September 2017 Letter from the Provost

September 2017 Letter from the Provost

Last month the Church basked in the rays of Our Lady’s glorious Assumption into Heaven. Next month we renew our devotion to the Holy Rosary, and give thanks for the graces that this devotion has secured for us individually, and especially for the protection and flourishing of the Kingdom of God on earth which it has secured down the centuries. The Feast of the Most Holy Rosary on 7th October marks the definitive sea victory over the Turkish Fleet which threatened calamity and enslavement to western Christendom at the Battle of Lepanto on that date in 1571, a victory which Pope St Pius V attributed to the praying of the Rosary.

This month of September is also permeated with the sweet fragrance of the Blessed Virgin’s presence throughout the month’s liturgical calendar. On 8th September we celebrate the feast of Our Lady’s Nativity, exactly nine months after Her Immaculate Conception on 8th December. St Peter Damian called the Blessed Virgin’s birthday “the beginning of salvation and the origin of every feast,” because it marked the arrival in this world of the Immaculate Ark of the Covenant from Whom the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity would take on the human flesh in which He would die for our sins and conquer death in His Resurrection.

The Feast of the Holy Name of Mary just four days later commemorates another great intervention of the Blessed Mother of God in worldly affairs, when Her intercession secured the victory of the Christian army under the Polish King John Sobieski over the Turks at the Siege of Vienna in 1683. In gratitude to the “Liberatrix of the west”, Pope Innocent XI extended the feast of Her Holy Name to the Universal Church. In these days of anxiety and uncertainty when we see tensions escalating between states, internal disquiet within nations and grave threats to life and liberty, we do well to have constant recourse to Mary, Queen of Peace, Who on so many occasions has rescued Christendom from the brink of catastrophe, and Who has promised us that ultimately Her Immaculate Heart will prevail.

In the realm of personal prayer, St Philip Neri was one of those saints who encouraged devotion to the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary as a means of intimate and immediate access to Our Lord and Our Lady. One of his favourite prayers, which he used frequently and taught to his disciples to pray, was the beautifully simple formula “Holy Virgin Mary, Mother of God, pray to Jesus for me.”

On 15th September, we join Our Lady at the foot of the Cross for the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. No one participated in Our Lord’s Passion like His Holy Mother, Who endured the torment of seeing the flesh that She had lovingly bathed and clothed during His infancy torn, beaten and pierced. No words could ever express the torment that must have racked that Mother’s heart as She witnessed the incarnation of Divine Love scorned and tortured to death.

From the Cross Our Saviour entrusted all of us to the maternity of His Mother, when He told Her “Woman, behold thy son,” and then said to His beloved disciple “Behold thy mother.” And our Mother teaches us how to participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. She who freely cooperated in our salvation when She told the Angel Gabriel “Be it done unto me according to thy word” experienced in a terrible but meritorious manner the consequences of that ‘fiat’ in the desolation which She offered in union with Her Son on Calvary in an act of self-sacrificial love on behalf of sinners. Our Mother teaches us to offer all of our joys and all of our sorrows, all of our hopes and fears, everything we have and everything we are, with the bread and the wine during that part of the Holy Mass known as the Offertory, so that we might be mystically and truly united with His Death when the bread and wine are transformed into His Body and Blood at the Consecration. If, through mortal sin, we have cast off the white robe of Sanctifying Grace with which we were vested in Baptism, then She leads us by the hand to the embrace of God’s mercy in the Sacrament of Penance, so that with our wedding garments cleansed and restored we may receive Her Son’s Risen Body in the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

We are never alone, then, at Mass. It is in fact before the Altar that we are closest, in this life, to our heavenly Mother. If we are unable to attend the Holy Sacrifice because of distance or decrepitude, or whatever restraint, ask Her to take us under Her mantle and lead us with Her to the foot of the Cross, and then unite ourselves spiritually with the Holy Sacrifice wherever it is offered at that moment across the globe. May Her intercession at the throne of Grace obtain peace for this world and, for Her children, protection and all blessings, as we pray constantly with our holy father St Philip “Holy Virgin Mary, Mother of God, pray to Jesus for me.”

