Image of Jesus Crucified
Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman
Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman
The Sign of the Cross


In a mere 76 words which make up the poem, “The Sign of the Cross,” Blessed John Henry Newman illustrates the nature of poetry: which can say so much, in just a few words. In this poem we are reminded of the power which is contained in that simple and frequently practiced act of making the Sign of the Cross, and what can be accomplished with this common prayer. We are then introduced to a recurring theme in Newman’s sermons, poems, and  letters:  the “invisible world,” that world which we profess in the Nicene Creed,  “I believe in all things visible and invisible.”

The first stanza of this short poem is fairly straightforward.  Note in the third line that four stressed syllables in a row (two spondees) serve to emphasize the words being spoken, illustrating Newman’s proficiency with meter,  and, again, in the fifth line another spondee will also emphasize these words. When  stressed syllables are used, they are like strong beats in a song.

The Sign of the Cross

WHENE’ER across this sinful flesh of mine

I draw the Holy Sign,

All good thoughts stir within me, and renew

Their slumbering strength divine;

Till there springs up a courage high and true

To suffer and to do.

Newman writes that after the “Holy Sign” is traced over the “sinful” body, this powerful sacramental causes the “slumbering” strength – that of the Holy Spirit’s inspiration – to “spring up” within the soul, “all good thoughts,” which brings with it courage to the person having signed himself “to suffer and to do.” This last line makes more sense if it’s understood that the word “suffer” here means “allow” – an older usage of the word, which is more familiar in Christ’s exhortation to “suffer the little children to come unto me,” that is, “allow the little children…” Therefore, the last line in this stanza means that the divine courage brought forth by the Sign of the Cross gives the person the strength to “allow” the courage to embolden him to act, or “to do.”

The poem continues:

And who shall say, but hateful spirits around,

For their brief hour unbound,

Shudder to see, and wail their overthrow?

In these three lines, we meet with the reality of satan and his demons’ fear of the Sign of the Cross, for it was by the cross satan was conquered, and for this reason, the sign is used in exorcisms where it is efficacious in “overthrowing” him and his evil spirits who are from the invisible world. We are told in Eph. 6.12: “For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness . . . . ” And these powers of darkness fear the Sign of the Cross!

        In the final three lines we are reminded of something remarkable, of the effects of prayer! (note the stressed syllables).

Newman writes:

While on far heathen ground

Some lonely Saint hails the fresh odor, though

Its source he cannot know.


In these lines is found the conviction which is at the heart of Christian prayer: that through the indwelling presence of God, a person of faith, rightly disposed and praying,  is potentially in touch with the whole world, visible and invisible. And by making oneself available in the humble obedience of prayer, a channel is opened for God’s grace to flow to any other in need, whether known or not. Prayers, which rise like incense to God, are in Revelation called the odor of saints (5:8). And then there are the other spirits: the angels who minister to us, the counterparts of the demons.  It is of this reality of the “invisible” that Blessed Newman often spoke and wrote.


(For instance in a sermon titled “The Invisible World” ( PPS 13 of Volume 4) he said:

“And yet in spite of this universal world which we see, there is another world, quite as farspreading, quite as close to us, and more wonderful; another world all around us, though we see it not, and more wonderful than the world we see, for this reason if for no other, that we do not see it.”)

And so in these 76 words of Newman’s poem, we are given an important lesson in the efficacy of Christian prayer: for overthrowing satan, for causing us to act in accordance with God’s will, and for aiding the many souls who need our prayer! When we make the Sign of the Cross throughout the day, we should pause and think of the angels who bring us before God in worship.


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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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