August 2019 Letter from the Provost

August 2019 Letter from the Provost

The custom of holidaying in August predates Christianity. The Feriae Augusti were initiated by the Emperor Augustus to allow agricultural workers a respite from their labours. These Augustali marked a period of rest and relaxation, which even extended to relieving donkeys and mules of their burdens, and was celebrated with horse races across the Roman Empire. This tradition is continued in the chaotic August Palio, a bareback race which takes place on 16th August in the city square of Siena. The name Palio can be traced to the pallium, which originally was a strip of precious fabric presented to the winners of the August races in the ancient world. The coincidence of the mid-August festivals with the glorious feast of Our Lady’s Assumption in Heaven later ensured that Ferragosto became an unmistakably Christian celebration, marked to this day in Italy by a three day holiday (ponte di ferragosto), or for some fortunates, a whole month of leisure.

          When Fr Faber brought the Oratory to London in the middle of the nineteenth century, he was determined that an Italianate atmosphere should be infused into the life in the church and house. For many years, the main doors to the church were hung with heavy leather curtains known as “baby crushers”, in imitation of the unwieldy hangings employed in Italian churches to keep out the stifling heat of summer. In the house, the porter’s lodge is still referred to as the porteria, and the balconies from the upper storeys of the house that look down towards the sanctuary of the church are called correttos. This Romanità was also nurtured by the high importance given to the Feast of Our Lady’s Assumption. Until relatively recently, the fathers’ summer visits to their families had to be co-ordinated so that half of the community would return from their travels on the 14th August, and the rest would leave for theirs on the 16th, ensuring that the whole community was present in order for the Assumption to be observed with maximum celebration. The rules about summer holidays are a little more flexible these days, but all of the fathers certainly avoid being away from the house on the 15th August.

          We are truly blessed at the Oratory to have access to musical and liturgical resources which enable us to celebrate the feast of Our Lady’s Assumption with utmost solemnity. As the liturgically green season after Whitsuntide progresses, the glory and the consolation of Our Lord’s Resurrection can seem increasingly distant. The Assumption of Our Lady body and soul into the highest heavens reassures us, if we could possibly be in any doubt after Our Lord’s Ascension, that Heaven is a real place, in which a dwelling has been prepared for each one of us. These mortal bodies, which on earth can end up causing us so much discomfort and pain, have actually been created to participate in eternal glory, along with our immaterial souls. Meanwhile this Church to which we belong, which can seem so disfigured by scandals and in-fighting, will one day be subsumed into the Church Triumphant in Heaven, where She will be perfected and glorified for evermore.

          In an age in which there is a temptation to reduce our magnificent Catholic religion to the level of mere social activism, the Assumption also reminds us of the profoundly supernatural character of our Faith. We engage in corporal as well as spiritual works of mercy because that which is corporeal matters greatly, and has been created to share in the life of the Resurrection in eternity. Our mission to extend the Kingdom of Heaven on earth involves ministering to the sick, providing shelter for the homeless and feeding the hungry, in our belief that human suffering is one of the consequences of human sin caused by the Fall. The Word was made flesh in order to reverse those consequences, and this reversal will be fulfilled when the bodies of those who have departed this life in a state of grace are resurrected from the dead, reunited with their souls and glorified in Heaven. Meanwhile, we are called to contribute to that mission of tackling the effects of Original Sin by relieving suffering wherever we are able, sharing with those in need our hope in the glory for which we have been created.

          If sceptics mock Catholic belief in the Assumption of Our Lady, we should remind ourselves that to Bl. John Henry Newman, who possessed one of the most intellectually rigorous intellects of the modern age, the truth of the Church’s doctrine on the subject seemed obvious. Saint Matthew’s Gospel relates how, at the Resurrection, the bodies of many of the saints rose from the dead and were seen walking around Jerusalem. “The holy Prophets, Priests and Kings of former times rose again in anticipation of the last day,” wrote Newman, adding: “Can we suppose that Abraham, or David, or Isaias, or Ezechias, should have been thus favoured, and not God’s own Mother?” Clearly not. With doom and gloom particularly prevalent at the moment, thank Heavens we have the feast of Our Lady’s Assumption to raise our hearts and minds to Heaven in joy and thanksgiving. Through Her all-powerful intercession, may we keep them fixed there as we prepare for the wonderful day this 13th October when we shall see Bl. John Henry’s banner hanging from the façade of St Peter’s Basilica at the Mass of his Canonization.

Father Julian Large

July 2019 Letter from the Provost

July 2019 Letter from the Provost

Flick through a national newspaper and the chances are that you will find at least one account of someone suffering from a dreadful illness, where the underlying message from the editorial is as follows: wouldn’t it be better for this poor person, and for his nearest and dearest, if only it were possible to ease his way out of this life with a painless injection? The movement for the legalization of ‘euthanasia’ is gaining momentum. The Director of Public Prosecutions has even released guidelines advising people how to assist at suicides without facing prosecution, which is obviously an interim measure preparing the way for fully legalized assisted suicide. Meanwhile the media looks out for ‘hard cases’ to persuade us that a civilized society should provide the option for voluntary euthanasia. Once this principle is enshrined in the law, we can be sure that the road will have been laid towards the not so voluntary extermination of those who are deemed to be mentally incapacitated. There will be pressure on the elderly and infirm not to be a burden on their families and to “do the decent thing”, in much the same way that there is now pressure on a pregnant mother to “do the decent thing” when the innocent child in her womb is found to be imperfect.

          When we understand the modern view of what a human being is, then it is not so difficult to see why so many decent and affable people do not have any objection to something like euthanasia. According to the current wisdom, a human being is an animal, who has arrived at his present form through a process of material evolution. He might be quite sophisticated as animals go, but ultimately he is just an animal. And what do we do with an animal when it is suffering and there is no hope of significant recovery? We put it out of its misery in the most painless way possible. That is the best thing to do, morally.

          We should not need the Bible, or the Pope, or any religious argument, to convince us that man is more than an animal. Our capacity to know and to love, and to abstract universal concepts from the information that comes to us through our senses, are enough to suggest that in addition to his animal nature, man also possesses a rational nature. In classical philosophy, intellectual nature is always ‘spiritual’ and therefore not susceptible to the disintegration that affects physical bodies when they die. You don’t need to be a Catholic or a Christian, or indeed religious at all, to realise that the human soul is spiritual and therefore immortal.