August 2017 Letter from the Provost

August 2017 Letter from the Provost

A senior Catholic prelate attending an Evangelical conference in London not long ago was asked to give testimony to his Faith and to talk about his vocation to the priesthood. He recounted how when he was a child his family would go on holiday to resorts along the northern coast of Wales (no doubt to the same beaches which would later be excavated by the Provost’s bucket and spade on summer excursions when he was still in short pants and red plastic sandals). The first thing the prelate-to-be’s mother did after dropping the luggage off at the hotel was to search the town for the local Catholic church. Once that location had been established, and a visit made to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and Mass times noted, then the business of paddling in the chilly Irish Sea and climbing Llandudno’s Great Orme could begin in earnest. But the local Catholic church, and the Presence of Our Lord Jesus there in the Tabernacle and in the offering of Holy Mass, always remained at the heart of the holiday. The determination and quiet devotion of that Catholic mother tilled and fertilised the ground in which the seeds of a priestly vocation, planted in her son’s heart, would eventually germinate into a life of service to the Kingdom of God on earth.

         We are now at the height of the holiday season, when many of our parishioners leave London in search of relaxation, to be replaced in the pews by visitors from far and wide who often enter the Oratory church shaking the rain off umbrellas borrowed from local hotels. The Church encourages leisure, and in Her instructions regarding obligatory Mass attendance She actually enjoins us, on the prescribed days, to shun work that prevents us from worshipping God and also to avoid activities that hinder relaxation of mind and body. Those with the resources that allow them to go away on holiday should thank God for this opportunity of refreshment and restoration, and give a thought for those who are not so blessed.

         Tourists holidaying in London never have far to go in order to find Catholic churches in which to fulfil their Sunday obligation. Those of us travelling further afield have to organise ourselves more carefully to ensure that we are able to fulfil ours. However, the communications miracle that has taken place in recent years means that it is usually quite easy to track down churches through judicious use of search engines on the Internet. Google ‘Kuala Lumpur’ and ‘Mass times’ together and quite a few options are bound to appear.

         The obligation to attend Holy Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation is a precept which is rooted in the Third Commandment to keep the Sabbath day holy. Catholics are bound to obey this precept “on pain of mortal sin”, which means that if we miss Mass without grave cause we may not receive Holy Communion again until we have been given absolution in the Sacrament of Penance. Current discipline also allows Catholics to fulfil their Sunday obligation by attending any Catholic Mass (liturgically it does not have to be the Mass ‘of the Sunday’ – it might, for example, be a nuptial Mass at a Catholic wedding) on a Saturday evening. Grave causes which exempt us from the obligation include illness, childcare, looking after the sick and necessary travel. Also, if we find ourselves in the depths of the wilderness far from a Catholic church and with no reasonably attainable means of reaching one, then no obligation applies.

         Different authorities are likely to provide varying interpretations of what constitutes ‘necessary travel’ on a Sunday or a Holy Day of Obligation. The fathers of the London Oratory are famed throughout Christendom and beyond for their cheerful dispositions and lightness of touch, ever careful as they are never to break a bruised reed or to extinguish any dimly burning wick. And so it is likely that we would take as lenient an approach as conscience allows with anyone confessing to having missed Sunday Mass because they were travelling to a holiday destination. Threats of everlasting hellfire are not something to be brandished lightly.

         Rather than weighing up whether our travel plans let us off the hook as far as Mass attendance is concerned, however, we should better reflect on what the Holy Mass really means to us, and on how central this unique and priceless treasure of our Catholic religion is to our lives. Since the earliest days of our Faith the Sacrifice of Calvary, presented anew at every celebration of Mass, has been the foundation and the heart of Christian worship, especially on Sunday, the ‘day of the Lord’, which has been forever hallowed by Our Lord’s Resurrection and as the day when the whole Mystical Body of Christ has always gathered together in visible unity to give thanks and praise as He comes to the Altar to make satisfaction for sins and to feed us with His Living Body.

         The price of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is Our Lord’s own Precious Blood, poured out for sinners in an action of pure and perfect love. In times of persecution, Christians have risked life and limb to make themselves present at this Sacrifice (quite literally in the case of those English martyrs who were brutally dismembered while still alive for celebrating, or facilitating the celebration of, Mass). These heroes of our Faith did not quibble about whether the perilous circumstances in which they lived absolved them from an ‘obligation’ to go to Mass. They sacrificed their safety, their livelihoods and sometimes life itself for the privilege and the joy of attending Holy Mass. The English Martyrs would have rejoiced to know that one day their fellow countrymen would be able to attend Mass again freely, and we can be confident that they implore us now from Heaven never to take this greatest of blessings for granted.

