O’Malley on Blessed John Henry Newman, part 1

Frank O’Malley was a great teacher at Notre Dame. A biography may be found on the website of the Center for Ethics and Culture (click here)

O’Malley spoke prophetically to his confreres at Notre Dame and the Catholic world in 1959 in an article on Newman. He noticed how men cry up his name, and dishonor it in their actions.

Even while we take the name of Newman, move against his spirit. We are daily capable of demonstration, systematization, “objectivity,” analysis, examination, and self-examination, not to mention administration. But we are not capable of Newman’s power of “communication,” of his “realization,” of transforming by our touch all that comes before us in human existence. We do not live in the reality, the self-subjection of the liturgy. We live by formulas and slogans and calculations. We weave arguments and wield propositions but we lack spiritual vision. We are not people of the heart, people of love. We are, as any occasion requires, narrow and partisan and prejudiced.

We like our realities to be huge, statistical and public. We seem incapable of true inwardness as well as openness, of “marveling.” We work hard to organize and mechanize the spirit, to destroy its standards and values and hierarchies. We level the spirit and bury it and, in unmarked graces, we bury ourselves with it. Our poor spirit is clearly not the rich and full spirit of Newman. It is instead the spirit of the age. But we are pharisaical. We breathe the name of Newman and incinerate his being.

I shudder to think how this is so true even today at Catholic institutions, maybe even more so. But O’Malley saw the contours of the Land of the Lakes and the chase after the secular models and standards.  So how can we really follow in Newman’s way?

O’Malley says first of all we must liturgical. In liturgy we encounter the very rhythm of Christian existence, “stirred and centered by the life of Christ.” Liturgy demands “self-subjection, the disciplining of the inner life, never the flagrant and chaotic cultivation of the ego in the arbitrary and capricious.” How hard this for denizens of academia, both professorial  and administrative.

Quoting his beloved Newman,

Christ Himself vouchsafes to repeat in each of us in figure and mystery all that He did and suffered in the flesh. He is formed in us, born in us, suffers in us, rises again in us, lives in us; and this not by a succession of events, but all at once: for He comes to us as a Spirit, all dying, all rising again, all living. We are ever receiving our birth, our justification, our renewal, ever dying to sin, ever rising to righteousness. His whole economy in all its parts is ever in us all at once; and this divine presence constitutes the title of each of us to heaven; this is what He will acknowledge and accept at the last day. He will acknowledge Himself,—His image in us,—as though we reflected Him, and He, on looking round about, discerned at once who were His; those, namely, who gave back to Him His image.

And lastly we find in O’Malley, as in Newman, as deep awe of the real presence. In Loss and Gain we find Newman’s “famous description of the marvelous Action of the Mass”:

It is not a mere form of words,  —it is a great action, the greatest action that can be on earth. It is, not the invocation merely, but, if I dare use the word, the evocation of the Eternal. He becomes present on the altar in flesh and blood, before whom angels bow and devils tremble. This is that awful event which is the scope, and is the interpretation, of every part of the solemnity. Words are necessary, but as means, not as ends; they are not mere addresses to the throne of grace, they are instruments of what is far higher, of consecration, of sacrifice. They hurry on as if impatient to fulfil their mission. Quickly they go, the whole is quick; for they are all parts of one integral action. Quickly they go; for they are awful words of sacrifice, they are a work too great to delay upon; as when it was said in the beginning: ‘What thou doest, do quickly’. Quickly they pass; for the Lord Jesus goes with them, as He passed along the lake in the days of His flesh, quickly calling first one and then another. Quickly they pass; because as the lightning which shineth from one part of heaven unto the other, so is the coming of the Son of Man. Quickly they pass; for they are as the words of Moses, when the Lord came down in the cloud, calling on the Name of the Lord as He passed by, ‘the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth’. And as Moses on the mountain, so we too ‘make haste and bow our heads to the earth, and adore’. So we, all around, each in his place, look out for the great Advent, ‘waiting for the moving of the water’. Each in his place, with his own heart, with his own wants, with his own thoughts, with his own intention, with his own prayers, separate but concordant, watching what is going on, watching its progress, uniting in its consummation;—not painfully and hopelessly following a hard form of prayer from beginning to end, but, like a concert of musical instruments, each different, but concurring in a sweet harmony, we take our part with God’s priest, supporting him, yet guided by him.


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