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NEWMAN’S MIND

“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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September2018b

A LADY IN TEARS

Lourdes and Fatima are popular Marian shrines, among many others around the world. The apparition at La Salette on 19th September 1846 is much less well known and less closely followed, even though it received diocesan and then papal approval as being worthy of belief.

Two ignorant peasant children, Melanie Calvat (aged 14) and Maximin Giraud (aged 11) were tending their cows one afternoon up on the slope of a high mountain. They saw what looked like a globe of fire come down onto the slope of the mountain. In the midst of the light sat a lady, weeping copiously. She did not explicitly identify herself. The children did not know who it might be. She spoke to them and gave them a message, asking them to tell it to ‘my people’.

The children did not seem to understand everything the apparition said. The tone and content of the message, as it was subsequently written down (and some say elaborated) were frightening to say the least. Melanie’s account was apocalyptic and threatening: disasters, wars, apostasy. Some of the message’s more memorable phrases have frequently been quoted, e.g. “my son’s priests are sewers of impurity”. Melanie says that the apparition also told her explicitly which well-known Italian city the reign of antichrist would start in.

Many of the details in the message, as later written down, have not apparently been fulfilled (e.g. certain cities being destroyed by fire and flood). The overall theme was a reproach to ‘my people’ for not keeping the Sabbath, and for blaspheming the name of God. This was followed with a warning that the true faith would be abandoned by a majority of the clergy and religious, but in the end grace would triumph, and God would be served, adored, and glorified.

The details of La Salette are somewhat elusive, because a number of variant versions of the event started to circulate during the lifetime of the two visionaries. The internet presents a challenging array of ‘true’ versions.

One must always remember that private revelation is not part of the deposit of the faith. And there must surely be a semantic gap between whatever message heaven intended to impart, and the received version, once it had been filtered through a child’s mind, and then subsequently tweaked by any number of interested parties (as at Fatima).

However, with the current assaults of ambiguity and confusion on Catholic faith and morals, and a growing apostasy, one cannot but incline to thinking that Melanie and Maximin were actually told something true, even if the prophetic message has been somewhat coloured in the telling.

Overall, the apparition at La Salette was a warning that religious infidelity among Catholics, especially “consecrated souls”, would result in a terrible affliction of the Church and a disastrous undermining of the Christian religion.

Credible?

[Cf. http://www.lasalette.co.uk/message/meaning]

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August2018

QUEEN AND MOTHER

Each year at the Birmingham Oratory on the feast of the Assumption we entrust ourselves to our Blessed Lady.

O Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Heaven and Mother of the Oratory, behold us now, your devoted sons, gathered in prayer before your image. Today we once again entrust to you our Congregation, this Oratory, our house, our home. We wish to belong entirely to you, O heavenly Queen and kindest Mother. We ask that by your glorious intercession you will bring us ever closer to your divine Son.

We beseech you to obtain for us all the graces that we need for our salvation. Help us to grow in faith, and hope, and charity. Help us to serve your Son ever more faithfully, in the spirit of our Glorious Patriarch, Saint Philip Neri, Apostle of Rome. United in our love for God, in our devotion to you, and in charity towards each other, may we daily grow in holiness, for God’s greater glory, and the good of all His People.

Most Blessed Virgin, we entrust all our needs and all our endeavours to you, now and in the future. We place ourselves unreservedly under your protection, confident that you will prosper any good that we try to do for the love of your Son. Pray for us your children, so that at the last we may be found worthy to behold the vision of God’s glory, and share with you that joy and peace which your divine Son has prepared for those that truly love Him; O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.

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Precious Blood

THE PRECIOUS BLOOD

In 1960 Pope John XXIII issued an inspiring Apostolic Letter about devotion to the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ (Inde a primis). He reminded us that the Precious Blood was poured out for us “first at his circumcision eight days after birth, and more profusely later on in his agony in the garden, in his scourging and crowning with thorns, in his climb to Calvary and crucifixion, and finally from the great wide wound in his side which symbolises the divine Blood cascading down into all the Church’s sacraments”. From our Lord’s consecration to the Father in the temple until the consummation of His redeeming work on the cross, His  Precious Blood was poured out with ever increasing profusion.

The shedding of Christ’s Blood demonstrates the fidelity of God the Father towards us, and also reveals both the justice and the mercy entailed in the sacrifice made on Calvary in atonement for our sins. The sacraments are instituted through the outpouring of Christ’s Blood. “Like the deer that yearns for running streams, our souls may be refreshed with the grace that flows from the fount of all life, which is God Himself”.

In the Old Testament we read of the blood of Abel, shed by his brother Cain, crying out to God for vengeance from the dust of the earth. The response to this is that the Almighty expels Cain the murderer from the land, and condemns him to a life of hard labour. Conversely, through Christ’s Precious Blood freely given for our redemption, each one of us is rescued from exile and offered the chance to return to our rightful home, the heavenly Jerusalem.

The month of July is traditionally devoted to the Precious Blood. Let us do as the children of Israel did before us; let us seek to be sprinkled by the Blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with us, not a covenant sealed by the blood of bulls and goats, but something new and better – an eternal promise sealed by the Precious Blood of the Redeemer.

