of Christ’s birth as a sort of script, or blueprint, for how the Holy Spirit operates in our hearts and souls in a personal, unique way. He writes, “ … Our savior’s birth in the flesh is an earnest, and, as it were, beginning of our birth in the Spirit … a figure, promise, or pledge of our new birth.” The birth of our Lord is oriented to our own sanctification. To show this, Newman reminds us of two important truths of the faith: Christ is God, the eternal Son of the Father, and Christ came in the flesh, taking on a created human nature from the Virgin Mary, in humility and free of all sin. 

This is the Mystery that all men can share in: Christ’s all-holy nature “has taken our nature,” and in that we are made one with him, drawn into his holy life. This rich theme is established in the text of Hebrews 2:11, which Newman draws from: “ … Both He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause He is not ashamed to call them bretheren …” By Christ’s incarnate act, there is a profound unity between mankind and God, summed up in one word: holiness. This holiness, by God’s grace, is something that God and men share in common. 

This “economy of grace,” or “mystery of godliness,” begins with our Lord’s holiness which He shares as God with the Father “from eternity.” And this same Lord who “created the worlds,” also “ … condescended to come down on earth from his heavenly throne, and to be born into His own world.” This new birth of God into our world is the beginning of a New Family, a New Paradise, a New Creation, marked by holiness. The Nativity scene which we set up and ponder in our homes and on our lawns throughout this season is a literal glimpse of heaven, of a new garden of Eden, of the new heavens and new earth. And it was only the beginning: it has grown into the Church wherein sinners are born to new life. Allowing that life to fully penetrate their persons, those who are regenerated also become saintly adopted sons and daughters who share in God’s glorious holiness. As St. Bernard of Clairvoux describes in his sermon “The Three Comings of Christ,” this coming of Christ is invisible, inward, and hidden, and will only be fully revealed when Christ comes again. 

Further, the manner of Christ’s coming provides a model for his coming into our hearts. It was fitting to “the All-Holy” that He take on our nature while remaining free from sin. In other words, Christ came in a way that was truly humble, not drawing at all from the vanity and selfishness, the pomp and pride, of the sinful world. He, the “ … immaculate Lamb of God, and the all-prevailing priest… and the heir of an everlasting kingdom … ” did not accept the empty praise of the world, but came in quietness and purity to draw truly repentant sinners to himself. He sought those who wished to be “partakers of His holiness,” not takers of his glory for worldly ends. Christ’s birth presents a pattern of our own life in the Spirit: “ … He who is the first principle and pattern of all things, came to be the beginning and pattern of human kind, the firstborn of the whole creation… He, who is the Life from eternity, became the Life of a race dead in sin … ” He  came to give us sanctified unity with God, since “ … he came as a benefactor, not as a guest.”

Christ came to share with us his holiness, to become what Fr. Thomas Dubay, in The Evidential Power of Beauty, calls a “moral miracle,” a “living icon of the beauty of sanctity,” being transformed in union with Christ into “the very divine image that we reflect.” Fr. Dubay says that saints “ … are the divinized glory of the Lord’s Church; and each of them is a splendid advertisement of the fact that he is still with her.” Newman calls us to look at the Nativity for our model of Spirit-filled sanctification, to come to the Sanctifier to be sanctified, humbly embracing the eternal life that the Giver of Life is offering us. 

Each of us, in our own unique way, may thus become saints, become living members of the New and Holy Family, keepers of the New and Holy Paradise, and creatures in the New and Holy Creation. We become so by looking inward, by allowing Christ to make his Nativity in our hearts. As the hubub of the holidays increases, it is in the same measure essential for us to intentionally foster time for silence and prayer, reflecting on this reality.

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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.”

For a Christian, death is no longer defeat nor something to fear, rather it is the sign of Christ’s victory.

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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.

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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