         The truth is that, in this life, our love for Jesus and our love for the Mass are really inseparable. It is in the Mass that His Sacrifice of love is made present to us just as truly as it was present to Our Lady and St John as they wept at the foot of the Cross in Jerusalem two thousand years ago. It is at Holy Communion that we encounter Him and receive His living, risen Body, giving us a union with Him which is more profound and perfect than any union we could ever experience with any other person whose love we cherish. If our friends happen to notice that we are willing to go to great efforts to attend Mass, even at considerable inconvenience to ourselves, then this is surely an effective witness to what should be the most precious and beautiful gift in our lives as Catholics.

         When reflecting on the importance of the Mass in our lives, it might help to consider an analogy. Imagine a newly married couple, whose circumstances in life mean that, for the time being, they are only able to meet and spend time together at weekends. After a while, even those weekly meetings begin to be interrupted by sports events, and social engagements which they make independently of each other, so that the occasions spent in each other’s company become fewer and further between. Once this situation has arisen, it is a sure sign that there is something seriously amiss in that marriage – something that needs to be addressed quite urgently. If we find that our attendance at Holy Mass is becoming an afterthought in our lives rather than a priority, then this is a sure sign that something needs to be addressed in our relationship with God.

         When we are making our travel plans for this summer, perhaps we should ask ourselves: do we really need to travel on a Sunday, and do we really want to go somewhere where there is no Catholic church and no opportunity to go to Mass? Think of the vocation that was nurtured in a young boy’s heart on the northern shores of Wales, all because of a mother’s devotion to Our Lord Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, even on holiday.

Fr Julian Large

July 2017 Letter from the Provost

July 2017 Letter from the Provost

After the consecration of the great pyramid of Tenochtitlan in 1487, the Aztecs boasted that they had ritually sacrificed 80,400 men in the course of four days. Some of those who were killed would have been criminals, but most were completely innocent. In Aztec society, handicapped children were segregated at birth and nurtured in relative luxury, until the next solar eclipse when they were the first to be led up the steps to the altar of sacrifice.

         With the coming of Christianity, this religiously-sponsored slaughter came to an end. Luckily for the prospective victims of the Aztec priests, the Christian missionaries who arrived in the wake of the conquistadors brought with them the lifeline of the Gospel, and set about converting the Aztecs to the Catholic Faith.

         The Church has always acknowledged that there are elements of truth interwoven through the beliefs and practices of other religions. Inasmuch as the Aztecs recognised the religious value of sacrifice, we have to admit that they were on to something. But the torrents of human blood cascading down the slopes of those Mexican temples illustrate what grotesque consequences an incomplete, or lopsided, interpretation of religious truth can lead to.

         We Catholics, like the Aztecs, have the bloody sacrifice of a person at the foundation of our religious cult. But there is quite a significant difference. Those pagans knew that no amount of mere human blood would ever satisfy the appetites of their capricious and gluttonous deities. If the sun were to continue rising every morning, and if the crops were to survive until harvest, then the slaughter would just have to go on forever.

         On the Cross, however, we find a Sacrifice that need not – could not, in fact – ever be repeated; because on Calvary it is God the Son – the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity – Who offers Himself to the Father in a single sacrificial act which is once and for all. He offers Himself in love for us. Because He is a Divine Person, the infinite value of that Sacrifice is capable of atoning for the sins of the whole human race. Just one drop of His Blood would have been more than enough to redeem every human being ever created. The water that eventually gushed from His pierced side on the Cross was a sign that there was no blood left in His Body. He had given every last drop of it, for us.

         July is traditionally the month of the Precious Blood. The Feast of the Precious Blood was appointed for the first Sunday after June 30th by Pope Pius IX, the last day of June being the date on which the insurgents of the Roman Republic were expelled from Rome in 1849. Pope John XXIII raised this feast to the level of First Class, shortly before it was abolished altogether by his successor in 1969.

