Candlemas brings the extended Christmas season to a close. With Septuagesima the next season of our liturgical year is now already upon us. As we say farewell to the crib we start to prepare for Lent and Passiontide. The Presentation and the Purification were the remote preparation for Passiontide, both for the Lord Himself, and for His sinless Mother, and for us.
When the Infant King was brought to the temple, He replaced its cold dead stones with the warm new life of His own sacred Person, the new and living temple. Our Lord was born into this world in order to die. He was born in order to become a pure victim, a holy victim, a spotless victim, the sacrificial lamb Who takes away the sins of the world. That sacrifice was to replace the sacrificial cult of the old temple. The blood sacrifices of calves and goats and pigeons were no longer valid offerings, because the one true oblation had come. Thirty three years later, that oblation would be offered up to heaven, not in any temple, but on a dark hill, outside the city wall.
In the temple, Simeon prophesied that a sword of sorrow would pierce the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Our Lady was destined to share uniquely in her Son’s Passion. Indeed, her sharing in the Passion would be so much deeper than ours, because she was free from sin. That meant, there were no barriers within her to impede her fullest acceptance of God’s will. Nor would she hold back, as we so often do, from the pain of suffering.
On the eve of Candlemas in 1848 Father John Henry Newman set up the English Congregation of the Oratory, at Maryvale. Each year on this feast we give thanks for our foundation. The founder of the English Oratory already knew by experience that discipleship involves sharing in the Lord’s Cross. He also knew that our Lady is the prime exemplar of co-redemptive suffering. The briefest of all Newman’s verses illustrates that deeper truth about her:
Holy the womb that bare Him,
Holy the breasts that fed,
But holier still the royal heart
That in His passion bled.
The sword of suffering has not gone away. In fact, over the past few years the sword of suffering has been plunged even deeper than before into the heart of God’s faithful people. We now suffer not only from persecution by pagans. We are now also under attack from enemies within the household of faith itself. Our loyalty to Christ obliges us to resist the brazen outpouring of error which is now swirling all around us.
How do we make sense of the treachery which the Church is now facing from so many of her own children? I believe we simply have to accept this fact; that our Lord is allowing His Mystical Body to share in His agony. He is permitting His Church to share that agony of betrayal and abandonment which caused His Precious Blood to soak the earth in Gethsemane. Betrayal. Abandonment. Apostasy.
In times of crisis the great religious Orders have often played a vital role in defending the flock from marauding wolves. The Order of Preachers, the Franciscans, the Society of Jesus, the Redemptorists, and so many others. But what about the Oratory of St Philip Neri, a tiny little body by comparison? We are so small. Can we really make a difference? Yes, we hope we can, albeit in our own small way.
When God called our Glorious Patriarch to Rome in the 16th century, things there were as bad as they could be. Clerical corruption in high places. Churches were usually empty. Catechesis was dead. A majority of the laity never received the sacraments. Vice was rampant on the streets.
In that time of trial, St Philip’s response was relatively simple. He did not pursue controversy. He concentrated on prayer. His apostolate focussed on prayer and devotions with the laity, teaching the people their religion, and charity to all. He inspired the conversion of innumerable souls in Rome through his patience and kindness in the confessional.
Our response to the present apostasy should be congruent with St Philip’s example: our daily prayer together, fidelity to the sacraments, a more extensive catechesis, and charity to all, through the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.
When Mary of Nazareth first carried the Light of all nations into the temple, His divine nature was hidden from almost everybody else, except from Simeon. By contrast, when the same Lord returns in glory on the Last Day, it will be in a blaze of unimaginable public splendour. And if the strange prophecy of St Louis de Montfort is fulfilled, the Lord’s Second Coming will also somehow involve the Blessed Virgin Mary, through whom He first came to us, in such great humility.
My dear brethren, let us implore our Lady, Mother of the Oratory, to protect this little family. By her prayers may we together remain faithful, humble, and pure. A blessing I wish for you all.