          Our Christian faith does, however, confirm and enlighten what we should be able to discern from reason alone. As far as evolution goes, the Church encourages scientists to investigate the origins of the human race, and remains open to the possibility that the human body is evolved from slugs, snails and puppy dog’s tails. In tune with sound philosophical principles, She also insists that each and every human soul is created individually by God, and that this makes every innocent human life inviolable and sacred to the Creator. The principle of ‘mercy killing’ is all very well when it comes to dispatching suffering animals, but it can never be applicable to human beings, whom the Holy Scriptures inform us are created in the image of God.

          Divine Revelation furnishes us with knowledge of what happens at the end of our earthly life, when our souls and bodies are separated from each other in death. This mystery is beyond the scope of anything our unaided reason could establish with any certainty. At death, the human soul enters into the presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ, for its particular judgment, where its eternal destiny is sealed. While we commend all souls to the mercy of God, and must never presume to pronounce God’s judgments on His behalf, we have to accept in general terms that the worst case scenario imaginable would be to depart from this life in the very process of breaking one of those commandments which were issued solemnly to Moses amid thunder and lightning on Mount Sinai.

          The Church wants us to assist the dying to leave this world with as much dignity, love and encouragement as we can give them. This is why She sponsors hospices, and why a priest should always be on call to go to the bedside of someone who is dying. Our Lord has entrusted to us the words of eternal life which are able to give meaning and value even during the most terrible suffering. He has given us those Sacraments which are able to bring peace and hope, dispelling the shadows of anxiety and despair. The wisdom of the world would have us believe that human life has value when it is blessed with youth, health and prosperity. Our Catholic Faith tells us that we are to treasure human all human life in all conditions. We are made in God’s image. We are all sacred to Him.

Father Julian Large

June 2019 Letter from the Provost

June 2019 Letter from the Provost

The devil revels in division. We see this at the beginning of human history in Genesis. Adam and Eve are created in the State of Grace which means that they enjoy God’s friendship. Satan succeeds in separating them from this wondrous gift, and no sooner have they fallen than Adam starts to blame Eve for having misled him. The sword of the angel separates our first parents from the paradise of Eden, and is perhaps symbolic of that most terrible dividing of body and soul that occurs in death, which is a direct consequence of that first sin. Thanks be to God, this was not to be the end of the story. In Eastertide we glory in the triumph of a Saviour Who came to reunite men with God, and through their reconciliation with God, with each other. In His Resurrection, He achieved the most wonderful reconciliation of all when He reunited His dead body with His soul, so that in the Creed we are able to profess that we look forward to the reunion of our own bodies and souls on the Day of Judgement when Our Lord returns in majesty and power.

          The Church is a union unlike any other that exists on earth. Through Baptism, we die with Christ and are resurrected with Him, and incorporated into the Mystical Body of which He is the Head. In this union, we are grafted into a living body just as the individual cells and organs of a living creature are substantially united into a single living organism. The Church is a supernatural society, the life force of which is divine. She is the supernatural means which God has ordained to reverse all of the dividing, separating effects of the Fall.

          It should not surprise us that the world outside this Mystical Body, which continues without the benefit of this unifying grace, should find itself imprisoned in recurring cycles of division and conflict. Our God given mission as Catholics, to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and to baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, is a mission to bring all peoples of every colour and language into the harmony, charity and peace which can only be found in its fullness within the Mystical Body of Christ. Only when the human race is united by incorporation into the One Who has declared Himself to be the Way, the Truth and the Life can we expect to find that perfect harmony which, without the divine assistance of grace, always eludes every human society.

          But what about those divisions which exist within the Church Herself, inflicting such harm on Her mission? How can the Church be a credible sign of contradiction in a divided world, and an authentic witness to the unity of life in Our Saviour, when the same sorts of hardening political divisions which risk bringing government to a standstill in our own country also appear to be dividing the Church?

          The first thing to say is that, given the devil’s track record since the early chapters of Genesis, it is only to be expected that he should focus his dividing fury on the Church. And on the face of it he is having a field day. The divisions that we see at the moment are more profound than any doctrinal disputes over the Faith or practical disagreements over morals. On the one hand we find die-hards who hold that words are signs that point to actual truths, and on the other those for whom words are no more than a tool to be employed in the achievement of a desired aim. The media divides these two parties into “rigoristi” and “riformisti”. In the eyes of the riformisti the rigoristi are a basket of deplorable Pharisees who are so closed to the spirit that they insist that two plus two always equals four even when this stands in the way of exciting new ideas. The rigoristi, meanwhile, have concluded that any attempt at meaningful conversation with the riformisiti is like trying to nail sand to a doorpost.

          On the purely natural level there would seem to be no prospect of any reconciliation. In such a situation, all attempts at dialogue inevitably descend into polemic and name-calling. Obviously, then, we need to be working for a solution on the supernatural level. And we Oratorians have no better example in this than our holy father St Philip Neri. During the middle of the sixteenth century, controversy simmered in Rome over the writings of Fra’ Girolamo Savonarola. The Dominican friar had been excommunicated and brutally executed in Florence 1498, after his sustained campaign of preaching against the corruption of Pope Alexander VI and the Roman Curia. Saint Philip always maintained a deep devotion to the memory of his fellow Florentine, and even added a halo to the portrait of Savonarola which he kept in his room. In 1558, a combination of precursors of the fanatical Ultramontanists of later centuries and of lickspittle courtiers currying favour with the forbidding Pope Paul IV had convinced the Holy See to place the whole corpus of Savonarola’s works on the Index of Forbidden Books. There is no record of St Philip engaging with the public disputations on this matter at all. Instead he joined the Dominican friars in Rome in prayer on Thursdays before the exposed Blessed Sacrament at Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. On one of these occasions it was clear to everyone present that he had been swept up into an ecstasy, and after he had come back to himself he explained to the prior of the convent that he had seen Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament giving His blessing, and that their prayers for this particular cause had been answered. Savonarola’s spiritual masterpieces escaped the Index, and in 1566 the Dominican friar Antonio Ghislieri became Pope Pius V and the danger was past.

          During this month of June we celebrate the Church’s birthday at Pentecost, and the great feasts of Corpus Christi and St Peter and St Paul. Let us imitate St Philip in praying before the Blessed Sacrament for the needs of our Holy Church. Functions at the Oratory are generally very well-attended, but in these times of turmoil and division it would be heartening to see a larger crowd at the Holy Hours before the Blessed Sacrament on Thursday evenings. Please come and pray. Pray that the supernatural action of the Holy Ghost may unite the Church, overcoming the preternatural mischief wrought by that great divider the devil. Pray for our Holy Father Pope Francis, that God will bless him with everything he needs to be an effective successor to St Peter.