         The greatest English apostle of devotion to the Precious Blood was the London Oratory’s own Father Faber. He established the Confraternity of the Precious Blood in London in 1850, with rich indulgences granted personally by Bl. Pio Nono. Within ten years more than thirty eight thousand members had enrolled all over the world. Members of the Confraternity would be encouraged to offer their own sacrifices and penances in union with the Our Lord’s Precious Blood to gain blessings for the Church and the world.

         We might be forgiven for assuming that Father Faber’s first encounter with devotion to the Blood of Our Lord must have occurred during his travels on the Continent as a young man. In truth, however, he would have already been familiar with the idea from the literature of our home-grown evangelical preachers and poets. It was William Cowper (1731-1800), whose poetry and hymns were a formative influence on Faber, who wrote the lines:

There is a fountain filled with blood,
Drawn from Emanuel’s veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.

         This Protestant poem helps us to understand the symbolism of the Catholic Rite of Baptism, when the new Christian, fresh from the waters of regeneration, is clothed with a white shawl. He has been made pure and spotless – washed clean in the Blood of the Lamb. The priest says to Him: “See that you carry this white garment without stain before the judgement seat of our Lord Jesus Christ, so that you may have eternal life”; and we only realise the gravitas of this vocation when we remember that the price of this white garment was Our Lord’s Blood, poured out for us on Calvary.

         Likewise, whenever we are washed clean of our sins in the Sacrament of Penance, we should remind ourselves that the price of this ablution is the Precious Blood that flowed from Our Lord’s wounds. Let us give thanks for this from the bottom of our hearts.

         Where the Church parts company with the Protestants is in Her teaching that, while the Sacrifice of Calvary is once and for all, that very same Sacrifice is presented anew to God every day on the Altar. Just as God did not intend to restrict the Redemption that He worked on Calvary to those who happened to be witnesses, so has He ordained that all people, throughout all ages and in all places, may present themselves at this same Sacrifice by attending Holy Mass.

         Invocation of the Precious Blood has the power to banish temptation and to send Satan fleeing. Through the merits of the Precious Blood, our prayers of petition take on great power before the Throne of Grace when they are accompanied by sacrifice and penance. Not long ago the Confraternity of the Precious Blood was revived at the London Oratory, and gathers in Our Lady of Dolours Chapel at 6.45pm on Saturdays.

         On the Feast of Corpus Christi, we rejoiced in Our Lord’s gift of Himself in the Blessed Sacrament. During this month of the Precious Blood, we meditate on the cost of that gift. The white robe of our Baptism is the sign that we have been washed clean in the Blood of the Lamb. May we carry that priceless robe unspotted before the judgement seat of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Fr Julian Large

June 2017 Letter from the Provost

June 2017 Letter from the Provost

The German language has various words which do not exist in English to describe the darker side of the human condition. One of them is ‘angst’. The most accurate translation of angst is ‘anxiety.’ But it is anxiety with a capital ‘A’. It does not really describe the daily worries that trouble most people as they struggle to make ends meet and take care of themselves and their loved ones. It is rather a profound sense of dread verging on despair that takes root in the soul when a man is gripped with the conviction that his very existence seems to hold no meaning. Angst arises from a sense that ultimately we are just tiny specks of dust in a vast and unforgiving universe, and that whatever aspirations and achievements we might pursue to give purpose to our existence ultimately end in a black hole of oblivion.

         It is probably safe to say that we live in an age of considerable angst. There is much concern about the present and a great deal of uncertainty about the future. We see it in the political discourse of the western world and in the media, where a crisis of credibility has lead to widespread discontent and suspicion, and high ideals of the dignity of the human person and of human freedom protected by the rule of law look in danger of giving way to cynicism and a desperate desire for self-preservation at all costs.

         This is a perilous state for any civilisation to find itself in. As the idea of administering euthanasia to an individual whose quality of life is considered not worth maintaining becomes increasingly acceptable in educated circles, so the thought of putting humanity out of its misery by means of nuclear destruction can conceivably become a temptation to those in power who have been nurtured in a nihilistic, misanthropic mindset. A celebrated intellectual being interviewed on Radio Four recently said that she could not help wishing that the asteroid that is believed to have brought a dramatic end to the age of the dinosaurs had also prevented the birth of the human race.

