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Why Newman Matters

“Why Newman Matters”JHN

A talk given by Seminarian James Baxter

BSU Newman Center

10/11/13

Edited for readers

Is there a relationship between faith and reason? What is the purpose of education? These questions are difficult, no doubt, but they do have answers. And these answers are “Why Newman Matters.”

John Henry Newman lived from 1801-1890 in England. In his day he was a cultural critic, educator, epistemologist, novelist, Oxford scholar, philosopher, playwright, poet, preacher, satirist, theologian, and one of the great Victorians (among Arnold, Carlisle and Dickens)… and in ours, a father of Vatican II and a beatified saint on his way to formal canonization. I would like to focus on three reasons why Newman matters for us: the relationship of faith and reason, the purpose education, and Newman as a model of sacrifice.

First, is there a relationship between faith and reason? Modernity has not merely divided faith from reason and reason from faith, but has placed a chasm between them. Newman saw this occurring in his own day (just over a hundred years ago). He saw that faith was losing its rationality, it was becoming a sentiment, a mere opinion, a matter of taste, as disposable as your last latte cup. And because of this, faith became a private matter. We can talk about ideas rationally held, but there is nothing to talk about when something is just a matter of preference. Unfortunately, this has come to full fruition in our own day. Because of this divide, we are left with three alternatives: rationalism, fideism, and relativism. Don’t be intimidated by the big words, they are all dumb and wrong.

a) Rationalism: Here, reason has an indubitable quality, to know something you must be “certain” about it, there can be no doubts. Anything believed is because there is explicit evidence. Thus, you may hear: “It’s not rational to believe things you can’t see, I can’t see God, so I don’t believe in him.” We encounter this in a sophisticated fashion in academia (especially the sciences), and more simplistically but in the same fashion, by teenagers rebelling against their parents.

b) Fideism: This position holds that any knowledge that we have is based on a revelation from God (e.g. the Bible). Thus, religious beliefs have little or nothing to do with reason. Why do we believe something? Because it’s in the Bible or God says so. As a result, people believe things that are absurd, say, that aliens will come and take us away and we will each have our own planet.

c) Relativism: Relativism holds that truth, knowledge, and belief are matters contingent upon the historical context or to each individual (depending upon its radicality) and is subject to change from culture to culture or person to person. Basically, “you do you, I’ll do me” or “you have your truths, I have mine.”

As young Catholics, we do a good job of seeing the falsehood of the third option. But what is so sad is that we accept the other two alternatives. In so doing, we divide faith from reason in our lives. We don’t actually think that our beliefs are rational. We become fideists thinking that faith is reduced to a blind following (apart from reason). This situation was absolutely unacceptable for Newman. Newman understood, and understood rightly, that faith that is not rational is not true faith. Reason devoid of faith, has stripped man of a capacity for knowledge beyond him. Faith is fundamentally rational. Reason’s greatness is dependent upon faith.

Newman writes regarding faith: “[Such is] everyday’s occurrence… we meet [things in the world], not with suspicion and criticism, but with a frank confidence. We do not begin with doubting; we take [things] on trust.” Faith is the ground upon which we stand as we make our way in this chaotic world. We assume things to be probable, we take things for granted, we presume things to be true, and go on applying them. Faith is a principle of action, by faith we act. Newman writes, “Life is for action. If we insist on proofs for everything, we shall never come to action: to act you must assume, and that assumption is faith.” Thus, without faith we have no action and we become passive creatures. From this we see that faith has not only a religious character, but is a part of our human nature.

May I give you a relevant example of this natural faith? You are doing it right now. You are reading this article (for the one of you out there that has made it this far), and you believe that I, James Baxter, actually wrote this. You did not see me type it nor did you see me submit it to the Vocations Office. You also believe that I am a seminarian. Why? Well, my picture is on the poster. But have you been to St. Meinrad to ensure that in fact I am here in that seminary the poster says? You believe that this is written by me and you believe that I am a seminarian, and correctly on good and natural faith. You know both of these things to be true, but that does not mean that there are no doubts that can be thought up.

Faith in religious matters is the reasoning of the religious mind (e.g. Trinity, Christ was God, Resurrection) and it is a matter of salvation; Newman writes, “it is the chosen instrument connecting heaven and earth.” It is of the upmost importance, eternal importance. But if faith assumes some things to be probable and goes on advancing, what if you can’t find it probable that Christ is God (or any other Catholic doctrine)? Is that your fault? Yes. Newman writes, “A man is responsible for his faith, b/c he is responsible for his likings and dislikings, his hopes and opinions, on all of which his faith depends.” We form this moral disposition to receive the truths of the faith, by the practice of the virtues and obedience. [Obviously, we must be sensitive to those who find belief difficult because of the scandal of Christians (maybe the greatest evil) as well as those who have never heard the name of Christ (whom we commend to the mercy of God).]

