Festivals of Faith: Sermons for the Liturgical Year, by St. John Henry Newman, edited by Melinda Nielsen, presents an impressive and carefully arranged collection of Newman’s homilies. Through the purposeful ordering of the collection, Nielsen intentionally parallels Newman’s liturgical vision, conveying in the preface, “the homilies selected for this volume follow Newman’s eyes” (xii). Her decisions regarding the structure of the work aid the reader’s comprehension and add to the overall reading experience. Nielsen inserts her own enlightening passages before each of the sermons. In the accompanying passages, she highlights the homilies’ dominant messages and themes and expands upon Newman’s words. These introductions are beautifully written and are shining moments of the collection. By engaging with Festivals of Faith, one can intimately understand Newman through the words of his own sermons.
As an intern at the National Institute for Newman Studies, becoming acquainted with the words of St. John Henry Newman himself initiated my journey of studying the saint’s prose and led to an abundance of inward discoveries. Now, having intently read through every homily of the collection, I have personally been touched by the saint’s percipient observations. In particular instances, I felt as though he was speaking directly to me. Whatever I was working through at the time, Newman would extend his hand out from the pages and guide me along. I am so blessed to have read this collection. Anyone who reads the work will become elated by the words of Newman and draw closer to his life’s mission. Newman truly directed every last affection to the Lord.
Newman’s sermons perpetuate common themes, building from one feast day to the next, guiding the audience to a closer understanding of complex, but fundamental, theological concepts. One religious teaching Newman continually embraces is turning our eyes to the immaterial world. The opening chapter, “ADVENT: Waiting for Christ,” Newman establishes his stance on worldly affections. He writes, for example: “Mind the things that are above, not the things that are upon the earth” (9). This sentiment is a cornerstone of his beliefs and is embedded into each homily. Again, in a later chapter, “SEPTUAGESIMA: The Thought of God, the Stay of the Soul,” we see Newman detailing the authentic features of happiness, particularly its quality of eternal persistence, stating, “We do not give our hearts to things irrational, because we have no permanence in them” (71). When reading, one can find constant solace in Newman’s faith in the everlasting preeminence of God.
Witnessed in these homilies is Newman’s prioritization of Christ and, above all, an intentional and enduring faith in the Cross. Newman’s unfailing belief in Christ is most aptly expressed in the chapter “PASSIONTIDE: The Cross of Christ the Measure of the World.” In this chapter, Newman firmly upholds a singular, firm belief: One must wholly trust in the Cross and its role as the ultimate answer. The Cross is the core of being and meaning. Newman declares: “Thus in the Cross, and Him who hung upon it, all things meet; all things subserve it, all things need it. It is their centre and their interpretation” (104). Although the Cross is a reminder of Christ’s suffering, the sorrow accompanying the Cross leads to true happiness (108). Newman maintains his belief in the Cross and Christ throughout his homilies, stressing their paramount importance.
Festivals of Faith is a remarkable devotional aid to those looking to bolster their familiarity with Newman’s teachings. I found this work to provide an excellent introduction to Newman’s teachings and essential beliefs. With the direction of Nielsen, the book’s structure is intentional and incredibly beneficial. Newman’s homilies markedly ripen with every word read.
Savannah Spratt is a fourth-year English and Philosophy student at Duquesne University. She is interning at the National Institute for Newman Studies in her final semester and plans to pursue law after graduation.