At Mass this coming Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, the entrance Antiphon will instruct us, “Rejoice in the Lord always; indeed, I say rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.” The first word is “Gaudete,” the Latin equivalent for the first Greek word in the Angel Gabriel’s greeting to the Virgin Mary: “Chaire,” or “Rejoice.” The Church shares Mary’s joy: the glory of God is near, is within us. Mary models humble reception of God as the path to true wisdom and greatness; but there are many things that tempt us to stray from this humble path. John Henry Newman’s 1830 sermon, “The Self-Wise Inquirer,” offers a frank examination of these temptations.

Newman’s sermon distinguishes between being “wise in this world” and being wise in God, elucidated in St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, 3:18-19:

Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.

A subtle self-deception can lead even the well-meaning into self-confidence and self-conceit by “trusting our own wisdom.” However, it is not always wrong to trust our own judgment. Two kinds of wisdom are not sinful in themselves: reliance on the authority of Conscience and Scripture. Newman defines Conscience as all people’s natural duty to acknowledge moral and religious truth. It is the mechanism by which all men, deep down, intuit ultimate accountability before the Creator. We can rely on Conscience and Scripture, “without incurring the sin of self-confidence” because “they come from the All-wise God.”

On the other hand, Newman says the world-wise man relies on wisdom not endowed by nature, but on artificial “industry, ability, and research.” This gives rise to vanity and elitism—a false truth accessible only to the self-wise inquirer, or to a select and enlightened few. This false wisdom fails to see fundamental truths as revealed by God and available to all. Newman describes how this man will become “impatient” with Scripture and Revelation, fearing it will “interfere with his own imaginary discoveries.” Newman cites St. Paul, who chides the Corinthians for being full of their own notions, rich and reigning as “kings without us,” out of sync with the Apostolic teaching that extends from Christ’s doctrine (1 Cor. 4:8). Newman encourages us, in reference to Matthew 11:25, to become again like little “babes” in our humble, obedient and primary reliance on religious and moral truth, not primarily on our intellectual discoveries and formulations.

Newman then assesses how we might inadvertently find ourselves relying upon worldly wisdom. As children we innocently recognize the goodness of moral and religious obedience. As we grow, we experiment with our fledgling reason, and disobedience of the first and fourth commandments often coincide—we fail in belief and fail in obeying our parents. We rebel and rise “against the authority of Conscience,” the beginnings of apostasy and vanity. Our “disobedience becomes its own punishment,” and our intellects blind us to the humble truths of the faith. Newman sees this as an all too common problem: “intellectual power” tends to “unfold amid the neglect of moral truth.” Professed faith tends to become a mere matter of “words, ideas, and principles” with no obedience, leaving  “an indelible evil character upon our heart, a judicial hardness and blindness.” Through undervaluing the Conscience, one learns to “despise and hate” it.

But there is an even greater danger: late in life, one might strive to return to the faith that had been spurned, but still lack ears to hear the Conscience. Worldly wisdom still infects the soul, masked in the language of a merely intellectualized, notional system of loosely Christian ideas. Still self-deceived, this person seeks to “gain religious knowledge merely by his reason,” but does not obediently submit to the moral and religious teachings of God revealed in Christ and expounded by the Church.

Even in the fervor of a return to faith, one might profess heresy by ignoring the fundamental moral and universal nature of faith, conversion, and reformation. It is by obedience—by listening to the word of God and doing it—that we are saved, not by an impressive grasp of intellectual notions about faith (cf. James 1:22-25).

This Advent, we are challenged by Newman to listen to  the “aboriginal Vicar of Christ in the soul” (cf. “Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, 5), our Conscience, the objective sense of God’s religious and moral commands in our hearts, informed by Scripture and the teachings of the Church.

Let us seek the intercession of  Blessed Cardinal Newman, and the intercession of our Blessed Mother. Inspired by her, let us seek true moral reformation—humble obedience—and, sharing in her joy, pray:

My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has regarded the lowliness  of his handmaiden.

For behold, from henceforth all generations will call me blessed;

for he who is mighty has done great things for me,

and holy is his name. (Luke 1:46-48

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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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