Full title: The Virgin in Prayer
Artist: Sassoferrato
Date made: 1640-50
Source: http://www.nationalgalleryimages.co.uk/
Contact: picture.library@nationalgallery.co.uk

Copyright © The National Gallery, London
Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman
Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman
The Power of the Will

On the Thursday after Ash Wednesday, the Mass brings us these these forceful words of Jesus from the Gospel of Luke: “And he said to all, ‘If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’” Reading only the second clause in this verse, we might think Jesus is looking for some elite Christian followers who will deny themselves. Surely he doesn’t expect all Christians to answer this call to heroism. But our Lord is clear: He said “to all” that “if any” man, and in doing so both offers Himself to every man and leaves no room for half-hearted disciples. St. John Henry Newman, in his sermon, “The Power of the Will,” shows us that the heroism needed to be a disciple of Christ is within the reach of every person.

Within Christianity, believers have varying degrees of friendship with Jesus, as many degrees of friendship that exist in our relationships with others. Our friendship with Jesus is likely shallow if we have only superficial or infrequent conversations with him; or if our faith is reduced to the minimal obligations the Church imposes – annual reconciliation, annual reception of the Eucharist, weekly Mass attendance, and so on; or if our morality consists of the avoidance of great evil. “Surely,” Newman says, “it is not enough to avoid evil in order to attain to heaven,—we must follow after good.”

On the contrary, we are close to Jesus if we open ourselves in prayer to him throughout our day, if we allow the grace of God to sustain us through the sacraments and if we love our neighbor with deeds. What is heroic about following Jesus in these ways? Nothing obvious to the senses. But interiorly we feel it. The death we must face when we say “yes” to Him is truly a death. It is a death to self: to doing what we want, when we want, how we want. What is actually being asked of us in loving God and our neighbor is often so small — picking up after ourselves at home, setting aside some time to help a coworker when we have our own work to do, getting up a little earlier to pray. But while the size of the task may be small, the degree of the task is great because it takes real courage and power to say no to ourselves.

What do we need to overcome ourselves, to say yes to Jesus and no to our own selfish desires? Newman says the answer is within: “Why do we not obey as we ought? Many people will answer that we have a fallen nature, which hinders us; that we cannot help it, though we ought to be very sorry for it; that this is the reason of our shortcomings. Not so: we can help it; we are not hindered; what we want is the will; and it is our own fault that we have it not. We have all things granted to us; God has abounded in His mercies to us; we have a depth of power and strength lodged in us; but we have not the heart, we have not the will, we have not the love to use it.” 

We can live the heroic Christian life. It isn’t complicated. But do we have the will to follow Jesus? Do we want him more than we want the life we have cultivated for ourselves? Perhaps, as Newman says,“We fear to be too holy. Others put us to shame; all around us, others are doing what we will not. Others are entering deeper into the kingdom of heaven than we. Others are fighting against their enemies more truly and bravely. The unlettered, the ungifted, the young, the weak and simple, with sling and stones from the brook, are encountering Goliath, as having on divine armour. The Church is rising up around us day by day towards heaven, and we do nothing but object, or explain away, or criticise, or make excuses, or wonder.” A modern day saint, Josemaria Escriva, wrote: “Sanctity is made up of heroic acts. Therefore, in our work we are asked for the heroism of finishing properly the tasks committed to us, day after day, even though they are the same tasks. If we don’t, then we do not want to be saints!” We need to will, to desire, our sanctity.

This Lent we can resolve to use the power of our will to say yes to Christ. Of course, we will need the power of His grace to do so, but remember that He has given it to us. And we will surely stumble on many occasions, but remember that he has promised the strength to get right back up again. That leaves one thing for us: to desire.

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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.

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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