Father Julian Large

May 2019 Letter from the Provost

May 2019 Letter from the Provost

As the May edition of the Oratory Parish Magazine is about to go to press, Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris continues to smoulder after a devastating fire which destroyed most of its roof yesterday evening and into the night. The most dreadful moment to watch was the collapse of the spire, part of which plummeted through the vault and into the crossing and north transept.  As orange flames spread in all directions, it seemed unlikely that anything except the towers and entrance facade at the west end, at most, could possibly survive.

          This morning the flames and black smoke have subsided to reveal a dramatically impoverished skyline over central Paris. The distinctive high pitched roof and soaring spire which helped to make Notre Dame one of the most iconic and best loved monuments to the Christian faith in the whole world have gone completely. All that can now be seen above the walls of the nave and transepts are a few charred stumps of burnt roof beams, some of which were carved from oaks that would have been alive when Charlemagne was crowned as Holy Roman Emperor.

          Thanks be to God, though, the damage does not seem to be as extensive as many feared. The rose window in the south transept, a gift of Saint Louis of France (King Louis IX) in 1260, and one of the greatest treasures of medieval art in existence, is apparently intact, as are the other rose windows in the cathedral.  Thanks to the strength of the magnificent medieval vaulting, and to the extraordinary skill and judiciousness of the firemen, the walls of the cathedral are still standing and much of the interior has been saved. Had the vaults collapsed under the weight of too much water, it is likely that the famous flying buttresses would have pushed the walls inwards, reducing the whole building to rubble. Instead, a photograph taken inside the nave this morning shows the massive gilded cross at the High Altar gleaming defiantly in a ray of light. The Blessed Sacrament and Notre Dame’s most precious relic, the Crown of Thorns, were rescued by the Abbé Fournier, chaplain to the Paris fire brigade. Prayers are still needed, however, because what remains standing is in a fragile state. It is to be hoped that by the time this letter rolls off the press the structure will have been secured and somehow stabilised.

          As Parisians watched the progress of the fire with horror, there were some impressive scenes of great faith, hope and devotion. One of the most touching was of large numbers of young Catholics gathering in the streets to pray. Outside the church of Saint Julien le Pauvre on the Left Bank, one group knelt on the pavement in full view of the collapsing roof of Notre Dame, calmly praying the Holy Rosary and interspersing the decades with verses from a beautiful French hymn to the Blessed Virgin.

          Notre Dame is no stranger to adversity. In 1548 the cathedral was badly damaged by rioting Huguenots. Two centuries later the diabolical destructiveness of the French Revolution left its scars in the form of beheaded statues of saints which can still be seen around the entrance portals at the west end. In 1793 the revolutionaries ‘rededicated’ Notre Dame to the absurdly named Cult of Reason and many treasures were lost to posterity in the frenzy of distinctly unreasonable vandalism that ensued. By the early 19th century, the building was in a state of severe dilapidation, and was only restored after Victor Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame awakened a new fascination for its gothic mystique. Much of what has been lost in the fire was the fruit of Viollet-le-Duc’s embellishments.

          The burning of Notre Dame has provided a poignant start to Holy Week. Many on social media seem to be interpreting the fire as a symbol for the plight of the Catholic religion itself in our own age, with the credibility of the Church collapsing in flames thanks to much publicised abuses of authority and betrayals of trust and a political culture of spin and prevarication which only fans the flames.  The difference is that the builders of Notre Dame were never given a divine guarantee that the work of their hands would endure until the end of time. The Church, meanwhile, has Christ’s promise that, whatever calamities may befall Her, She will continue on earth until Our Lord’s Second Coming when She will be here to greet Her Bridegroom before being subsumed, perfected and glorified in Heaven.

          During this month of May, we should ask Our Lady to intercede for the work on the restoration of Her cathedral in Paris. The French President has publicly identified himself with the ancient Roman king of the Gods, Jupiter. Predictably he lost no time in promising that Notre Dame will be rebuilt “in a manner that is consistent with the modern and diverse nation that France is today.” Let us pray that this glorious cathedral does not fall victim to the virtue-signalling of the politically correct. Of course, Notre Dame may be admired and loved by adherents of all religions and none. But she is above all a glorious and majestic statement of the Catholic Faith, and of the universal queenship of the Mother of God. As she rises once again to her full height over the streets of Paris, may the holy Catholic Faith grow with Her, under the patronage of Our Lady, until our Faith is again taught and fanned to a golden blaze, as it was in the days when Notre Dame was being built.

Father Julian Large

April 2019 Letter from the Provost

April 2019 Letter from the Provost

Talking to parishioners, it transpires that many of them have a great love for the season of Lent. The crowds that packed the Oratory church on Ash Wednesday, even though there is no precept of obligation to do so, and the impressive size of the procession around the Stations of the Cross on Friday evenings, suggest that penance and mortification still exercise a significant hold on the Christian imagination. Whatever Freudian psychologists might assume, this is not because we are suffering from psychotic morbidity, or at least not most of us. Rather it is because these forty days, if we make a real effort to observe them, are spiritually liberating and refreshing. If, through our Lenten observances, we allow the great vessel that is the Church to transport us through this season of the liturgical calendar as active participants rather than as mere spectators, then we shall be well prepared to experience the joy and the power of Easter when the bells ring the Gloria back in at the Easter Vigil.

          When we were baptised we died to the old Adam within us. As the waters closed over our heads, we descended into the Tomb to be buried with Our Lord and Saviour. Moments later, emerging from those waters, we were raised from the dead. This is the supernatural reality of Baptism – we die and are buried with Christ, and the life of the Resurrection is poured into our hearts. And in our Baptism we receive the vocation to keep dying to ourselves in this life so that the life of Our Risen Lord might take ever greater possession of our souls. This, of course, is one of the primary purposes of Lent – dying to ourselves through self-denial.

          We might imagine that this is a thought that the weird and wonderful creature whom Teutonic theologisers like to call ‘Modern Man’ would find off-putting, even grotesque. But on the 1st January many of our secular-minded contemporaries will have made resolutions aimed at self-improvement. The difference is that most of these secular resolutions will have been focused on self – self-improvement through losing weight, self-improvement through obsessive control over the quantities of vitamins, proteins, carbohydrates entering their digestive systems, self-improvement through the toning of the body beautiful at the gym, self-improvement through ‘empowerment’ and ‘affirming’. Bookshops these days are full of material on how the reader can transform himself into Superman through the triumph of mind over matter.

          The purpose of Lent, in contrast to all of this, is to replace self with God, and to put the service of God in our neighbour at the centre of the frame. If we are thoughtful in the way that we market what our religion has to offer, however, then perhaps we can take advantage of the modern mania for self-improvement. After all, the practice of the Catholic religion, as exemplified in the Lenten observances of fasting, prayer and almsgiving, offers the ultimate holistic approach to self-improvement available on this planet. It is spiritual detox par excellence.

