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In the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost Spirit we are given a glimpse of God’s plans for humanity’s future. Part of that plan is the merciful reversal of the tragic diversity of human tongues, that curse imposed by heaven when human pride attempted to construct the tower of Babel. At Pentecost, that curse is reversed, and the healing of our fragmentation is begun.

At Pentecost the divine Paraclete created a new People, with a single new religious identity and a single new language. The new language is not just another transient human dialect. The Spirit bestows a higher gift than clumsy human speech. The new language is the sublime language of Christian faith: Jesus is Lord! This is the new tongue, and the only one, that can reunite a divided humanity.

The Church’s mission began in flame and whirlwind. The mighty works of God are miraculously understood in all the divisive human languages of the world. This is an icon of God’s plan for the human race. The Catholic Church is empowered to reunite mankind in the new faith, that new faith which our Lord’s earliest disciples expressed in a simple dogmatic proclamation: Jesus is Lord.

Here is the primordial dogmatic truth of our religion, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, fully human, and divine. All else flows from that. To preach that truth to the world is the purpose of the Church’s existence. That simple creed is the basis of our entire Christian life.

Jesus is Lord. To believe this and to live it is the only way for any of us to become truly human. To believe it and to live it is the only way for any of us to get to heaven. A blessing I wish for us all.

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Praying at Mass


May 26th is the feast of our Holy Father Saint Philip, Apostle of Rome and Founder of the Congregation of the Oratory. On that day in 1595 his soul left this world and was taken to heaven.

While still a layman Philip had a life-changing experience in the Roman catacombs. In 1544 on the vigil of Pentecost he was alone in the catacombs praying for the gifts of the Holy Spirit. He saw a globe of fire coming towards him. He felt it entering his mouth and sinking down into him. It enlarged his heart. The experience left him consumed with both a physical heat and a spiritual fervour, neither of which ever left him. After his death the body was opened and examined; his heart was found to be twice the normal size, and two of his ribs on the left side had been forced outwards from their natural position in the ribcage. This enlargement of the heart and dislocation of the ribs had caused an external protrusion in his chest the size of a large clenched fist.

After that personal Pentecost Philip’s life was richly imbued with miracles, spiritual favours, and precognition. Those gifts were put at the service of his extensive pastoral apostolate. Many penitents discovered his unnerving ability to know their sins before they had found the courage to confess them. He drew many souls to conversion of life, and was a major spiritual influence in the much needed reform of the Church in 16th century Rome.

His preferred way of offering the Eucharistic sacrifice was to celebrate a quiet Low Mass at a side altar or in a private chapel. He did not like his face to be seen while saying Mass. He spent several hours each day hearing confessions, and several further hours each day and night in his personal prayer, in addition to the public spiritual exercises of the Oratory every weekday afternoon and evening.

When we are first getting to know St Philip he may well have a good laugh with us. Then, as we spend more time in his company we find him more serious. With the kindness of a true father he will gently help us to deepen our spiritual life. He will help us to go to confession more thoroughly, to celebrate and attend Mass more prayerfully, to pray the rosary more devotedly, and to serve Christ in the poor and the sick more generously: a blessing I wish for us all.

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Eastertide reflection image


“…the Divine Baptism, wherewith God visits us, penetrates through our whole soul and body. It leaves no part of us uncleansed, unsanctified. It claims the whole man for God.

….Thus the heart of every Christian ought to represent in miniature the Catholic Church, since one Spirit makes both the whole Church and every member of it to be His Temple. As He makes the Church one, which, left to itself, would separate into many parts; so He makes the soul one, in spite of its various affections and faculties, and its contradictory aims.

…..As He leavens each rank and pursuit of the community with the principles of the doctrine of Christ, so does that same Divine Leaven spread through every thought of the mind, every member of the body, till the whole is sanctified. And let us be quite sure that these two operations of our Divine Comforter depend upon each other, and that while Christians do not seek after inward unity and peace in their own breasts, the Church itself will never be at unity and peace in the world around them;—and in somewhat the same manner, while the Church throughout the world is in that lamentable state of disorder which we see, no particular country, which is but a part of it, but must be in great religious confusion too, within its own limits.