The Blood of the new and everlasting covenant does what the older covenants could not do. The animal blood sacrifices offered under the old dispensation were primitive signs of what was to come, but they did not do the job. Only the Precious Blood of Christ atones for sins, and only Christ can offer salvation to those who seek it.

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Corpus Christi 2017

OF THE GLORIOUS BODY TELLING

Corpus Christi is one of the most colourful and joyful feasts of the Catholic year. It is especially dear to us at the Oratory because it was a feast for which our founder St Philip Neri had a particular devotion.

On Maundy Thursday at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper the sanctuary bells rang out at Gloria in excelsis Deo. Why? To herald the arrival in this world of a startling new reality, Christ’s Eucharistic presence. At the Last Supper the Creator did something entirely new. He introduced a new mode of His own Personal presence within creation.

No other religion believes anything as extraordinary as this. It is a breathtaking article of our faith. Either it is truly God that we worship when we kneel before the Host in the monstrance, or it is an act of idolatry.

Man was created to worship his Maker. Adoration is our eternal destiny. To engage in the cultus of the Blessed Sacrament is to fulfil our human nature in one of the best ways possible. To worship Christ in the Host is one of the most fruitful of all religious activities. It is the best preparation for heaven.

Devotionally and culturally, the Corpus Christi processions are among the greatest treasures of the Catholic Church. In his book The Blessed Sacrament Father Wilfrid Faber (1814-1863) evokes  the universality of this devotion around the Catholic world.

“How many glorious processions, with the sun upon their banners, are now winding their way around the squares of mighty cities, through the flower-strewn streets of Christian villages, through the antique cloisters of the glorious cathedral, or through the grounds of the devout seminary, where the various colours of the faces are fresh tokens of the unity of that faith, which they are all exultingly professing in the single voice of the magnificent ritual of Rome.”  (1855)

For us who live in a country where Christian faith is now in alarming decline and practising Catholics an ever reducing minority, we pray that Fr Faber’s description will once again become true. It is not wholly untrue even now, even in the present wave of apostasy that we are currently living through.

We should also pray for those countries where persecuted Christians have no liberty to celebrate Holy Mass, no freedom to worship the Blessed Sacrament.

A growing apostasy and a growing persecution of Christians: are these a passing episode, or are they signs that the Abyss is opening, and the End closer?

Watch and pray.

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May2018

DE MARIA NUMQUAM SATIS

Many of us who are converts to Catholicism were already in the habit of praying to our blessed Lady long before we became Catholics. Those prayers were undoubtedly a means of grace for us.

But then, having entered the one fold of the Redeemer, we came to understand better than before that devotion to the Mother of God is not an optional add-on. It is a constitutive component of the Christian religion rightly understood and rightly practised.

People sometimes ask where the doctrines about our Lady come from. Are they from the Bible? Yes they are. Are they from the earliest days of the Church? Yes they are.

Before exploring the relevant biblical texts (there are many) we need to be clear about two rather more basic points regarding the deposit of the faith.

First: public revelation ended with the death of the last Apostle. Ever since then, the Catholic Church has transmitted whole and entire the revelation it received from Christ and the Apostles. There are no new truths still waiting to be revealed.

Second: the doctrines which flow from that revelation can and do develop. A fuller understanding of the truth already revealed can emerge as and when providence directs, according to the needs and circumstances of the time.

In the case of our Lady, there are no new Marian dogmas to be revealed. However, it is possible that in God’s good time the Church may decide to define more clearly than before what we already know about our Lady’s role in the economy of redemption.

For example: what do we mean when we address our Lady as Mediatrix of all Graces?  If any further clarification were given on this teaching it would be in order to provide a deeper understanding of the already known facts: (a) that Christ is the source of all grace, and (b) that He chose to enter this world and make His grace available in and through the Blessed Virgin Mary. There is no new truth to be unveiled. Nor is it a matter of sentiment.

Blessed John Henry Newman has much to teach us regarding the authentic development of doctrine in the unfolding life of the Church. Throughout his own spiritual and theological pilgrimage he was convinced that mere sentiment plays no part in the content or development of the Church’s doctrines.

In his Apologia pro vita sua (1864) he wrote this:

    “From the age of fifteen, dogma has been the fundamental principle of my religion: I know no other religion; I cannot enter into the idea of any other sort of religion; religion, as a mere sentiment, is to me a dream and a mockery.”         

 

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CORPOREAL AND GLORIFIED

After the resurrection Christ’s bodily presence was puzzling, to say the least. The Lord’s risen and glorified body constituted a new type of reality not previously seen or known. The apostles had seen Him die and now He was with them once again, in the body, but strangely different. One major difference was that His glorified body was no longer constrained by spatio-temporal parameters. No wonder they were frightened, and it is not surprizing that they thought it might be a ghost.

It is difficult to deny that phantasms do exist, in some sense.  Remember the Biblical episode of Saul and the Witch of Endor. Many people claim to have ‘seen’ something ghostly. Just what that something might be is difficult to say. Is it an echo from the past, that somehow intersects with our present, like the replaying of a disc? Is it a soul tortured by remorse and doing its purgatory on earth, like Marley’s ghost in A Christmas Carol?