          When people talk about their Lenten resolutions, it’s quite common to hear something like “I find it more useful to take something up, rather than to give something up.” Our initial response should be gladness that they are doing anything at all. But taking something up and giving something up are not necessarily mutually exclusive. During Lent we are supposed to do both. The particular observances we resolve to assume are really tokens of virtues which we should cultivating throughout our lives. In fasting, we renounce legitimate pleasures in order to unite ourselves with Our Lord’s hunger in the desert, but also to loosen the hold that created goods hold over our appetites. In taking up extra devotions, we cultivate living in God’s presence and open the channels of communication as wide as possible so that He is able to communicate His divine life to us in abundance. In giving alms, we recognise and pay homage to the image of God that is emblazoned on our neighbour’s soul.

          And the ‘secret’ of keeping a good Lent? It is the same ‘secret’ that animates every aspect of our lives as Christians: charity. The Old and New Testaments make it clear that without charity our sacrifices become empty gestures and our prayers just prattle. It is charity that makes our other observances pleasing to God. And in this area of charity, the Gospel makes stringent demands. We are to love not only our neighbour, but also our enemy. We might well ask how can we be expected to love someone who has harmed us without any sign of repentance, and even to love an enemy who persecutes us without ceasing. First of all we have to try to understand how God loves us. Whenever we sin we make ourselves enemies of Christ, contributing to His suffering during His Passion. And yet He sees in us a potential for great goodness and beauty of soul, offering us His forgiveness even before we ask for it. Indeed, our repentance is the fruit of the grace which He extends to us before we have turned to Him. To love our enemies, we must begin by praying for them. Our prayer should be not only for their conversion, but that God will bless them in every way He sees fit. That way, we begin to grow in charity, whatever emotions might be assailing us.

As Holy Week approaches, it is likely that we shall have failed in the resolutions that we made on Ash Wednesday. The humility that it takes to acknowledge our failures and ask forgiveness is very precious to God. It is an essential prerequisite in the foundations of all the blessings He wishes to build in our lives. So we should renew our resolutions now, and pray for the grace to keep them well so that when Easter comes we shall be well prepared to participate in the joy of the Resurrection. We should also keep in mind that when Easter does arrive, God will not be measuring our waistlines to see how many pounds we have shed. What He is looking for is actually expansion. He wants to find hearts that have expanded in generosity and charity.

Fr Julian Large

March 2019 Letter from the Provost

March 2019 Letter from the Provost

In this quite troubled world in which we live today, it is not as if there is no-one looking for solutions. In recent weeks politicians, businessmen, celebrities and journalists all gathered in the Swiss Alps at the World Economic Forum to discuss the pressing issues of the day. The general consensus that seemed to emerge from the conference was that the two greatest evils facing humanity at the moment are climate change and inequality. It then transpired that the airports servicing this get-together in Davos had been congested by a record influx of private jets. The press reported that participants in the conference were being ferried in and out of Switzerland on around 1,500 private flights.

As the canapés circulated on the second day of the World Economic Forum, photographers on the other side of the Atlantic captured the moment that New York State’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, signed in a law that allows the abortion of healthy babies up until the moment of birth. Surrounded by smiling politicians, Mr Cuomo decreed that prominent public buildings around Manhattan were to be lit pink to celebrate. Other states across the U.S.A. quickly announced that they were aiming to secure similar legislation as quickly as possible. Back in Davos, meanwhile, no-one seemed to think that any of this was worthy of a mention.

The further that our society moves away from the Gospel, the blinder and the more brutal this world inevitably becomes. When barbaric legislation facilitating infanticide is seen as a reason for public celebration it is hard to imagine how much lower we could sink.

We must, however, avoid being uncharitable towards those people in Davos who convinced themselves, and perhaps others, that climate change and inequality are the greatest evils in the world today. When it comes to the environment, the Church teaches with perfect clarity that human beings have a moral duty to be responsible custodians of this planet, the care of which we see being entrusted to Adam and Eve in Genesis. (Gen 1.28) Any exploitation of the earth’s resources which is motivated by greed is undoubtedly a sin. As for equality or the lack of it, the moral principle is not quite so clear-cut. The truth is that we are none of us truly equal in so far we all come into this world with different gifts and limitations. The Kingdom of God is a hierarchy – Christ is King, and in Heaven there is royal court in which Our Lady reigns as Queen over the Angels and Saints. But the Gospels do tell us that the rich have a responsibility to the poor, and that this responsibility is so grave that their salvation depends on it.

However, if we are talking about the environment, we have to realise that a mother’s womb in which an innocent human life is conceived and nurtured is the most sacred environment of all. And if we are talking about equality, we have to realise that the dignity of the human person is a principle which is rooted in the sanctity of each and every innocent human life at every stage of its existence from the moment of conception. This means that any attempt to create an environmentally responsible and just society that fails to recognise the inviolability of an innocent child’s life inside the mother’s womb is without any foundation in reality, and doomed to failure and collapse.

The opinion makers of our time seem to have lost sight of this altogether. As a result, grave crimes become a daily occurrence, and we are in serious danger of becoming desensitised to great evil. But we must not allow ourselves to be desensitised, because if we fail to challenge those of our elected politicians who vote in favour of legislation facilitating infanticide (and there is currently well-funded lobbying going on in Parliament to abolish restrictions on abortion here – please see the notice that follows this letter) then we become complicit in a sin that cries to Heaven for retribution.

Certainly, sounding a discordant note when everyone else is singing obediently from the official hymn sheet will mean that we expose ourselves to opposition and ridicule. If we happen to work for the medical profession or in education, there is a serious possibility that we shall find ourselves overlooked for promotion or even out of employment. But as Our Lord warns us in the Gospel: “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did of the false prophets.” (Lk 6.26)

On the other hand, “Blessed are you when men hate you and when they exclude you and revile you ... on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for behold your reward is great in Heaven.” (Lk 6.23) It might surprise us that being persecuted and despised are counted among the Beatitudes. But the ancient Greek word for beatitude, or blessedness, is Makarios. It was applied primarily to the pagan gods, whose essential happiness was held to remain unaffected by the vicissitudes and tragedies of life on earth. We mortals must inhabit a fallen world in which we are buffeted by no end of trials. But if we are in a state of grace, then we have a flame of the Divine Life alight in our hearts, something that no external circumstances can touch or diminish, and only our own sin can extinguish. This revealed truth should be an encouragement to any young person considering going into public life but fearful of hostility.

