Jesus in the temple
Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman
Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman
The New Works of the Gospel

We have lost the art of having deep conversations. It’s not that we are shallow, or that we don’t want to talk about the big questions life poses. Today, it’s dangerous to talk about what really matters. A single word or symbol can be raised like a flag a person stakes on his property to say who he is and what he stands for, and also who he is not and what he opposes. 

But the deep conversations are the good ones. They enrich our lives because they make us question what we believe and lead us to reaffirm or adjust our convictions, and also because they help us to understand other people and their convictions better. If we want to start having deeper conversations, we should take a closer look at St. John Henry Newman’s life and thought, specifically his homily “New Works of the Gospel.” In this homily, Newman brings greater clarity to a topic as old as the Church: faith and works. In examining it, Newman teaches us two attributes of a good dialogue partner.

Respect your Interlocutor

This is a sermon, not a conversation, but a good persuasive piece of writing is a conversation between sources. As an expert homilist, Newman knew that it was his job to use his text as a meeting between different parts of Scripture and doctors or fathers of the Church who could “speak to one another” in order to understand the meaning of a particular topic. Newman even gives voice to himself, or the person on the street trying to wrestle with the apparent contradictions or difficulties in Scripture. Citing passages that seem to indicate salvation is of faith and others showing it is of works, Newman says, “Now it may be asked, Is there not some contrariety in these statements? … If the new Covenant be of works too, how is the Gospel other than the Law? how can it justly be called new?” In all of Newman’s works it would be hard to find a single instance where he dismisses someone for their questions. His respect for others as human beings made in the image of God led his whole approach to conversing with them.

Understand the Argument

Respecting the person we are in dialogue with means respecting their argument. This doesn’t mean we need to agree with it or even consider it equal to our argument. But it does mean that we need to take the time to understand it from the inside. All too often, we either allow ourselves to be lazy or we assign our dialogue partner a label and organize his thoughts under this label. For example, “He’s a liberal, so he must be anti-family.”

Not so with Newman. He does the hard work of examining the text. He concludes that both faith and works are necessary and gives the listener a metaphor to understand this better: “Now there can be no doubt at all that salvation is by faith, and that its being by faith is one of those special circumstances which make the Gospel a new covenant; but still it may be by works also; for, to use a familiar illustration, obedience is the road to heaven, and faith the gate. Those who attempt to be saved simply without works, are like persons who should attempt to travel to a place, not along the road, but across the fields. If we wish to get to our journey’s end, we shall keep to the road.”

This effort to examine differing ideas necessarily involves the work of attention. The famous psychologist M. Scott Peck, in The Road Less Traveled, recounts his personal experience with the immense effort that attention requires: “Not very long ago I attended a lecture by a famous man on an aspect of the relationship between psychology and religion in which I have long been interested. Because of my interest I had a certain amount of expertise in the subject and immediately recognized the lecturer to be a great sage indeed. I also sensed love in the tremendous effort that he was exerting to communicate with all manner of examples, highly abstract concepts that were difficult for us, his audience, to comprehend. I therefore listened to him with all the intentness of which I was capable. Throughout the hour and a half he talked sweat was literally dripping down my face in the air-conditioned auditorium. By the time he was finished I had a throbbing headache, the muscles in my neck were rigid from my effort at concentration, and I felt completely drained and exhausted.” Peck goes on to say that this work of attention is a form of love. “I loved him because I perceived him to be a person of great value worth listening to, and I loved myself because I was willing to work on behalf of my growth.” 

Seeking the truth with an attentive and diligent eye, Newman is not only able to understand where one might be confused about the relationship between faith and works, he works hard to communicate clearly to eliminate confusion. He says, “The way of salvation is by works, as under the Law, but it is by ‘works which spring out of faith,’ and which come of ‘the inspiration of the Spirit.’ It is because works are living and spiritual, from the heart, and by faith, that the Gospel is a new covenant.” In other words, while the new covenant is by grace and brings a salvation we cannot earn, the works that we do under this covenant are not a striving for salvation, but flow naturally from a converted heart. We should not pit faith and works against each other; instead, we should strive to live out the freedom Christ has purchased for us.

Our world is full of men and women who are confused and lonely. They are longing for the healing that deep conversations can bring, conversations that touch the topics that are of eternal significance. Today, we can ask our Lord, through the intercession of St. Newman, for the courage to go deeper with family and friends. When we do, let’s imitate this great saint in the care and attention we bring to our conversation and the ideas we discuss.

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

We call His presence in this Holy Sacrament a spiritual presence, not as if ‘spiritual’ were but a name or mode of speech.

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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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