Newman writes regarding reason: “by reason is properly understood any process or act of the mind, ‘a spontaneous energy’ by which knowing one thing, we advance on to know another.” Our five senses isolate us to that which we can directly see, touch, taste, smell, and/or hear. But reason takes us beyond this limitation, it enables us to know things indirectly. For example, I can think of our Cathedral, but I am not currently in Lafayette beholding it. Reason is also reflective, it has the power to criticize and analyze.

Taking all of this into account, how does Newman practically matter for you? Don’t be fideistic with your faith. The Catholic Church does not call you to believe blindly, this would contradict your nature as rational and free, the very qualities of our image and likeness to God that separate us from other creatures. Now, some things we know by revelation and couldn’t have arrived at by reasoning alone, but that does not mean that they are not rational (e.g. the Trinity). You can answer rationally, why you believe in Jesus Christ. You have many reasons, here are a few: you look to things such as the reliability of your parents and grandparents or other who passed on the faith to you; the desires of your heart for the infinite; the anomaly of Jesus Christ as the only religious teacher to declare He was God; you see that the calendar year being 2013— and you ask 2013 years from what?; you are humbled by the fact that the Catholic faith demands more of you, that it doesn’t verify all that you think, that it challenges you; you are inspired by the witness of the Saints, many of whom have died defending their faith; you are assured by the fact that Catholicism is currently the largest religion; you are impressed that it is the only religion to declare infallible authority. All of these things converge on one another and enable you to believe (and rationally so) that some 33 year old Middle Eastern man 2,000 years ago saved everyone who has ever lived by carrying a tree to his tomb, which he also happened to rise from. And from this, you can act and give your entire life for Christ.

On a very different note, what is the purpose of education? Most of you would probably say: “I am paying whatever tens of thousands of dollars to get a job,” “my education is an investment,” or “to acquire the skills I need to get rich, join a country club, and get married to the perfect woman/man.”

And our universities reflect this way of thinking. We pay some absurd amount per credit hour, fulfill course requirements, and get that glorified piece of paper (diploma) that verifies that we “know stuff,” and whose letters (B.S.) bear witness to the futility of it all… Thus, in the modern world, education is reduced to sheer practicality. What happens because of this? We know a lot about very little, we become people of one idea. We claim to be enlightened, as though the past was full of cave men, yet we are no less violent, no more happy, and doubtfully more intelligent. We are specialists, but we fail to see how our disciplines relate to others. All of the sudden, we see theological claims made by biologists and biological claims by theologians, neither of whom have the authority to make them. We do things (say, drop a bomb) because we can, forgetting to ask whether we should.

For Newman, education is not just practical skill equipping, but the formation of a habit of mind; a way of thinking that enables you to see that knowledge is a circle, in which all truths have a home; that shows you that each truth has a direct bearing on every other. A true education expands the mind beyond the mere rote memorization of flashcards to be able to consider new ideas in relation to others already known. All of this is not to deny the importance of specialization (knowledge is advanced this way), but that education is something much fuller than the mere skill equipping exercises found in our universities today.

Again, how does Newman’s understanding matter for you? Practically speaking, get less practical. For you scientists, read a novel. For you Lit majors, read some science. For you business men and women, get a soul (just kidding). Learn how what you study affects other fields. See how the teachings of the Church immediately and directly relate to and inform what you study. All truths in all fields unite in the person of the Truth, Jesus Christ.

We have considered why Newman matters in terms of understanding the relationship of faith and reason and the true purpose of education. But Newman is also a model of heroic sacrifice. To convert to Roman Catholicism in Anglican England in the 19th century, he sacrificed friends, family, wealth, his reputation and his own mental health. He truly became an exile in his own land. The greatest intellect Oxford had ever seen was banished from its premises. At that time, only “dumb, drunk, potato-eatin’ Irishmen” were Catholic. They could not fathom how, without having met a Catholic, Newman converted on the intellectual coherence of Catholic teaching and by following his conscience.