Looking at the world today, it seems that Our Lord has too few friends, too few disciples. Such was the case at the time of His Passion, when He was abandoned even by St Peter, the chief of the Apostles. But we have the benefit of knowing the outcome of Good Friday – that outcome was Easter, and we have experienced Easter for ourselves in our Baptism when we were filled with the life of the Resurrection. Let us answer the Baptismal call to discipleship and friendship now, in the confidence that whatever trials it might bring, it will also give us a share in Beatitude now, and Beatitude in its fullness in eternity.

Fr Julian Large

URGENT APPEAL ON BEHALF OF THE UNBORN CHILD

Later in the year, a group of MPs will be bringing forward an amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill which will seek to introduce abortion on demand to Northern Ireland and remove most of the current legal safeguards around abortion in England and Wales. Right To Life UK is working with Peers and MPs in Parliament to counter these attempts, which they have identified as the biggest challenge on this issue since the Abortion Act was introduced in 1967. If you would like to donate to this campaign or get involved, do contact the team at info@righttolife.org.uk. For more information on Right to Life UK visit www.righttolife.org.uk.

February 2019 Letter from the Provost

February 2019 Letter from the Provost

Visitors to the Oratory Church are often surprised by the Jewish-looking candelabras on either side of the sanctuary. The Oratory ‘menorahs’ are probably as close as anything in existence to exact replicas of the original lampstand that was placed in the antechamber to the sanctuary of Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem. They were a gift of the 3rd Marquess of Bute, who was received into the Catholic Church in 1868 and commissioned William Burges to copy them from a marble relief on the Arch of Titus in Rome, where booty from the Temple was carried in triumph after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70A.D. The Temple Menorah is believed to have been destroyed some time after the Vandal invasion of the fifth Century.

          The Oratory lampstands were placed in the sanctuary in testimony to our belief in the continuity of the religion of our Jewish forbears with our own religion as Catholics today. They testify to our conviction that the Old Testament has found its complete and definitive fulfilment in the Church which is the New Jerusalem. The Presence of God that once dwelt in the Temple’s inner sanctum is now enthroned in the hearts of all who have been made members of the Mystical Body of Christ through Baptism. The new Holy of Holies is to be found in the Altar, on which Our Lord makes Himself present at every Mass, and where He remains day and night in the Tabernacle. A Catholic church, then, is a holy place, and when our friends tell us that they do not need a church to pray in – that they can do it just as well on a hillside or in the bath – then we can say to them: Yes, it is always a good thing to pray wherever you are and whenever you can. But there is nowhere else on earth today where we find Our Lord present in the same way that He is present on the Altar and in the Tabernacle.

          Given our unwavering insistence on the unique sacredness of our consecrated buildings, non-Catholics are sometimes genuinely taken aback by the atmosphere of informality that tends to pervade in our churches. Converts to the Faith have to get used to the way that ‘cradle’ Catholics seem to pile into church at the last possible moment, and potter around lighting candles and visiting the statues of their favourite saints even after Mass has begun. Perhaps such casualness should be frowned upon. But such familiarity probably has its source in a religious instinct that is quite healthy. After all, as disciples of Christ there is a sense in which we inhabit this world as exiles in a foreign land. Coming to Mass, visiting the Blessed Sacrament and communing with the angels and saints is probably the closest that we shall ever get to coming ‘home’, at least on this side of Heaven. And home is exactly how we should see a church or chapel where a flickering lamp tells us that Our Lord in is residence and waiting to receive us into His royal Presence. This is a King who has ennobled us by pouring a participation in His own life into our hearts in Baptism; a King who invites us into intimate union with Him by feeding us with His own Body.

          At the same time, of course, we always have to be careful to ensure that familiarity never breeds contempt. In the Gospel, Our Lord expels the racketeering traders from the Temple because they have profaned the House of His Father. As He drives them out with a homemade whip, the disciples are reminded of a verse from Psalm 68: “Zeal for thy house hath devoured me.” On the practical level, zeal for the Father’s House means that we should certainly make every effort to act accordingly in any place that is consecrated to the worship of God, doing our best to arrive on time for Holy Mass and respecting the sacred purpose of our surroundings. Parents should teach their children to genuflect and to receive Holy Communion with real devotion, and set a good example by making a prayer of thanksgiving with them afterwards. But Our Lord’s cleansing of the Temple is not primarily a lesson about outward decorum in church. It relates very much to our interior dispositions. After all, thanks to our Baptism, each one of us is a living Temple of the Holy Ghost. As such we have to be purged of everything that does not belong. The Holy Ghost cannot be expected to co-habit with gossip, unkindness and conceit. Our Lord gives us the example of an impeccably punctilious Pharisee who is so proud of his own piety and yet defiles the Temple by looking down on a despised publican who is too ashamed to lift his head. It is the publican who returns home in favour with God.

          To help us all pray at Mass on Sunday mornings, the Oratory provides a room in St Gregory’s Library, near the main entrance to the church, where parents can take (and must accompany at all times) any of their young children who become restless. But the room is certainly not compulsory for all children, some of whom are capable of enduring a whole Oratory sermon without so much as a single yawn or a squeal. We are blessed to have world class choirs singing at many of our liturgical functions. But that does not make the Mass a concert, and if a child expresses her indignation at the length of the proceedings with an occasional howl, then we should avoid Medusa-style glaring and hissing at all costs. The Oratory menorahs are a reminder that we are all of us called to be united in charity as God’s chosen people. Never let it be said that we are God’s frozen people.

Fr Julian Large

January 2019 Letter from the Provost

January 2019 Letter from the Provost

A major highlight of any pilgrimage to Rome must be a visit to the basilica of St Mary Major. This ancient and beautiful church is a magnificent testimony in mosaic, marble and bronze to Catholic devotion to the Blessed Virgin. It was built by Pope Sixtus III to commemorate the recently concluded Council of Ephesus of 431, at which Our Lady was granted the title ‘Mother of God’ by dogmatic definition, and it has been renovated and embellished during successive pontificates down the centuries. Amongst other treasures it possesses the Manger in which Our Lord was lain in Bethlehem.

          Thanks for the formal and definitive recognition of Our Lady’s title ‘Mother of God’ must go in large part to a Syrian monk by the name of Nestorius, a favourite of the Emperor Theodosius II who pulled strings to have his protégé made Archbishop of Constantinople, the most important See after Rome itself. Nestorius’s learning and legendary eloquence, and his extraordinary charisma, made him one of the most sought after spiritual gurus of his era. He was the type of intellectual and ecclesiastical celebrity who, had he been alive today, would have been the ultimate doyen of the Kensington housewives’ weekday coffee morning scene.