….Break unity in one point, and the fault runs through the whole body. There is a jar and a dissonance throughout; from the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness. The flood of God’s grace keeps its level, and if it is low in one place it is low in another. Surely we have abundant evidence on all sides of us, that the division of Churches is the corruption of hearts.

….Let us try to serve God more strictly than heretofore; let us pray Him to send down that influence which converted the world in the beginning, and He surely will answer our prayers far beyond what we think or hope. He will raise up for us saints and guides in this dreary time, when sanctity and wisdom seem well nigh to have failed; He will bring together the different parts of the Church, and restore peace and unity as at the first.”

BJHN, Sermons on Subjects of the Day.
Sermon 10: “Connection between Personal and Public Improvement”.

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“As time goes on, and Easter draws nearer, we are called upon not only to mourn over our sins, but especially over the various sufferings which Christ our Lord and Saviour underwent on account of them.

Why is it, my brethren, that we have so little feeling on the matter as we commonly have? Why is it that we are used to let the season come and go just like any other season, not thinking more of Christ than at other times, or, at least, not feeling more? Am I not right in saying that this is the case?

We are not moved when we hear of the bitter passion of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, for us. We neither bewail our sins which caused it, nor have any sympathy with it. We do not suffer with Him.

If we come to Church, we hear, and then we go away again; not distressed at all; or if distressed, only for the moment. And many do not come to Church at all; and to them, of course, this holy and solemn time is like other times. They eat, and drink, and sleep, and rise up, and go about their business and their pleasure, just as usual.

…it is only by slow degrees that meditation is able to soften our hard hearts, and that the history of Christ’s trials and sorrows really moves us. It is not once thinking of Christ or twice thinking of Christ that will do it. It is by going on quietly and steadily, with the thought of Him in our mind’s eye, that by little and little we shall gain something of warmth, light, life, and love.

We shall not perceive ourselves changing. It will be like the unfolding of the leaves in spring. You do not see them grow; you cannot, by watching, detect it. But every day, as it passes, has done something for them; and you are able, perhaps, every morning to say that they are more advanced than yesterday. 

So is it with our souls; not indeed every morning, but at certain periods, we are able to see that we are more alive and religious than we were, though during the interval we were not conscious that we were advancing.”

 BJHN Parochial & Plain Sermons 6 – Sermon 4

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With great joy we have learned that Pope Francis has authorized the promulgation of a decree confirming a miracle through the intercession of Blessed John Henry Newman, the founder of the English Oratory.

The miracle occurred in May 2013 in the USA. An expectant mother was suffering from unstoppable internal bleeding which threatened the life of her child in the womb. She had long been a devotee of Blessed John Henry, and in prayer she directly and explicitly invoked Newman’s intercession to stop the bleeding. The miraculous healing was immediate, complete, and permanent.

The case was passed to the Postulator of the Cause in Rome, Dr. Andrea Ambrosi who examined and documented the miracle, which was then scrutinized and approved by the medical and theological commissions of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints.

Now that the Holy Father has authorized the decree, we may reasonably hope that John Henry Cardinal Newman will soon be canonized. The Holy See will decide the date.

This confirmation of Newman’s heroic sanctity will be welcomed by Catholics and Anglicans alike, and many others. Newman was a central figure within the Oxford Movement in the Church of England, and this helped him to make his unique theological and spiritual contribution to Catholicism after his conversion in 1845.

Newman’s long spiritual pilgrimage ‘out of shadows and images into the truth’ encourages all Christians to persevere in their quest for God above all else. His conversion to Catholicism is a clear example of how God uses all the varied circumstances of our lives to draw us to Himself, in His own good time, and in so many different ways.