Whatever they are, ghosts reportedly lack completeness and coherence. They seem to be only partly real, only partly there. They are shadowy wraith-like things, and their intrusion generally brings little benefit and conveys little meaning.

In the case of the risen Christ, nothing could have been less like a ghost. He was gloriously real. He ate a piece of grilled fish before their eyes, to reassure them. His glorified bodily presence was evidence of His new and unquenchable life. Life in all its fullness stood before them in the upper room. At first they found it difficult to accept that the impossible had happened, that somehow the Master’s death had been reversed, the tragedy cancelled. His bodily presence radiated peace and that peace changed their incredulity into faith and their fear into joy.

The Lord’s corporeal resurrection revealed the fuller purpose of His atoning death. It also revealed more fully (at the Ascension) the glory of His Kingship. It revealed Him supremely (at Pentecost) as the ever-flowing fountain of the Holy Spirit, the fons et origo of the Church’s indestructible dynamism and enduring mission.

The Paschal Mystery of the Lord’s dying/rising/ascending/bestowing the Holy Spirit is one integral revelation. This sublime and composite Mystery more readily discloses its inexhaustible riches when we let it address us in its totality.

It is a brutal error to try and wrench the Mystery asunder by focussing, in an externalist and reductive way, on the chronological and iconographical individuation of each component ‘event’.

The events happened. The Mystery is true.

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HOLY WEEK WITH NEWMAN

“A great number of men live and die without reflecting at all upon the state of things in which they find themselves. They take things as they come, and follow their inclinations as far as they have the opportunity. They are guided mainly by pleasure and pain, not by reason, principle, or conscience; and they do not attempt to interpret this world, to determine what it means, or to reduce what they see and feel to system. But when persons, either from thoughtfulness of mind, or from intellectual activity, begin to contemplate the visible state of things into which they are born, then forthwith they find it a maze and a perplexity. It is a riddle which they cannot solve. It seems full of contradictions and without a drift….

“It is the death of the Eternal Word of God made flesh, which is our great lesson how to think and how to speak of this world. His Cross has put its due value upon every thing which we see, upon all fortunes, all advantages, all ranks, all dignities, all pleasures; upon the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. It has set a price upon the excitements, the rivalries, the hopes, the fears, the desires, the efforts, the triumphs of mortal man….

“The surface of things is bright only, and the Cross is sorrowful; it is a hidden doctrine; it lies under a veil; it at first sight startles us, and we are tempted to revolt from it. Like St. Peter, we cry out, “Be it far from Thee, Lord; this shall not be unto Thee.” [Matt. xvi. 22.] And yet it is a true doctrine; for truth is not on the surface of things, but in the depths….

“And so, too, as regards this world, with all its enjoyments, yet disappointments. Let us not trust it; let us not give our hearts to it; let us not begin with it. Let us begin with faith; let us begin with Christ; let us begin with His Cross and the humiliation to which it leads. Let us first be drawn to Him who is lifted up, that so He may, with Himself, freely give us all things. Let us “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” and then all those things of this world “will be added to us.”

“They alone are able truly to enjoy this world, who begin with the world unseen. They alone enjoy it, who have first abstained from it. They alone can truly feast, who have first fasted; they alone are able to use the world, who have learned not to abuse it; they alone inherit it, who take it as a shadow of the world to come, and who for that world to come relinquish it.”

               [PPS. Sermon 7. The Cross of Christ the Measure of the World]

 

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Passiontide

HOC PASSIONIS TEMPORE

Christ’s Precious Blood redeemed all mankind, once and for all; past, present and future. It bought us back from our previous ownership by the Devil. Does that mean that we are all saved? Secundum quid.

We are most certainly all redeemed, but that does not mean that we are automatically all saved. We have to lay hold of the redemption won for us by Christ, and so press on towards eventual salvation. We have to believe in salvation, and above all we have to want it. Our wanting is necessary for our salvation. Nobody is ever forced into heaven.

The human propensity for running away from salvation is well illustrated in “The Hound of Heaven” by the Catholic poet Francis Thompson  (1859–1907). Thompson’s desperate and chaotic personal life made him well qualified to write about the habit of avoiding grace.

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind;  and in the mist of tears I hid from Him…

[but in spite of everything the Hound of Heaven still presses on]

……Halts by me that footfall:
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
‘Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.’

Sooner or later we shall all come face to face with the Lord Who faithfully pursues us down the years. At that meeting, depending on how we have lived, we shall either rush forward to embrace Him with joy, or our guilt and shame will leave us begging for the mountains to fall on us and the hills to cover us.

The Good News is that our guilt and shame can all be dealt with here and now, in this life. They can be dealt with so thoroughly that when we come before our Judge we shall know only the relief of hearing “case dismissed” and the unmerited reward of “peace everlasting”.

The Hound of Heaven pursues us ineluctably. If we have the faintest notion of what makes for our peace, we shall stop running and gratefully accept everything that the Passion of Christ unceasingly offers us.

 

 

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