          He was also a heretic. Deigning to allow Our Lady the title Christotokos (Birth Giver of the Christ), he adamantly refused to allow Her the title ‘Birth Giver of God’. Mercifully, Rome refused to meet heresy halfway, even when the heresiarch concerned happened to be the mighty bishop of the richest city in Christendom and in cahoots with the secular powers. After a good deal of acrimony and invective during the proceedings of the Council, the Blessed Virgin’s title Theotokos, ‘Mother of God,’ was splendidly defined with utmost solemnity. Nestorius was condemned, deposed, and despatched to a monastery, where he refused to recant his anathematised opinions to the end of his days.

          To give credit where it is due, Nestorius had a point. It is undeniable that, while receiving His body and His human nature from His virgin Mother, the Christ Child received His divine nature directly from God. But no mother gives birth to a mere nature. Every mother gives birth to a person. And the Blessed Virgin, like every mother, also gave birth to a person. Within that person there were two natures, human and divine. But as far as being a person goes, Christ is divine. He is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, God the Son, Who at a recorded moment in history took on our human flesh and was born in a stable in Bethlehem, where potentates from the East fell on their knees in adoration in recognition of His divinity.

          What’s in a name? When we are talking about Mary the Mother of God, there is an awful lot in the name. The title Theotokos safeguards the doctrine of the Divinity of Our Lord, and our salvation depends on the truth that He was and is God as well as man. Yes, when He was on the Cross, it was in His humanity that He suffered and died. But it was a divine person Who endured that Passion, and this is what gives His Sacrifice the infinite value and power needed to save us. In the Gospel of St John, Our Lord says “I have called you friends”. (Jn 15.15) Certainly it is through human speech that He communicates these words to human ears, but it is a divine person Who is speaking. And this invitation from God to man to divine friendship is a crowning glory of our Christian Faith. What other religion can make such an audacious boast as that?

          And so we treasure the title Theotokos, and we delight to honour Our Lady as the Mother of God. The Eternal Word became flesh in Her womb. His flesh is taken from Her flesh. Thanks to the fiat She gave to the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation, She gave birth to God the Son made man, and so we are able to be saved from our sins. Father Faber expressed our Christian joy in this mystery most sublimely in his Carol ‘Like the Dawning of the Morning’, which he addresses directly to the Blessed Virgin and which can be found in all eight verses in any respectable Catholic hymn book:

And what wonders have been in thee
All the day and all the night,
While the angels fell before thee,
To adore the Light of Light.
While the glory of the Father
hath been in thee as a home,
And the sceptre of creation
Hath been wielded in thy womb.

          We have left behind us a year during which there has been a great deal of darkness, and much uncertainty and anxiety about the future. As we enter 2019, let us put fear aside and entrust ourselves, our loved ones and this whole world to the protection and the intercession of the Blessed Mother of God. May She bring us, and this world around us, to the Light of Light Whom She presented to the Magi in Bethlehem.

Fr Julian Large

December 2018 Letter from the Provost

December 2018 Letter from the Provost

Rorate Caeli desuper et nubes pluant justum – Aperiatur terra et germinet Salvatorem.

(Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain down the just One – Let the earth be opened and send forth a Saviour.)

These words from the prophet Isaias, which form the versicle and response at Vespers during the next weeks, really set the tone for the whole of Advent. They are pregnant with longing. It is as if the dry dust of the parched earth itself groans with expectation of the oceans of refreshment from Heaven that will transform the desert into a vibrant landscape of life and colour.

          We often hear it said that “you can’t turn the clock back”. But in this period of Advent, the Church’s liturgy does just that, on one level at least. The liturgy is like a ship that carries us through the Mysteries of our holy Faith, and allows us to experience them not just as mere spectators but as participants in the drama of redemption. The clock is turned back as we are transported to that time of longing of the Prophets. Advent is a season of penitence, in which the liturgical colour is purple and we make reparation for sins. But it is also filled with joyful expectation, as we prepare to celebrate the arrival of the Prince of Peace at Christmas and the establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. The liturgy transports us to the past not for the sake of nostalgia or sentimentality, but rather to equip us with the spiritual and supernatural resources which we need to live in the present. In that first coming in Bethlehem, the Messiah came to earth in meekness as an infant. He did not come to impose a new regime by means of swords or armies. Rather, He came to win our hearts through repentance and conversion.

          The meekness of His first coming and His respect for our freedom mean that for two thousand years men have remained at liberty to close their hearts to Him. And today many have closed their hearts to Him. The results are all around us. We see it in the moral vacuum that has been created in our own society, which in many ways is in open rebellion against the laws which God has written into nature. A culture which has been hollowed out from the centre is like a fragile shell – one serious blow, and the whole thing is likely to collapse. This past year, sections of the British media openly celebrated the lifting of the ban on abortion in Ireland, which has facilitated the ‘legal’ extermination of countless innocent lives. In our own Parliament, meanwhile, there are moves to remove what little protection the unborn child still possesses inside a mother’s womb. We might well ask: “Why does the Prince of Peace not intervene to rectify this?”

          The Gospel readings in Advent assure us that the time for His second coming and definitive intervention has been set, even if the date has not been revealed to us. And when He does return, it will not be in meekness and frailty as with His first arrival in Bethlehem, but rather in majesty, with armies of angels. On that Day of Judgment justice will be done, and be seen to be done, on a universal scale. That blood of the innocents which cries to Heaven will find its vindication.

          Just as, in the days of the later prophets, the earth groaned like a parched desert for the coming of the Messiah, so the earth groans today like a parched desert for the dew of God’s grace. And our souls also groan for refreshment and the strength we need to sustain us until He returns in Glory. In the coming weeks when grace rains down from Heaven in answer to the Church’s petitions, we are invited to spend time in Our Lord’s company so that He might refresh us and renew us. In this time of grace He wants to give us something so that we in turn have something to give to this broken and wounded world. So one thing we should do this Advent is to give some more time to God. In the coming weeks we shall no doubt be hearing a lot from high-minded clerics about the evils of consumerism. Perhaps we should try a different type of consumerism from the frenzied shopping that takes place around us in central London. We can make a resolution to be more assiduous about consuming the word of God in the Holy Scriptures. Devour Scripture, just like the Prophet Ezekiel devoured the scroll that was given to Him by God. Follow the cycle of Scriptures as proposed to us in the Church’s liturgy, reflecting on them, savouring and digesting them so that they become a part of us. Accompany this meditation with our prayers – the collects appointed for daily Mass in Advent are bursting with meaning, and full of petitions which articulate our neediness before God.

          Rorate Caeli desuper – rain down dew ye Heavens. Yes, we can be sure that there is an abundance of Divine Grace raining down from Heaven in these days. But we have to prepare ourselves to receive it.