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The Blessed Virgin Mary and St Joseph her spouse most chaste presented the Son of God in the Jewish temple. In thanksgiving they offered a blood sacrifice of two pigeons. With that modest offering the entire sacrificial cultus of the Jewish temple was brought to its proper conclusion, truly speaking.

Messiah, the Desire of all nations, had finally come to His temple and thereby replaced it. The previous temples were replaced with a new and living Temple, one not made with hands. The stones and columns of the earlier man-made shrines were superceded by the living Body of Christ. His  living Body was henceforth to be the true locus of God’s presence on earth, the new and final Temple that could never be destroyed.

The young Child Whom Simeon took in his arms had been born in order to become the final and everlasting blood sacrifice, thirty three years later, on the altar of the Cross. That once-for-all sacrifice on Calvary revealed simultaneously God’s ineluctable justice and His super-abundant mercy.

Our Lord’s self-oblation on Calvary is repeatedly offered up day by day in the Eucharistic sacrifice of the altar. Every time that Holy Mass is celebrated the Saviour’s atoning sacrifice is re-presented to God the Father, and its life-giving effects are again made accessible to us and applied for our benefit. In the Mass, the Real Presence of Christ and the daily repeated offering of His redeeming sacrifice are Messiah’s continuing and miraculous work.

The feast of Candlemas is a special anniversary for us at the Birmingham Oratory. It was on the eve of that feast in 1848 that Fr Newman founded the Oratory of St Philip Neri in England, at Maryvale, Birmingham. Divine providence working through Newman’s Marian devotion thus ensured that our Community was established on a feast suffused with the presence of our Lady, Mater purissima, Mater castissima.

At Candlemas we light “a hundred flames to purify the pure” (G.K. Chesterton). We pray that our blessed Lady, Mother of the Oratory, will hold our Community safe in her loving arms. We pray that her divine Son will bless us in our religious life together, and prosper our efforts to live His Gospel and build up his Kingdom.

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Before the start of what we call ‘time’, the reason, the meaning, and the power behind everything that exists were already fully there, and always had been.

God was there from before all beginnings. His Mind is the source of everything that has ever been created. No single thing that exists has any meaning outside of the meaning that God assigns to it.

The Mind of God is so real, so all embracing, that the only way for us to begin to grasp its import is to understand it to be a Person, a Person whose defining characteristic is unlimited and unending life. That life from above suffuses the whole of mankind with its radiant light. The light emanating from that divine Person is so bright and so strong that no amount of darkness or negativity can ever diminish its power.

That Person, Who is both Meaning and Light, came to the place and the people which He Himself had planned long in advance.

The reason, the meaning, and the power behind everything that exists – all of that scaled Himself down to our microscopic level, without losing anything of His own identity.

God’s own self-conscious Mind became human. He made Himself fully human, and pitched His tent in the midst of ours.

Unfortunately, most of the people to whom He came missed the point. He mingled freely among them and spoke openly to them, but mostly they failed to understand.

However, some did. Some people did actually realize Who it was that had come among them. Some of them did grasp His significance and the implications of His Name.

Those who accepted Him became members of His new family, a family not based on geography, or ethnicity, or any purely human characteristic.

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Mary and Joseph


All human souls born into this world are images of God. Unfortunately they all arrive partially spoiled – except for one. There is one reflection of Himself into which God has poured all His artistry, and which He has not allowed to be damaged in any way.

In the Blessed Virgin Mary, God shows us what Eve was before the Fall. And this latter portrait of the New Eve even exceeds the earlier one in its perfection and loveliness. In her, the Creator has given us one unique exemplar of what humanity was originally intended to be, and what it is still destined to become.

In the Immaculate Conception of our blessed Lady, human perfection made a new appearance. Mary’s freedom from original sin gives us a new definition of what it means to be human. It also renews our hope of salvation. Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception led to her Assumption into heaven. Her Assumption shows where redemption is meant to lead all human beings.