         Our Lord Jesus – in His teaching and in every aspect of His life – reassures us that our lives do have meaning, and that there is a very real and wonderful purpose to our existence. He tells that our lives have a value, a purpose and a meaning that transcend anything we might achieve (or suffer) in this world – that we have been created by God in a act of love – that He gave His life for us on the Cross, and He would have died on that Cross for you and for me if you or I had been the only person in existence who needed saving. And although we might look small and insignificant in the whole scheme of things, your soul and my soul is more precious in the eyes of the Creator than this whole material universe that He created in all of its majesty. Indeed, He created this world not for His own delight. He enjoys all of the fulfilment He needs in the Life of the Blessed Trinity, which is characterised by an infinite and eternal outpouring of love between Father, Son and Holy Ghost. He created this universe so that we might discover His creative genius in every flower, every mountain, every star and every galaxy that exists within the cosmos, and so that it might point us towards everlasting life with Him in Heaven.

         “In my Father’s house there are many mansions” He promises, “And I go to prepare a place for you.” (Jn 14.2-3) However beautiful and wonderful this universe really is, it is a mere pale reflection of the glory that God has prepared for us in Heaven. We cannot begin to imagine what those mansions might look like, because “no eye has seen, no ear has heard, the things that God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Cor 2.9) But we take Truth Himself at His word when He tells us “and I will come again and I will take you to myself, so that where I am you may be also.” (Jn 14.3)

         Recently we celebrated Our Lord’s Ascension, body and soul, into Heaven, which ushered in the ‘end times’ in which we now live in expectation of His Second Coming, when His glorious presence will fill the skies from east to west. In this month of June, we shall also celebrate the fact that He is still with us, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the Blessed Sacrament, in which He gives Himself to us as food. The Blessed Sacrament is the greatest token of love and friendship that we can ever find on this earth. Certain saints like our Holy Father Saint Philip have been granted visions of Our Lord in the Sacred Host, but normally this presence remains hidden under the sacramental signs. This is so that we might have the courage to approach Him and consume Him. Bread and wine are transformed into His Body and Blood so that we might be transformed more perfectly into His perfect likeness, and so that we in turn might set about transforming this world around us.

         On the feast of Corpus Christi, we worship God in the Blessed Sacrament with maximum solemnity, and with the best we can offer in the way of music, vestments and flowers. We also give thanks that Our Lord remains on the altar outside of Holy Mass, in the Tabernacle, so that we might visit Him at our leisure and share with Him all of our joys and sorrows, our worries and our hopes. The ability to rest in silence in each other’s company is a sign of maturity in any relationship, so we should not be concerned if we cannot always find the words to pray. Just rest in front of the Tabernacle in His presence, allowing Him to communicate His healing and His grace in abundance. He is the one and only invincible solution to this angst that seems to be gripping our world. In Him we find our meaning and our destiny.

Fr Julian Large

May 2017 Letter from the Provost

May 2017 Letter from the Provost

Two Thousand and Seventeen is a year of significant anniversaries. The fragmentation of western Christendom that occurred with Martin Luther’s break with Rome is generally regarded as having begun with his nailing of 95 theses to the door of the church of Wittenberg Castle in Saxony on 31 October 1517. No Catholic in his right mind would dream of celebrating such a blow to the Mystical Body of Christ. We can, however, use this anniversary as an occasion to work and pray with our fellow Christians in charity and truth for renewed unity. Our Lord’s declared wish is that all should be one, united under the successor of the Prince of the Apostles, and we must pray that the Holy Ghost will inspire hearts and remove all obstacles to the achievement of this end.

         Meanwhile, we certainly can, and should, celebrate the Catholic Reformation which was the Church’s urgent response to this crisis. This year would be an excellent opportunity to refresh our familiarity with the documents of the glorious Council of Trent, and especially with the Roman Catechism which was the fruit of that council, being published in 1564 under the superintendence of St Charles Borromeo. Reading those documents, and that Catechism, it is possible that we shall be surprised at how deeply rooted these expressions of the Church’s Magisterium are in Holy Scripture, especially if we have fallen victim to the bizarre myth that the Catholic Church only discovered the Bible in the 1960s.