Fr Julian Large

November 2018 Letter from the Provost

November 2018 Letter from the Provost

There has recently been some controversy in the English-speaking Catholic media about the place and the role of converts in our Holy Catholic Church. It is probably better not to name any names on either side because the debate quickly became acrimonious, and in these ill-tempered days we need to work for charity within the Church, as well as clarity.

          Many of us converts who followed the discussion will probably have been more amused than we were chastened to find ourselves being told by certain prominent commentators that, like Victorian children allowed into the parlour for half a scone at teatime, we are expected to be seen but not heard. The argument seems to be that having arrived so late in the day in the vineyard, we should put up and shut up. Those of us who were formerly Anglicans will probably have been told at some stage or another since our reception into the One True Fold of the Redeemer that we shouldn’t carry with us the same battles that we might have fought in the Church of England.

          None of this would have come as any surprise to the one of this country’s most famous and best-loved converts. Blessed John Henry Newman was regarded with suspicion and even hostility by many of the old-time English Catholics who had been labouring away in the vineyard under the heat of the sun since early morning. Having been scorned by many of his fellow Protestants as a crypto-papist during his Anglican days, Mister, and then Father, Newman found that after his reception into the Church his reputation was soon being trounced and his name denounced to the Roman authorities by zealots and by certain members of the ecclesiastical hierarchy who questioned his docility to teaching authority and doubted the authenticity of his conversion.

          When Newman eventually received his cardinal’s hat in 1879, aged nearly eighty, he exclaimed to his fellow Oratorians in Birmingham: “The cloud is lifted from me forever!” Never again, he believed, could his Catholicism be called into question. That was actually wishful thinking. In the early twentieth century, after heretics had applied an evolutionist interpretation to Newman’s An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine and claimed Newman as one of their own, the excommunicated Father Tyrrell and others tried to drag Newman down with them in the sinking ship of Modernism following its condemnation in Rome. Even though Pope Saint Pius X confirmed in a letter to Bishop O’Dwyer of Limerick in 1908 that the orthodoxy of Newman’s Catholicism was beyond reproach and wholly uncontaminated by the errors condemned in Lamentabili, and even though that same great Pope lauded Newman for his constancy in defending the cause of the Faith before his fellow country-men, some of the dirt had managed to stick, so that even today there are half-baked theologisers who try to tie Newman’s name to causes which would, quite frankly, have sickened him.

          Newman did carry over with him into the Catholic Church the main battle that he had become used to fighting in the Church of England. Whether he found himself in combat with the liberalism of Latitudinarians in the common room of Oriel or with the fundamentalism of fanatical Ultramontanists in the run-up to the First Vatican Council, Newman’s crusade remained always constant: it was a battle for truth. It continued to impose strain on his friendships and to bring him suffering as a Catholic just as it had done while he was an Anglican.

          Latecomers to the Faith who are made to feel that their convert status makes them second class citizens in the eyes of some of those who make a profession out of religious commentary can take comfort in the knowledge that Blessed John Henry experienced all of this before them. The sincerity of Newman’s conversion is beyond question to anyone of good faith. As an Anglican he had increased in his sympathy for doctrines such as Transubstantiation and the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin, having considered them individually in the light of their antiquity and of their compatibility with Holy Scripture. When he made his profession of Faith in front of Father Dominic Barberi, however, he was declaring that from now on he would embrace these truths, and every other Catholic doctrine, on the grounds that they were taught by Christ’s Church. He was assenting to his firm belief that the Catholic Church was founded by Our Lord as the pillar and the foundation of saving truth, with divinely invested authority to teach on faith and morals. He brought himself to his knees before an authority which he firmly believed to be at the service of Truth, but he also fell to his knees in the knowledge that in the Church on earth that divinely invested authority is always liable to be abused by fallen men who are prone to sin, and whose intellects are often too dim to appreciate the truths they have been commissioned to teach. But he accepted this. He accepted it because he was willing to suffer for and with the Church, because he loved Her as the Mystical Body of Christ on earth, and He believed Her to be true. Newman is an example to all of us of patience and genuine piety. Suffering with and for the Church is one of the ways we show our love for Christ, and one of the signs that our faith is alive.

          For those of us who are converts to the Faith, Newman shows us how to be good converts. We must be docile, and obedient to lawful authority. But we should also be dogged in our pursuit of all truth, and we must be willing to suffer for our insistence on it. The religious submission of mind and will which we owe to the teaching authority of the Church never obliges us to submit ourselves to humbug, bluster and spin, but only to Catholic Truth in its soul-saving fullness.

Fr Julian Large

October 2018 Letter from the Provost

October 2018 Letter from the Provost

We live in an era which bombards us with images. Advertising companies specialise in capturing our attention with pictures which are very often aimed at our lower passions, while the Internet provides easy access to millions of images of every description. Many of these pose a deadly threat to our mental health and to our eternal salvation. Were we to engage with them, we should soon find ourselves in serious trouble. The devil knows that once he has gained access to our imagination, he does not have very far to reach down to gain possession of our hearts. At the same time, the extraordinary revolution in communications which has occurred during our lifetime also means that we are constantly assailed with information (and disinformation). In recent months, there has a been a tsunami of revelations about dreadful scandals and corruption within our beloved Church, which in turn has given rise to endless torrents of acrimony, infighting and spin. Many good Catholics have been asking how we can find peace when the central nervous system of the Church on earth seems to have been afflicted with such a debilitating disease.

          Saint Paul provides us with a spiritual antidote in his Epistle to the Philippians: “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Phil 4.8) Saint Paul is not suggesting that we are to turn a blind eye to evil, switch our faces on to permanent “evangelical grin” mode and pretend that everything is fine when it clearly isn’t and the Church is enduring one of the most dangerous crises of Her entire history. Pollyannaism has never been included among the Christian virtues, and make-believe is no foundation for genuine Christian joy. If, however, we allow our hearts and minds to become pits of vitriol and despair, then we make ourselves useless as disciples, however worthy the causes of reform to which we might have allied ourselves, and the enemy of our soul succeeds in his plan of drawing us into the maelstrom of disorder which he has created for our destruction.

          The Church has always recognised the importance and the power of the human imagination, and the need to nurture the eyes and mind with edifying images and thoughts. Our holy father St Philip commissioned some of the finest artists of the late Renaissance to decorate his church in Rome. He was sometimes observed in ecstasy before the tenderness and piety of the scene of the Blessed Virgin being greeted by St Elizabeth, as depicted in Barocci’s painting of the Visitation which still adorns the chapel dedicated to that mystery. The church of the London Oratory is filled with holy images, sculpture and sacred symbols, all designed to lift the heart and mind away from earthly distractions towards the mysteries of our salvation. Step next door into the Victoria and Albert Museum, and you can spend hours contemplating the sublime beauty of Raphael’s cartoons of scenes from the lives of Ss Peter and Paul.

