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Saint of the Day: St. John of God
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John Henry Newman, A Man of Prayer

Herry Lawford

Fr. Juan R. Vélez - published on 02/21/14

Newman’s prayer leads him to a deep consideration of the gravity of sin and a consequent remorse for sin:

“O my dear Lord, how should I myself feel, what should I say of myself, if I were to strike some revered superior on earth? if I were violently to deal a blow upon some one as revered as a father, or a priest; if I were to strike them on the face? I cannot bear even to think of such a thing—yet what is this compared with lifting up my hand against Thee? and what is sin but this? To sin is to insult Thee in the grossest of all conceivable ways. This then, O my soul! is what the sinfulness of sin consists in. It is lifting up my hand against my Infinite Benefactor, against my Almighty Creator, Preserver and Judge—against Him in whom all majesty and glory and beauty and reverence and sanctity centre; against the one only God.”

The volume Meditations and Devotions contains precious considerations about Christ’s suffering, including two different sets of The Way of the Cross. Newman meditated on Jesus’s Passion, bringing himself and the reader before the sacrifice of the Son of God, and the sin that led to such a sacrifice. He reflected on the connection between Our Lord’s sufferings and our own sins, writing:

“I will view things in their true light. My suffering Lord, I have made Thee suffer. Thou art most beautiful in Thy eternal nature, O my Lord; Thou art most beautiful in Thy sufferings! Thy adorable attributes are not dimmed, but increased to us as we gaze on Thy humiliation. Thou art more beautiful to us than before.”

Beauty is one of the categories that recur in Newman’s written prayers. The reader can grasp there the contemplation of the unseen reality from the beauty of the visible world. The beauty of created things speak to us about a much greater beauty — that of the Creator. And the image of the Creator is most fully and perfectly revealed in the Incarnate Son, whom Newman often refers to as the Beautiful One. Rather than a superficial sentimentality, we find in this a spiritual understanding of man’s participation in the being of God, and elements for a spiritual theology.

Another aspect of Newman’s prayer was tied to his sacramental life. As a priest, he heard confessions and offered the sacrifice of the Mass. In these sacramental acts, he was a minister of God’s graces. It is therefore not surprising that his written prayers contain some very tender and perfectly doctrinal expressions of his Eucharistic faith. They are acts of faith, hope, and love for Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. After referring to the Apostle Thomas, one such prayer reads:

“O my God, though I am not fit to see or touch Thee yet, still I will ever come within Thy reach, and desire that which is not yet given me in its fulness. O my Saviour, Thou shalt be my sole God! — I will have no Lord but Thee. I will break to pieces all idols in my heart which rival Thee. I will have nothing but Jesus and Him crucified. It shall be my life to pray to Thee, to offer myself to Thee, to keep Thee before me, to worship Thee in Thy holy Sacrifice, and to surrender myself to Thee in Holy Communion.”

These written prayers give us a glimpse into the life of a man of prayer. Newman had a schedule for the prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours and other set prayers. He offered the sacrifice of the Mass daily and fulfilled his teaching responsibilities and duties in the government of the Oratory in Birmingham. As a fruit of his prayer, he strove to practice charity in his dealing with those around him, especially the sick, and practiced small sacrifices throughout the day. Newman, who had once considered an exaggeration many Catholic expressions of devotion to Mary, also prayed the rosary and advised school children to pray it. A child-like love for the Virgin Mary, St. Philip Neri, St. Athanasius, and other saints also made part of his life of prayer.

In all this, we can intuit how prayer was so essential to this great man, and how this life of prayer was the very root of his greatness. We could say that Newman “prayed himself into the Church,” and we would not be far from the truth. Blessed John Henry Newman should be, especially for English speakers, not only a towering intellect and apologist, but an example and guide in the ways of prayer.

The Rev. Juan R. Vélezis the author of Passion for Truth: The Life of John Henry Newman (TAN Publishers, 2012).

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