We have a way of being stingy with our faith. We do our own will and hope that it’s God’s. We wait to respond to our vocations until we absolutely have to. There are a few questions worth asking: Have we sacrificed anything to be a Catholic? How different would our lives be if we were not? To conclude, I leave you with a passage of one of his sermons, which so clearly manifests the heart of this great saint:

Consider for an instant. Let every one who hears me ask himself the question, what stake has he in the truth of Christ’s promise? How would he be a whit the worse off, supposing (which is impossible), but, supposing it [Christ’s promise] to fail? We know what it is to have a stake in any venture of this world. We venture our property in plans which promise a return; in plans which we trust, which we have faith in. What have we ventured for Christ? What have we given to Him on a belief of His promise? The Apostle said, that he and his brethren would be of all men most miserable, if the dead were not raised. Can we in any degree apply this to ourselves? We think, perhaps, at present, we have some hope of heaven; well, this we should lose of course; but after all, how should we be worse off as to our present condition?… This is the question, What have we ventured? I really fear, when we come to examine, it will be found that there is nothing we resolve, nothing we do, nothing we do not do, nothing we avoid, nothing we choose, nothing we give up, nothing we pursue, which we should not resolve, and do, and not do, and avoid, and choose, and give up, and pursue, if Christ had not died, and heaven were not promised us. I really fear that most men called Christians, whatever they may profess, whatever they may think they feel, whatever warmth and illumination and love they may claim as their own, yet would go on almost as they do, neither much better nor much worse, if they believed Christianity to be a fable.”

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October 23, 2013 · 11:02 PM

Seminarian Miles Newkirk

rsz_egibflyywieqm95yc-mwprkxrqskovovc7dr490r-zgMiles Newkirk

St. Maria Goretti, Westfield, IN

Miles attributes a great deal to his participation in the Knights of the Holy Temple, though the biggest factor was spiritual direction and talking to others about seminary. He was involved in his youth group, Senior Retreat and other retreats, and these helped guide him towards his current path. The priests that were most influential for him spiritually were Father Hasser and Father Shocklee, as well as Father Kevin, who he says was very supportive and informative for his decision.

We wish Miles the best as he starts his journey and our prayers are with him and his family!

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September 1, 2013 · 7:16 PM

NCDVD convention

Father Hasser just returned from a very busy but important week in Dallas, TX at the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors Convention. So what did he do?

The NCDVD (National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors) is an organization of which Father Hasser is part. Actually, he’s the Regional Coordinator for our district, but we’ll get to that later. This conference is a dues paying membership that is made up of Vocations Directors throughout the United States. 90% of Vocations Directors belongs to the NCDVD. The conference membership enables Vocations Directors to foster relationships among themselves in order to share resources, help new directors, and, basically, assist the directors in their particular mission within the Church. It makes resources available to them throughout the year; it can even be used for research purposes–polling, compiling responses–about common practices throughout the country. It has a library and online resources that are available to members as well.

The NCDVD has a yearly convention, an annual event that is hosted by different regions. This event is a chance for the Vocations Directors to come together to pool their resources and learn for future planning. There is high participation at the convention. One interesting fact is that each year there are 40-50 new Vocations Directors (a 25% turnover). This convention is very useful for new directors, as they have a learning curve at their new position in their respective dioceses. For them, as well as for all, it fulfills a need for ongoing support. It can be quite difficult to be a new Vocations Director, just like any job–relationships need to be built in the diocese, tasks of the job learned… The Vocations Directors who have been at their positions for a longer term are able to help the newer ones.

Each year the conference provides ongoing formation and fruit. It is three to four days of intense work, it can be mentally exhausting as a great deal of brainstorming, creative thinking and social networking occur. Father said it is an exciting time: many good things come out of the convention but often it can be exacting to apply it.

The day begins at 7:30 with a holy hour, followed by morning prayer. At 9am, there are speakers, workshops or meetings for an hour and a half. After this, there is an hour “break”, in which the priests can have time to meet in small groups or one-on-one, or possibly just time to reflect or spend time at work. At 11:30, there is Holy Mass, followed by lunch. After lunch, it is workshop time once again until 3pm. The next two hours are spent as each individual chooses: meeting with others to discuss ideas, catching up on office details. At 5pm they reconvene for Vespers and evening prayer, followed by dinner. At 8:30pm, there is hospitality or social time for two and a half hours. This is a time to “purposefully mingle”. Perhaps they heard a good idea from a fellow director on which they want to follow-up, or a question that they would like to address with another. It is almost like sales networking on a spiritual/vocations director level. This strategizing time comes to a close at 11pm–the end of a busy day. A special aspect of the convention is that all of the participants are driven to improve their programs, to maximize their time while there, and are intentional in building relationships that can be continued later in the year.