          The imagination is fertile, and we must plant it with wholesome and beautiful images so that when unworthy thoughts and temptations present themselves they find no room to take root within us. During this month of October the Church proposes for our contemplation the mysteries of the Holy Rosary. An invincible weapon in the armoury of the Church Militant, the Rosary has throughout history defended the Church against enemies assailing Christian civilisation from without and from the poison of heresy within. Meditating on the mysteries of Our Lord’s life, Passion and Resurrection, and on Our Lady’s Assumption and Coronation in Heaven, also has a supernatural power to fill our minds with holy images and thoughts, banishing the darkness and despondency which are the enemies of our soul.

          We can profitably use this month of October to refresh our contemplation of the mysteries of the Holy Rosary and to improve the quality of our meditations. We may do this by rereading and reflecting upon those parts of the New Testament which relate to each mystery. It might also do us good to have recourse to art. The Provost favours all things high baroque, but whether your preference happens to be primitive Tuscan or something more contemporary, the Church has produced a vast treasure house of images which are all now accessible via a few clicks on a keyboard.

          In these turbulent days, we should pray the Holy Rosary for the Church. We pray for reform and renewal, and for the harmony that can only come with faithfulness to the Deposit of Faith entrusted to the Apostles and taught continuously down the centuries. Pray for unity, purification and peace, remembering that to be useful disciples to Our Lord Jesus Christ we must be blessed with purity and peace of heart ourselves.

Fr Julian Large

September 2018 Letter from the Provost

September 2018 Letter from the Provost

As a former Fleet Street hack, I was asked soon after my studies for the priesthood had begun: “Wasn’t that an extraordinary change, going from journalism to the cloth?” The temptation was to answer: “Yes, in some ways leaving the gossip column to become a Catholic priest felt like abandoning a mildly disdained occupation to join what many of one’s contemporaries believe to be a criminal organisation.” That was five years previous to the explosion of revelations of sexual abuse within the archdiocese of Boston, and a full two decades before the new disclosures of  gross betrayal of trust and abuse of authority which have been shaking the Church on earth to Her foundations in recent weeks.

Fleet Street was not exactly a saint factory. But the transgressions one was likely to encounter there – heavy drinking, professional jealousy, and other indiscretions which are not so hard to guess – were generally of the variety that can be attributed to the frailty of fallen human nature. In contrast to this, the recent Grand Jury report on sexual abuse in America details events of such wickedness and depravity as to leave the most cynical tabloid reporter shaken.

All of this can only be disheartening for anyone who loves the Church. That pastors who have been ordained to be the living image of Our Lord and Saviour on earth could deliberately do such harm to those little ones whose angels behold the face of their Father in Heaven defies words. The resulting crisis of credibility which has hobbled the Church’s mission of evangelisation in recent decades can only have been exacerbated wherever the institutional response has been to issue defensive official statements crafted by expensive lawyers and spin doctors. With the latest revelations, and the promise of worse to come, the Church has experienced a paradigm shift in which PR-speak has lost any power it might once have had to reassure.

The Church is not a criminal organisation. Yes, history furnishes us with examples of clericalist mafias of various types which have managed to hijack Her hierarchical structures in the service of their own agendas. It was the Oratory’s own Baronius who coined the phrase saeculum obscurum (dark age) to describe the corrupt papacies of the tenth century which later Protestant historians would label “the Pornocracy”. Despite the transgressions of Her members, however, the Catholic Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, founded by Our Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation of mankind. She is where we find saving truth in its fullness, and where we encounter Our Lord in the Sacraments and receive Him in His entirety in Holy Communion. A supernatural field hospital in which our sins are forgiven and the wounds that they inflict on our souls are healed, She also produces saints today – among those laity and religious who devote their lives to the poorest of the poor, among priests who give their lives sacrificially for the salvation of their parishioners’ souls, among bishops who in some parts of the world risk their lives daily in the service of their flocks, and among all those “ordinary” Catholics who live the Beatitudes heroically from day to day.

After Our Lord scandalised the Jews by insisting that He is the Bread of Life and that we must eat and drink His flesh and blood if we are to have eternal life, His disciples left Him in droves. He turned to the twelve Apostles and asked “Will you also go away?” Peter replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we have believed and have known, that thou art the Christ, the Son of God.” If we now begin to witness a new exodus of members from the Church in response to revelations of dreadful scandals, we need to keep these words of the fisherman inscribed on our hearts. We must hold tight to the Faith – not some counterfeit version of ambiguities and compromises as peddled by the compromised, but the Catholic Faith in its fullness, as handed down from the Apostles and believed and lived by the Saints. If you find that current events have made you doubt your own place in the Church, please find a priest whom you trust and open your heart to him.

The chastisement which it seems the Church on earth must endure for Her renewal is a most urgent call to sanctity to each one of us. A body is only as healthy as its individual parts. As living members of the Mystical Body of Christ, we contribute to Her health by responding to that call more generously and lovingly. Any hope of restoration of the Church’s credibility in our time rests on a living witness to our Catholic Faith, which means living in charity and devoting ourselves ever more wholeheartedly to the service of the most needy and vulnerable in our society. At the Oratory, we have various study groups to encourage parishioners to deepen their understanding of the Faith. What brings our community and parish to life, however, is the active witness to Our Lord’s redeeming love that we show in the support we give to the disadvantaged, and the hope we bring to the lost. So this is a challenge to us. One initiative for which we are grateful is the Wilfrid Faber Counselling Service, which provides support from trained counselors at the Oratory on a charitable basis, supporting the priestly work that the fathers are supposed to be doing here. Among those who find support from this valuable resource are victims of abuse.

We should pray for the victims of those shepherds who have turned out to be wolves. The consequences of this betrayal include ruined lives of isolation, sustained anguish and sometimes suicide. May they encounter the healing presence of Our loving Saviour from which they were driven by pastors who were demons in disguise. We must also commit ourselves to reparation. These sins cry to Heaven for vengeance, and we cannot know what torments they added to Our Lord’s Passion. This is a time for much prayer, fasting, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and Masses of reparation. Let us also take up the prayer to the St Michael the Archangel, whose feast we celebrate this month, for the restoration of Christ’s wounded Church, and for the protection of the innocent:

Holy Michael, the Archangel, defend us in the day of battle. Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do you, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the wicked spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen

Fr Julian Large