The poems and songs of King David and his school of song-writers—the Psalms—have been held up by scholars and saints alike for their literary power and theological depth. Who could read Psalm 23, about the Good Shepherd who guides us in all our needs and distress, and not be moved? Christians from the earliest centuries after Christ have taken the Psalms not merely as Jewish relics, but as their own. Even Christ prayed the Psalms—he recites a portion of Psalm 22 from the cross (rf. Mathew 27:46, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?). 

Newman offers an encouragement and a challenge as he considers the power of the Psalms; his sermon “The Condition of the Members of the Christian Empire” suggests that we will not appreciate or understand the full power of the Psalms if we are not acquainted with suffering, setbacks, and persecution in our Christian walk. Yet it is precisely here that the Psalms also offer us solace as the Church and Her individual members continue to give themselves over to God’s will in times of distress, calamity, and crises, corporate and personal. 

Newman echoes a deep tradition found in St. Athanasius’ “Letter to Marcellinus,” which encourages reading the Psalms as related to Christ, and of comfort to the Christian in various kinds of sufferings. Athanasius writes, 

So then, my son, let whoever reads this Book of Psalms take the things in it quite simply as God-inspired; and let each select from it, as from the fruits of a garden, those things of which he sees himself in need. For I think that in the words of this book all human life is covered… in every case the words you want are written down for you, and you can say them as your own.

Like Athanasius, Newman also stresses that it is only in finding how the Psalms relate to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that they can have meaning for the Christian. There is no real continuity between the “Christian and Jewish Church,” unless there is a continuation in their religious devotions. The “sacrifice of a broken spirit” the Psalmist offers in Psalm 50 is not merely dejection, but becomes the cry of the Suffering Servant in his agonies and persecutions, carrying his cross to become the sacrifice by which we are all forgiven, made new, and brought to life. The whole drama of redemption in Christ is played out in the Psalms, in a way that becomes the voice of the Church made in Christ’s likeness beseeching the Father for mercy.

Newman calls the Psalms the “voice” of the Church, the “very language which is natural to her” as the “Kingdom of heaven upon earth.” No wonder the Church has supplied the Psalms as the substance of the Church’s prayer not only in the Liturgy of the Word, but also in her perpetual prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours, prayed 7 times a day by monks, at least five times a day by clergy and religious, by many more lay faithful as they are able. To pray the Psalms with the Church is to join into what the Church is always doing–offering the sacrifice of Christ to the Father, speaking in and as Christ. 

But to truly understand the language of the Psalms, which is often one of agony, supplication, and even misery, Newman suggests that one must be able to enter into the real sufferings of the Church throughout time, even if one’s own time and place is not particularly painful. “The age of the Martyrs, indeed, is well nigh over; but scarce a Saint, but has been in his place and degree a Confessor.” Even if  “fierce barbarians” no longer pour over the face of the Church, one must be able to enter into the Psalmists’ understanding of persecution and trial to read the Psalms profitably. 

Newman cautions us that we cannot use the Psalter properly, and may even abuse it, if we are “too happy and secure,” if “we are friends with the world” and love our faith only for the benefits it brings rather than for love of God. He fears that no doctrinal corruption is as great as the “practical corruption” which creeps into the Church in all eras: “seeking God for the sake of mammon; loving religion from love of the world.”

One might love the Church, but love worldly prosperity more, mistaking the material or social or practical benefits of Christianity as the end or highest good. He does not deny the good of these benefits–of order, obedience, charity, defense of human dignity and private property, of generosity and healing and beauty; but they are not “the special benefits of Christ’s kingdom.” If one endured the trials, persecutions, and temptations of the Psalmist, or the Martyrs, or Christ Himself, and was deprived of all material, visible benefit, would he still care for “the unseen and spiritual blessings which are [the Church’s] true and proper gifts”?

This is matter for examination of conscience, not over-scrupulosity; we may rightly enjoy the benefits that accrue to our faith, while also discerning if our attachment to faith is secure enough to withstand the withdrawal of those benefits. Stories and poems, hymns and the Psalms can help us cultivate such examination, imagining ourselves in trial, praying for the Church persecuted elsewhere, coming to know our own frailty and weakness while learning to depend entirely on God.

Thus, let us go to the Psalms to learn detachment, to learn that “All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim 3:12), and to increase our devotion to God as the world about us grows darker. Let us use the Psalms to truly become the Body of Christ together, the great family across the world and time and extending to the eternity of Saints who are blessed not because of “earthly law, or human countenance, or civil station,” but because we are “poor in spirit, mourners, meek, thirsters for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and persecuted.” 

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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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Fr. Peter Conley

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