Sunset, Delray

The Thought of God, the Stay of the Soul: Newman on Happiness  (PPS 5.22)

Are you happy? This is a question we are asked frequently – and a question we ask others frequently. But what does this question really mean? Blessed John Henry Newman, in his sermon, “The Thought of God, the Stay of the Soul,” can help us put this question into its proper perspective, and thereby help us grasp whence true happiness comes.  

When one inquires after another’s happiness, what is usually being asked is in reference to temporal well-being, that is, whether things are going well, or whether the person is feeling good, or whether the person is looking forward to some fun event. Daily things, fleeting things. But is this really all there is to happiness? Of course not! True happiness is something outside of these passing situations. Furthermore, true happiness can be found even if we’re experiencing hardships or sorrow. To appreciate more fully Newman’s teaching on happiness, it is helpful to recall the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle’s teaching on the subject. Newman, who studied Aristotle, would have been familiar with Aristotle’s famous work, the Nicomachean Ethics.

According to Aristotle, happiness is the ultimate purpose of human existence. In the Ethics, he gives his theory of happiness. Aristotle asks,  “What is that end or goal for which we should direct all of our activities?” While temporal well-being has value, no fleeting thing can occupy the place of the chief good for which humanity should aim. To be an ultimate end, an act must be self-sufficient and final, “… that which is always desirable in itself and never for the sake of something else …” (Nicomachean Ethics, 1097a30-34). Aristotle claims that nearly everyone would agree that happiness is the end which meets all these requirements. This kind of happiness, in Greek, eudaimonia, is not fleeting, but, instead, is an end in itself.

  Aristotle’s teaching does not contradict Christianity; on the contrary, it  helps us to understand well what is developed more fully in Christian ethics. And this is what Blessed John Henry Newman considers in his sermon.

For Newman, “… the soul of man is made for the contemplation of its Maker; and that nothing short of that high contemplation is its happiness; that, whatever it may possess besides, it is unsatisfied till it is vouchsafed God’s presence, and lives in the light of it.” True lasting happiness, then, must come from God. Newman continues:

“Now, if this be so, here is at once a reason for saying that the thought of God, and nothing short of it, is the happiness of man; for though there is much besides to serve as subject of knowledge, or motive for action, or means of excitement, yet the affections require a something more vast and more enduring than anything created . . .  He alone is sufficient for the heart who made it.”  

This is what St. Augustine meant when he wrote in the Confessions, “Thou has made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

Newman agrees fully: “But there is another reason why God alone is the happiness of our souls . . .   the contemplation of Him, and nothing but it, is able fully to open and relieve the mind, to unlock, occupy, and fix our affections. We may indeed love things created with great intenseness, but such affection, when disjoined from the love of the Creator, is like a stream running in a narrow channel, impetuous, vehement, turbid. The heart runs out, as it were, only at one door; it is not an expanding of the whole man.”

So how does this contemplation of God bring about lasting happiness? We must first let God enter into our heart.

“Created natures cannot open us …  None but the presence of our Maker can enter us; for to none besides can the whole heart in all its thoughts and feelings be unlocked and subjected.”

Happiness, lasting happiness, comes only from the contemplation of God, who knows and loves us perfectly, and knows even the very number of hairs on our head. Let us open our hearts to Him, ask Him to dwell within us, to contemplate Him in His perfection. And when our hearts are sad, or we are experiencing illness or loss, when we are troubled, when happiness seems far away, let us remember this beautiful prayer of St. Bonaventure: “May you alone be ever my hope, my entire assurance, my riches, my delight, my pleasure, my joy, my rest and tranquility … in whom may my mind and my heart be fixed and firm and rooted immovably hence forth and for ever. Amen.”

 

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What is the doctrine of the Trinity? The Athanasian Creed, in common use around the sixth century, formulates it this way: "We worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity, without either confusing the persons or dividing the substance; for the person of the Father is one, the Son's is another, the Holy Spirit's another; but the Godhead of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal."

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

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What is the doctrine of the Trinity? The Athanasian Creed, in common use around the sixth century, formulates it this way: "We worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity, without either confusing the persons or dividing the substance; for the person of the Father is one, the Son's is another, the Holy Spirit's another; but the Godhead of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal."

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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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