         The wondrous renewal of religious life, spirituality and theology that flowed from and characterised the Catholic Reformation was given vitality by countless individual examples of heroic sanctity across the Catholic world. In Rome alone, the presence of our holy father St Philip, St Camillus of Lellis, St Felix of Cantalice, Pope St Pius V and many others too numerous to mention would have made it difficult to cross the city without bumping into a saint. If we think there is room for improvement in the Church in our own day, then our answer lies with them: it is through the personal holiness of Her individual members cultivating friendship with Our Lord in the circumstances of their daily lives that the Mystical Body of Christ on earth increases in strength and health.

         If veneration of the saints was one of the casualties of the Protestant revolt, St Philip would counter this by cultivating great devotion to them in Rome. While north of the Alps shrines were being desecrated and relics scattered, St Philip literally danced for joy when the relics of the martyrs Ss Papias and Maurus were transferred to the Chiesa Nuova with great solemnity in 1590. The saints of ancient Rome had been his companions during the long nights he had prayed among their mortal remains in the catacombs, and the entrance into the church of the bones of these two Roman soldiers was for him like the arrival of dear friends. In his last years, he would have the lives of the saints read to him for several hours every day.

         Of course, the saint to whom St Philip was most intensely devoted left no mortal remains to be venerated on earth, because She was assumed body and soul into Heaven at the end of Her earthly life. May is the month dedicated to Our Lady, and it is also the month of St Philip. It was surely a great blessing for St Philip that his departure from this world into eternity occurred during the month of the Blessed Virgin. He always claimed that it was She, and not he, who was the true founder of our Congregation. He ordered that all of the altars in the church of the Roman Oratory should be adorned with paintings depicting mysteries in the life of Our Lord, and that the Madonna should appear in each one of them. One prayer which was continually on his lips was “Virgin Mary, Mother of God, pray to Jesus for me.”

         This brings us to another major anniversary, because in May we mark the centenary of Our Lady’s appearance to three peasant children in Portugal in 1917. On the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, 13th May, Pope Francis will travel to Fatima and canonise two of these children, Francisco Marto and Jacinta Marto, who both died within a short time of the close of the apparitions, which lasted six months. The first stage of the cause for the beatification of the third visionary, Lucia Santos, who became a Carmelite nun and died in 2005, concluded earlier this year, so we may hope that Sister Lucia will soon join her cousins in being raised to the altars.

         In Her visits to the three children of Fatima, Our Lady proposed devotion to Her Immaculate Heart as a powerful antidote to the ills afflicting the modern world. In Her second apparition in June 1917 She told Lucia “Jesus wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart”, and showed the children Her Immaculate Heart surrounded by thorns and seeking reparation. When, a month later, they were shown a terrible vision of souls in hell, Our Lady told the children that to save many souls from damnation “God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart.”

         Coming into the Oratory church, you will see a large image of Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart surrounded with thorns, in the sanctuary, above the High Altar. This is because our church is devoted to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. At Fatima, Our Lady promised that “in the end my Immaculate Heart will triumph.” In an age in which there is so much anxiety about the present and such uncertainty about the future, this is our assurance that ultimately God will prevail. It is also an urgent call to sacrifice and prayer. In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI preached at Fatima on 13th May: “We would be mistaken to think that Fatima’s prophetic mission is complete. Here the plan of God takes on new life – a plan which asks humanity from the beginning: ‘Where is your brother Abel […] Your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!’ (Gen 4:9). Mankind has succeeded in unleashing a cycle of death and terror, but failed in bringing it to an end… In sacred Scripture we often find that God seeks righteous men and women in order to save the city of man and he does the same here, in Fatima, when Our Lady asks: ‘Do you want to offer yourselves to God, to endure all the sufferings which he will send you, in an act of reparation for the sins by which he is offended and of supplication for the conversion of sinners?’ (Memoirs of Sister Lúcia, I, 162).”

         During Mary’s month of May, we pray the Holy Rosary publicly at Our Lady’s Altar before the evening celebration of Holy Mass. Please join us in praying for peace in the world, for the conversion of sinners (amongst whom we count ourselves), and for unity amongst Christians. There will also be Masses on the first Saturday of each month, as requested by Our Lady of Fatima, at 11am from May to October, followed by recitation of the Rosary.

Fr Julian Large

April 2017 Letter from the Provost

April 2017 Letter from the Provost

Come into the Oratory Church on Easter Sunday and you will find the High Altar decked with reliquaries. Most striking are the silvered bishops’ heads busts. Similar models can be found in churches all over the Lombardy region of Italy, and the Oratory busts were brought back to London from Bergamo by Father Edmund Garnett in 1892. They are placed on the altar amid an explosion of bells, music and light after the intonation of the Gloria at the Easter Vigil.