When asked about what he learned most this year, Father said that he felt affirmed about our current program in our diocese in that what is working here is also working in other areas of the country. Our focus on engaging young people, the retreats, the campus visits, programs similar to the Knights of the Holy Temple are bearing fruit both here and elsewhere. The directors are seeing that true discipleship and relationship building are key to vocational discernment.

There were several keynote speakers, including Cardinal Daniel DiNardo from Galveston-Houston, Texas and Father Robert Barron. Father took away many ideas from the speakers and we hope to write subsequent articles on points of application for our diocese later on. He also attended three workshops. One was on immigration law, the basics that Vocations Directors need to know when those discerning in the diocese may have immigration issues. The second was on outreach to college students. He attended this one to check and see if what we are doing is successful elsewhere, to see how to improve upon what we are already doing. This workshop was very encouraging and gave several insights on how to encourage pastors within the diocese. The third was given by Mark Hart (The “Bible Geek”) on engaging high school students, especially using social media. Again, we hope to expound on these ideas in later articles.

Father also had several business meetings to attend. As he is the regional coordinator for the district of Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin, he had to give reports to the executive board and to our region. His commitments in this area also include separate meetings later on in the year and an extra day before the convention begins. He describes his position as a liaison between the board and the regional Vocations Directors.

All in all, this week lends itself to the accomplishment of a great deal of work. He says that it is very intense but fruitful and valuable experience for all.

Want more? Here is a link to what Vianney Vocations learned at NCDVD. Click here to read.

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August 23, 2013 · 9:02 PM

Crux and Joust retreats

August 4, 2013

Focus on faith, fellowship at two retreats for young men

By Caroline B. Mooney (The Catholic Moment)

RUSSIAVILLE — Back-to-back retreats held at a 60-acre camp offered young men a chance for spiritual growth and fraternal bonding with each other, seminarians, priests and deacons of the diocese.

“I thought it was fun being out here in nature — God’s creation,” said Gabe Klinker, 12, of the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception, Lafayette.

“I really wanted to come renew my relationship with Christ. It was cool to have Mass in the amphitheater and when we processed with the monstrance outside in nature, it was very peaceful and calm. It was still so I could just focus on God with no distractions.”

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Oakbrook Valley Camp in rural Kokomo was home to 80 sixth- through eighth-grade boys from 18 parishes for the fourth annual CRUX retreat July 16-18, and 45 high school-age JOUST retreatants from July 19-21. The young men slept under a tent, went canoeing, hiking, learned archery and played football, ultimate Frisbee and dodge ball. They spent time in prayer and attended Mass and reconciliation.

CRUX (Latin for cross), was open to all young men, while the JOUST retreat was open to members of the Knights of the Holy Temple, which has chapters at eight parishes. The Knights, which began in the diocese in 1999, serve Mass and work in their parishes and communities.

Father David Hasser, diocesan director of vocations, said the retreats give the vocations office a way to establish contact and a real presence with young men.

“This is a great way to plant seeds,” he said. “The retreats are not all about vocations to the priesthood – it’s about young men becoming who they were created to be. We talk about the heroes God calls them to be and help them reach for God’s grace through sacraments and prayer.

“JOUST is the premier event for the Knights of the Holy Temple, allowing members to meet young men from other chapters,” Father Hasser said. “Although the chapters are autonomous, they are all following the same path. Their fraternal bonding is fruitful, especially as they graduate high school. Often they end up together at college and have their spiritual and human support amidst the challenges of college life.”

He said the retreats offer a good pastoral experience for seminarians as they work with youth in a spiritual and human way.retreats02-large

“We are trying to instill in these young men an opportunity to encounter Christ in a real way,” said seminarian Derek Aaron, retreat coordinator. “The main goal was to have them seek to be good, holy Catholic gentleman by being immersed in God’s creation and the sacraments.”

At CRUX, boys were randomly placed in groups in order to meet other boys and to encounter and have a God experience on their own. Each group wrote full value contracts after discussing what they could strive for and how they could better themselves.

Each CRUX group was named for a different male saint. Members learned about their patron and then made a flag, which was carried at all times as a standard to show pride in their Christian identity.

CRUX and JOUST offered Eucharistic adoration and Eucharistic processions. Young men prayed the Stations of the Cross in the woods, picking out logs to carry on their shoulders to bear the wood of the cross.

“They don’t pick little twigs – they pick hefty logs,” Aaron said. “These boys want to become men, and by becoming men they strive for greatness. When they strive for greatness in activities, we want to parallel how we can strive for greatness in a relationship with our Lord.

