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I remember riding in the back of the car as a child, peering through the front seats wondering when we would arrive.  “Are we there yet?” my sister and I would ask our parents repeatedly. Watching and waiting are the occupation of childhood.  Children always know how many months until their birthdays, how many days until Christmas, how many hours until the movie starts.  But while they often know the number, their sense of time is not as keen, and so they are always on the lookout. 

We wait in this same state of anticipation at the coming of our Savior this Christmas.  In Advent the Church prepares us to receive Him, not only on December 25, but on the day of His second coming.  The Scripture readings tell us to wake up, watch, and ready ourselves for the end of the world. But how? What does it mean to watch for our Lord?  

In “Watching,” St. John Henry Newman asks his listeners to reflect on those questions, because Christ Himself, and his apostles, are insistent about watching.  Here is a small sample of these warnings:

  • Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time will come. – Mark 13:33
  • But take heed to yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a snare; for it will come upon all who dwell upon the face of the whole earth. But watch at all times… – Luke 21:34-36
  • Be watchful, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. – 1 Cor. 16:13

The warnings are stern, the consequences grave.  Newman calls this action of watching the main difference between consistent Christians and inconsistent Christians.

To watch is to seek eagerly, untiringly, for a coming person or event.  Newman defines it with analogies: “Do you know the feeling in matters of this life, of expecting a friend, expecting him to come, and he delays? Do you know what it is to be in unpleasant company, and to wish for the time to pass away, and the hour strike when you may be at liberty? Do you know what it is to be in anxiety lest something should happen which may happen or may not, or to be in suspense about some important event, which makes your heart beat when you are reminded of it, and of which you think the first thing in the morning?”

There is nothing passive about this kind of watching. “He watches for Christ who has a sensitive, eager, apprehensive mind; who is awake, alive, quick-sighted, zealous in seeking and honouring Him; who looks out for Him in all that happens, and who would not be surprised, who would not be over-agitated or overwhelmed, if he found that He was coming at once.”  Notice also, besides an absence of passivity, there is an absence of anxiety in the modern sense. The one watching is not “over-agitated.” One thinks immediately of the father from the parable of the Prodigal Son. He saw his son a far way off. There is a steadiness and yet eagerness in his watching.  

To watch is also to remember.  In the case of a loved one, when we remember special likes and dislikes, events, and memorable stories, we communicate our care and love for them.  To watch for Christ is to ponder his whole life, past and present, allowing the painful and glorious moments to have their place. To Newman, the one who watches is alert to the full human experience of Christ.  “… faith is always sorrowing with Him while it rejoices. And the same union of opposite thoughts is impressed on us in Holy Communion, in which we see Christ’s death and resurrection together …” For those who do not watch, only what occupies them presently matters (and usually it is material things).

Failing to watch is a subtle trap to fall into.  Those who do not watch are not openly rebellious; on the contrary, they believe in God and even seek Him.  It is the manner of their seeking Newman finds wanting. He says, “It is not that they forget God, or do not live by principle, or forget that the goods of this world are His gift; but they love them for their own sake more than for the sake of the Giver, and reckon on their remaining, as if they had that permanence which their duties and religious privileges have.”  

Will we be ready to receive Christ when He comes again?  Or are we too attached to earthly things? Are we ready to meet Christ, or do we wish to simply escape present circumstances?  Are we watching for Him with passivity or anxiety? In Advent we prepare to celebrate His First Coming as a Child, and we look forward to His Second Coming in glory.  Advent is the time to examine our conscience with the words of Scripture and these thoughts from St. John Henry Newman, that we might prepare ourselves to receive Him at this great feast.  Watching for Him may mean any number of small, but important gestures, like a few minutes of Scripture reading each day, visiting Him in the Blessed Sacrament, or repeating some aspirations throughout the day.  Whatever our demonstration of love, we can be sure Our Lord is also watching for us, for our desire for Him can never match His desire for us.

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The world which sees only appearances cannot comprehend the hidden reality of a heart captive to Christ. 

With this indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we have the indwelling of Christ in our souls. Christ is born in us. The Holy Spirit makes us children of God, crying out Abba Father, and restores in us the likeness of Christ.

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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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