         These busts contain fragments of bone, as do most of the reliquaries that the Oratory possesses, and as do the altar stones embedded in the many altars that grace the chapels of the Oratory Church. The sarcophagus under the altar in St Mary Magdalene’s chapel actually contains a complete human skeleton from the Roman catacombs, while the life-sized model of our Holy Father St Philip under his altar, also exposed at the Easter Vigil, contains a relic from the saint’s body in the hand.

         Easter morning is bursting with the freshness of new life, and this display of old bones might not seem the most obvious way to celebrate Our Lord’s everlasting triumph over death and decay. These relics, however, teach something very important about the meaning of the Resurrection for us. Through Baptism, these mortal remains of the saints became living temples of the Holy Spirit. The souls to which they were once united now await reunion with their bodies in Heaven. Throughout His ministry, Our Lord’s healing miracles show us how He came to save the whole man, soul and body. The reunion of His body and soul on Easter morning leave us in no doubt that the body is God’s creation and therefore good. His bodily Ascension to the right hand of the Father in Heaven reveals that Heaven is not some disembodied state but a real place where bodies exist. Our Lady’s Assumption body and soul at the end of Her earthly life leaves us in no doubt that there is also a place in Heaven for our bodies as well as our souls. For Christians, the body matters, which is why the Church enjoins us to corporal, as well as spiritual, works of mercy. Clothing the naked, feeding the hungry and comforting the sick are all practical expressions of our belief in the value of the whole human person.

         When we say the Creed, then, we not only profess our belief that “on the third day He rose again”; we also declare that we “look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” The first Resurrection is, of course, Our Lord’s. The second is the resurrection of our own bodies from the grave, which, we have been promised, will take place when the trumpet sounds on the Day of Judgment. In this life our bodies eventually become weary and worn, and sometimes bring us great inconvenience and pain. If, pray God, we make it to Heaven, we need not fear that they will ever be an encumbrance to us again. The bodies of the saved are to be glorified. St Augustine and others assure us that what was imperfect in us in this life will be eternally beautified in the life to come. Back in the day, a Redemptorist was preaching on the Four Last Things at a mission, and he repeated Our Lord’s warning that in hell there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth. An elderly parishioner interrupted: “Ain’t got no teeth, Father!” to which the reply came from the pulpit: “Teeth will be provided.”

         The relics that we see around the church on Easter Sunday are actually a very fitting way to mark the Resurrection. They are the trophies of Christian victory. These mortal remains were once the fragile vessels in which their owners worked out their salvation and sanctification, by God’s grace, on earth. They were sanctified by contact with the waters of Baptism and by the healing and elevating balm of the other Sacraments. Relics themselves have sacramental value, and have been known to bring about great miracles for those who venerate them with devotion. When we venerate a holy relic, we venerate the saint who intercedes for us at the Throne of Grace, and we give honour to Our Lord Jesus Christ whose divine life animated that saint and made him holy.

         If a forensic scientist ever laid hands on the Oratory relic collection, he would probably find evidence of traumatic deaths inflicted by steel blade, fire, starvation and the teeth of wild beasts. This is because many of our relics belonged to martyrs, who made the ultimate sacrifice for their faith in our Risen Lord. After suffering for a time on earth, they now behold the vision of the Blessed Trinity in glory. And even for them the best is yet to come: the reunion of body and soul in glory in eternity.

         Current events around the world remind us of the fragility of that thread which on earth connects our bodies and souls. The finger on the terror alert dial seems to be stuck permanently on “severe”, which means we might easily be blown limb from limb before we can say Jack Robinson. As long as we die in God’s grace, with the flame of divine charity alight in our souls, we can be confident that we shall eventually receive these bodies back, rejuvenated and bomb-proof. The Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the Assumption of Our Blessed Lady guarantee this.