“Each activity was a chance to grow spiritually,” he said. “For instance, in archery, we tried to instill good form, how to aim for and focus on a target. Afterward, we would reflect on the activity, relating it to our spiritual life. With archery, we related a bull’s eye to keeping your eye on Christ. If your aim is off, it is like not paying attention to your actions and that can lead to sin.”

“The boys at CRUX can find their Christian identity and know that God loves them and will be always there when you need help,” said Miles Newkirk, a seminarian leader from St. Maria Goretti, Westfield.

“The point of the retreat is to help them grow in relationship with Christ,” said seminarian Jimmy O’Connor, from St. Joan of Arc, Kokomo. “I really hope we connected with the boys and made that happen. We also want them to have a good time and meet some new people. Ultimately, though, we want to show them the next step.”

“Everyone is so nice, and you can go further in your faith here,” said Drew Fitzgerald, 12, of St. Patrick Parish, Kokomo. “I came here and instantly loved it. And last year, no one could hit me in dodge ball.”

Jonah Lyons, 13, of St. Maria Goretti Parish, Westfield, said he enjoyed “meeting new people who share your faith, and it’s fun to hang out with the seminarians.”

Conner Knipp, 12, from Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish, Carmel, enjoyed hiking, being outdoors and looked forward to canoeing. “It’s a very faith-filled atmosphere with Mass every night and our group prayers every day,” he said.

At the JOUST retreat, Aaron said, “We ask God to guide the young men to what he wants for them, not what they want for themselves. They adhere to an honor code that states they are always conscience of who they are as Catholic gentlemen and of the example they set for others. We must never underestimate the power we have as witnesses to Jesus Christ.”

Each JOUST chapter has male parishioners who serve as chaperones or “confreres”, and mentor the young men.

Tom Lingafelter is a confrere at St. Alphonsus, Zionsville.

“These young men are the best,” he said. “They are what you want your next generation to be. To watch the kids work together spiritually is wonderful.”

“These kids are so much more spiritual than I was than I was at their age — all I thought about was cars and girls,” said Jim Spitznogle, a confrere from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. “It’s great to see how faithful the young men are. One group was playing ultimate Frisbee and they stopped for a spontaneous rosary – all their own idea. This is a great group of guys and has been a lot of fun.”

Ian Finley, 17, a high school junior from Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Carmel, said he really enjoyed meeting guys from other Knights chapters and hanging out together.

“One of the best parts was a game of ultimate Frisbee that lasted until 11:30 p.m.,” he said. “Afterward, praying the rosary together was powerful.”

“This is a family that we can’t get anywhere else,” said Chris Ellington, 16, a junior from St. Maria Goretti. “We all become actual brothers , non-blood, but still brothers in the connection we can get. We have a lot of time where we’re allowed to be ourselves, and I don’t get that time anywhere else. This retreat has helped me in every aspect of my life, including my faith life.”

“The best thing about being a Knight is serving Mass, seeing and understanding what is going on during Mass,” said Mitch Witt, 15, a sophomore from St. Mary Cathedral, Lafayette. “At JOUST, we have great male bonding and pure fun. It’s been a great experience.”

“I think it’s fun seeing all the buys from other chapters here,” said Jacob Fox, 15, a high school freshman from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Carmel. “It’s cool to be around guys who share the same faith and meet a lot of seminarians.”

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July 31, 2013 · 6:31 PM

Colorado Rocky Mountain High

rsz_2010-12-31_230000-20This summer we have two seminarians working as Camp Counselors at Camp Wojtyla in Colorado: Kyle Neterer and Michael Bower.  This unique experience adds to the fullness of their formation for the priesthood in surprisingly direct ways!

To give some background about Camp Wojtyla, it was named after Blessed John Paul II who loved to minster to young people in the outdoors.  Continue reading

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July 10, 2013 · 10:00 AM

Seminarian James Baxter (2017)

IS IT WORTH IT? If you have felt the call of God to seminary, even remotely, you have now two options remaining: only two.  First, you can enter into a fraternity that enables you to more deeply discern God’s will every day. You leave either a priest or a man who has truly discerned his vocation to marriage. Regardless, you leave as a father. In a fatherless culture, this is beyond value. Continue reading

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July 8, 2013 · 2:18 PM

Keys to Fostering Priestly Vocations

rsz_yuppFrom the 2012 Holy See’s Pastoral Guidelines for Fostering Vocations to Priestly Ministry

The key things to foster priestly vocations are those proposed by formation for Christian life:

1.  Listening to the Word of God
2.  Participation in the Eucharist
3.  Exercising charity   Continue reading

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April 22, 2013 · 8:00 AM