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Walking Together the Synodal Pathway with St John Henry Newman and Blessed Dominic Barberi

Gazing through his window, on a cold and stormy winter’s night in Oxfordshire, St John Henry Newman, perhaps, recalled that he had once used the phrase to ‘break the ice’ to describe being unsure of how to start a spiritual conversation like the one the synodal process we are engaged with calls us to.  Newman waited with a combination of nervous excitement and anxiety, for Blessed Dominic Barberi to tap on his door at Littlemore, and bring him into the “one true fold of the Redeemer”.   We can imagine that the sight of his rain-soaked visitor, who had travelled from Staffordshire in the Midlands, on top of a coach to save money, made them both fall about and thaw with laughter!  Alfred Wilson, in his biography of Dominic, records the “atrocious pun” that he made to curb Newman’s desire to jump in with his request to be received into the church: “Let us wait a little more and a little more will be done for the glory of God”!  As the diminutive, Italian, Passionist order priest headed straight for the fire!

Both men shared a strong Marian devotion.  Newman, in his university preaching, highlighted Mary’s role as the pattern for our faith, because she teaches us to ‘ponder in our hearts’ the truths of the Gospel.  Before he arranged to see Barberi, he had just completed An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine and was eager to share his insights into the historical significance of Mary’s message, which his book outlines. Newman and Barberi were well aware of the rich understanding of the bible’s idea of ‘a listening heart’.  This refers to the centre of a person’s emotions, desires, will and the moral decision-making capacity we call ‘our conscience’ – where we meet God.  Although John Henry says that Dominic did not know of his intentions, he describes him as a “holy man with remarkable powers” and having a sharp, perceptive mind.  Before the historic encounter between them, they had prepared for it with many hours of prayer – not least Blessed Dominic during his travels!

After putting Newman at his ease, and gently inviting him to reveal his spiritual auto- biography and make his confession, Barberi realised that they each needed time to ponder upon all that had been spoken between them. He sensitively suggested that they rest and reconvene afresh in the morning – because he recognised Newman would be tired after such deep sharing. Chatting over breakfast (which John Henry always enjoyed doing) and beyond, they continued their Emmaus road of carefully listening to each other, accompanied by Jesus, walking by their side.  As they talked, the Lord was at work in their hearts, revealing his presence to them. Newman may also have mentioned his Parochial and Plain Sermon entitled Remembrance of Past Mercies, which covers this theme.

Reflecting on their dialogue involving communion and participation, Newman and Barberi discovered themselves influencing each other as fellow missionary disciples, being strengthened to be more radiant leaders of faith, hope and love.  They were energised to serve their respective present and future communities, by the grace they received from the liturgy and worship of the sacraments of reconciliation and the sacrifice of the mass – celebrated on Newman’s writing table, on 9th October, 1845.

Throughout the following months, St John Henry’s and Blessed Dominic’s discussions continued – as they unpacked their respective ‘suitcases’ containing the precious garments, woven out of the ideas that their exchanges had inspired, for use on their on-going journey together.  They gradually came to recognise that Newman’s vocation was to form a congregation, beginning from a base in Old Oscott (Maryvale) in “Brummagem”.  This realisation emerged out of a combination of what John Henry called, whenever they got together, “a good gossip”, coupled with the sublime knowledge that, as enthusiastic new converts, he and his confreres were according to Dominic, echoing St Paul, still “babes in Christ”.  Newman and Barberi also needed moments of challenging dialogue.  Given, for example, his unhappiness that Barberi had written what Newman considered to be premature, an article for The Tablet which announced that he and his friends had become Catholics.  These events fulfilled Newman’s and Barberi’s dreams at the same time.  However, they both understood what Newman later terms as the ‘definite service’ that everyone performs for God who calls us as individuals.  This means that each person’s sense of priority may differ so the meeting of minds, in Christ’s name, requires patient listening.

Newman, guiding a correspondent through their own struggles to discern God’s will, uses the popular analogy of God seeing the completed tapestry of our life experiences, while we often focus on the loose ends that it is formed by.  That reality gave St John Henry and Blessed Dominic the confidence that grace perfects any human limitations.  Their relationship, as we walk as a world-wide Church, the synodal pathway, illustrates for us that all authentic spiritual conversations involve elements of: compassionate candour, humour and humility, the clarifying and refining of assumptions, a willingness to reshape our views accordingly, and fundamentally the desire to have a listening heart, opened by prayer to the Holy Spirit.

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For forty days we are in ‘spiritual circuit training’, with the goal of joining St Peter on his morning run to Christ’s tomb.

But our Lord is clear: He said “to all” that “if any” man, and in doing so both offers Himself to every man and leaves no room for half-hearted disciples.

Newman encourages us to be more of what we are: courageous Christians who do all we can, to our utmost, for His Kingdom.

In this ingenious poem, “Candlemas,” Saint John Henry Newman weaves together the entire liturgical year using the theme of light as the thread

Newman approached his teaching from an obviously Christian anthropology. He saw every young person from the start as a being in the image of God.

Do we treat time, which is always slipping through our hands, as the precious resource it is?

Dominic abundantly shared with John Henry the gifts inspired by the Saints he admired, who are recorded in his spiritual journal.

The contemplation of Him, and nothing but it, is able fully to open and relieve the mind, to unlock, occupy, and fix our affections.

Our Books

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.
Fr. Peter Conley

For forty days we are in ‘spiritual circuit training’, with the goal of joining St Peter on his morning run to Christ’s tomb.

David Warren

But our Lord is clear: He said “to all” that “if any” man, and in doing so both offers Himself to every man and leaves no room for half-hearted disciples.

Robert Kirkendall

Newman encourages us to be more of what we are: courageous Christians who do all we can, to our utmost, for His Kingdom.

Prof. Barb H. Wyman

In this ingenious poem, “Candlemas,” Saint John Henry Newman weaves together the entire liturgical year using the theme of light as the thread

Scott Goins

Newman approached his teaching from an obviously Christian anthropology. He saw every young person from the start as a being in the image of God.

David Warren

Do we treat time, which is always slipping through our hands, as the precious resource it is?

Fr. Peter Conley

Dominic abundantly shared with John Henry the gifts inspired by the Saints he admired, who are recorded in his spiritual journal.

Robert Kirkendall

The contemplation of Him, and nothing but it, is able fully to open and relieve the mind, to unlock, occupy, and fix our affections.

Fr. Juan Velez

Merry Christmas to all! In the following video from Colombia, I send you a warm greetings for Christmas. May God richly bless you and your families, and may St. John Henry Newman continue to be a source of inspiration for