The Immaculate Conception was the rewriting of the nuptial alliance between the Almighty and His wayward spouse, the human race. In the Immaculate Conception, the alliance that we had broken is gloriously renewed, and for ever.

That nuptial union, the new and everlasting Cana, is what we shall soon be celebrating at Christmas. We should be looking forward enthusiastically to the annual celebration of our nuptials. Christ the celestial Bridegroom comes down from heaven to claim His earthly spouse. In His divine presence, and under His conjugal embrace, the whole world becomes Cana, and every disciple is beloved.

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Holy Soul's Altar


Each November we make a special effort to pray for the faithful departed, those whose names we know and those who are known to God alone. We pray for all departed souls whose salvation is assured but who are still in purgatory, waiting for their purification to be completed so that they may then enter heaven.

The Holy Souls in purgatory know that they are on their way to eternal happiness. Their pains in purgatory are the pains of longing; they yearn for that blissful vision of God, of which they were given a brief and searing preview in the moment of their particular judgement.

Purgatory must in some sense be temporal, since it has a start and it comes to an end. We do not know the precise relationship between the way we measure the passing of time in this world and the chronology of the afterlife.

In common parlance we speak of ‘getting time off purgatory’, but that is just a way of speaking. The diagnostics of purgatory are hidden from us.

It may be that the Holy Souls undergo their purgatory not as a linear succession of moments, hours, years, but as a non-temporal experience measured by intensity rather than duration. Perhaps there is an in-depth purging which occurs in a single purifying ‘moment’ of unmeasurable intensity, immediately after bodily death.

However it works, we can be certain that God’s justice and mercy take into account all the prayers, sacrifices and indulgences that we offer up on behalf of the Holy Souls. Praying for the dead is the most charitable thing we can ever do for them. For us who remain it can also help to heal any lingering remorse there might be for whatever misunderstandings we had with them while they lived among us.

What about suicides? We cannot fully know the mental state and spiritual dispositions of those who take their own lives. It seems most unlikely that they could be in their right minds. And so we entrust them to the Lord Who sees into the depths of all hearts and is well-acquainted with the pitiful aberrations that human suffering can engender.

Fortunately for all of us, the accuracy of divine omniscience and the generosity of divine mercy far surpass the hasty assessments and rash judgements that we are prone to make on the meaning and value of any particular life, our own included.

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“And so in religion, we have need to watch against that narrowness of mind, to which we are tempted by the uniformity and tranquillity of God’s providence towards us. We should be on our guard lest we suppose ourselves to have such a clear knowledge of God’s ways, as to rely implicitly on our own notions and feelings. Men attach an undue importance to this or that point in received opinions or practices, and cannot understand how God’s blessing can be given to modes of acting to which they themselves are unaccustomed…….In this perplexity of mind the Church Catholic is our divinely intended guide, which keeps us from a narrow interpretation of Scripture, from local prejudices and excitements of the day; and by its clear-sighted and consolatory teaching scatters those frightful self-formed visions which scare us.”

(Parochial and Plain Sermons, Vol. 3, p. 108)

“Religious truth ……. is like the dim view of a country seen in the twilight, with forms half extricated from the darkness, with broken lines, and isolated masses. Revelation, in this way of considering it, is not a revealed system, but consists of a number of detached and incomplete truths belonging to a vast system unrevealed, of doctrines and injunctions mysteriously connected together….”

(Essays, i, 2)

“Catholics go into the world; they mix with men of all religions; they hear all manner of sophistical objections made to the Church, her doctrines, and her rules. What is practically to keep them steadfast in the faith, but their intimate perception of their need of it? what is to bring them to the sacrament of penance, but their sorrow and their detestation of sin? what is to bring them to communion, but a thirst for the Living and True God? what is to be their protection against the aberrations of the intellect, but the deep convictions and eager aspirations of the heart?

(Sermon, ‘Dispositions for Faith’)

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