Sunset through the Pine Trees

Time. How do you think about time? Does your time drag by, or does it fly? Do you live one day at a time, or do you worry about the things of tomorrow? Do you seize the day? Or do you fritter your day away? Each person thinks of time differently. But how we think about time greatly influences how we live our lives. Blessed John Henry Newman, living in the 19th century, knew only too well how fragile time on earth can be, for he lost his beloved sister Mary unexpectedly when she was only 19 years old. Her death at such a young age would affect him throughout his life. The poem, “The Trance of Time,” however, was written the year before she died. This fact lends poignancy to his thoughtful verses.

Newman begins the poem with a famous verse from Virgil’s Georgics. The verse, loosely translated, means “Happy is he who understands the cause of things, who tramples beneath his feet all fear and fate and worry of the afterlife!” Virgil’s understanding of how one should conceive of time and worry comes from a pre-Chrisitian, Stoic viewpoint. It’s not contrary to Christian thought, but lacks “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” that is, Christian hope. And this Christian hope is what Newman will supply in his poetic meditation on time. 

“Felix, qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas,

Atque metus omnes, et inexorabile fatum

Subjecit pedibus, strepitumque Acherontis avari!”


In the first three stanzas following the quote from Virgil, Newman recounts how happily he spent the four different seasons of the year when he was a child. There was something in each season which claimed his love because, as a child,  he wasn’t yet aware of the fleetingness of time. Each happy season seemed to promise the “constancy of good.” Spring was like heaven, the summer flowers seemed never to fade, autumn didn’t hasten away, and all the four seemed happily to dance away the year. 


In childhood, when with eager eyes

    The season-measured year I view’d,

       All garb’d in fairy guise,

          Pledged constancy of good.


Spring sang of heaven; the summer flowers

    Bade me gaze on, and did not fade;

       Even suns o’er autumn’s bowers

          Heard my strong wish, and stay’d.


They came and went, the short-lived four;

    Yet, as their varying dance they wove,

       To my young heart each bore

          Its own sure claim of love.


This young child’s view of time would change, however, as Newman grew older; time seemed to start speeding away, so fast that no longer did the seasons seem distinct, but instead they blurred together:


Far different now;—the whirling year

    Vainly my dizzy eyes pursue;

       And its fair tints appear

          All blent in one dusk hue.


Why dwell on rich autumnal lights,

    Spring-time, or winter’s social ring?

       Long days are fire-side nights,

          Brown autumn is fresh spring.


But then Newman reminds himself that we mortals have no control over the fleeting nature of life, and  he gives his own heart some advice: be not afraid. For neither storms nor terror nor even joy should prevent the most important duty we have on earth: to hear the voice of God.


Then what this world to thee, my heart?

    Its gifts nor feed thee nor can bless.

       Thou hast no owner’s part

          In all its fleetingness.


The flame, the storm, the quaking ground,

    Earth’s joy, earth’s terror, nought is thine,

       Thou must but hear the sound

          Of the still voice divine.


The final stanza ends with a joyful promise:  


O priceless art! O princely state!

    E’en while by sense of change opprest,

       Within to antedate

          Heaven’s Age of fearless rest.  (Highwood. October, 1827).

In other words: do not live these days on earth in fear, no matter your state of life. Even with all the life changes that might seem oppressive, there will be a time in heaven of infinite and fearless rest. Thus Newman’s last verse is his own translation of Virgil’s lines from the beginning of the poem, yet with a promise of Heaven instead of Virgil’s advice to deal with the passing of time by placing aside fear for the lower world across the Acheron.

Time. Let us not live life fretting and worrying, or in haste to get to the weekend.  Do you remember to thank Our Lord for each moment of life He has granted to you, to live it for His Greater Glory? We must in our own seeming blur of days and weeks and months and years remember to pause, and listen, for “the still voice divine.”


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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
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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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