Fr Julian Large

March 2017 Letter from the Provost

March 2017 Letter from the Provost

In 1988, Martin Scorsese’s film The Last Temptation of Christ provoked protests outside cinemas. The depiction of God the Son entertaining temptations against the Sixth and Ninth Commandments had caused considerable indignation among believing Christians. The sensus fidei of sane Catholics warned them immediately that something was wrong with that film. Our Saviour is like unto us in all things but sin. He was never tainted with the concupiscence which is the desire of the physical appetites contrary to reason. Therefore, he could never have experienced that sort of temptation.

         And yet Lent begins with an account of Our Lord suffering very real temptations during the forty days He spends in the wilderness. So what were these temptations, and where did they come from?

         Scripture informs us explicitly that the temptations endured by Our Lord come from that ancient enemy of the human race, the devil. And these temptations are a challenge or a test. The devil seems to be curious about the true identity of this extraordinary person Jesus of Nazareth. “If you really are the Son of God, prove it!” he says, “Command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

         How often do we not hear similar challenges addressed to the Church? What sort of God is it that allows so much of the world to go hungry while others have so much that they perpetuate a culture of waste? If God exists, and if He is to earn our respect, then surely He must prove Himself and feed the starving? And if the Church is what She claims to be, then is it not high time that She stopped troubling the world with the burden of doctrine and poured all of Her resources into eradicating inequality?

         As Creator of the Universe, Our Lord has every power and every right to change stones into bread. But on this occasion of His temptation, He refuses to do so. And His reply to Satan is masterful: “It is written, man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

         Yes, God could turn whole mountains into enough bread to feed the whole world many times over. For the Lord of Creation, nothing could be easier. But such a miracle in itself would do absolutely nothing to remove selfishness or greed from a single human heart. Our Lord is not denying that we have a duty to feed the hungry – he has made it clear that our salvation depends on it. What He is saying is that on its own this is not good enough. When spiritual considerations are obliterated on account of purely material interests, then the result is catastrophic for everyone. Communism, after all, promised bread for everyone. The result was often bread queues that stretch for miles outside the bakery, and always moral and spiritual degradation.

         Christ actually came into this world to do something far more wonderful than changing stones into bread. He came to change our hearts from hearts of cold stone to hearts that are on fire with divine love. If a man’s heart is withered and dead then ultimately nothing good can come from him. Once his heart is enlivened with grace, then we can be sure that he will be moved freely to distribute from his own resources to those in need. This generosity of spirit and joy in giving is one of the outward signs that our Faith is alive and that we are in a state of grace.

         Leading Our Lord to the pinnacle of the Temple, Satan tells Him: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, He will give his angels charge over you and they will bear you up lest you dash your foot against a stone.” Again, the devil wants his curiosity satisfied with a stunt, and again Our Lord refuses. He has not come to dazzle us into the Kingdom of Heaven with dizzying displays of acrobatics. The time will come soon enough when His glory fills the skies, at His Second Coming. Meanwhile, He calls us to live in friendship with Him. And as a token of this divine friendship He does something infinitely more impressive than turning stones into bread or throwing himself from the Temple into the hands of angels. He transforms bread into his living Body and Blood, before which angels fall in adoration. He effects this transformation that we call Transubstantiation so that we too might be transformed by feeding on Him, and that we, in turn, might set to work transforming this world around us.

         Before the beginning of Lent, we should think of how we shall accompany Our Lord in His fasting and prayer during those forty days in the wilderness. Most importantly of all, we should think about how we show imitate his charity, whether by way of almsgiving, or visiting the sick, the lonely and the elderly. By the end of Lent, God will not really be checking to see if we have a thinner waist. He will be looking to see if we have a larger heart.

Fr Julian Large

February 2017 Letter from the Provost

February 2017 Letter from the Provost

On 2nd February we celebrate a great Christian festival of light – the Feast of Candlemas. A shimmering sea of flames flows into the church as we commemorate the entry of the infant Jesus into the Temple at His Presentation. We rejoice with Simeon that the Light to enlighten the gentiles and the Glory of God’s People Israel has come into this world never to be extinguished. (cf. Lk 2.22-32)

         Light is something that human beings have always treasured as desirable and precious. In our own day, however, it often seems that there is a conflict between different sources of light. And this has really been the case since that revolution in thought and culture that occurred in the eighteenth century, generally known as the Enlightenment. Enlightenment philosophers championed the supremacy of reason over everything else. Their aim was to chase away the shadows, so that the undiluted light of human reason might be allowed to flood into every aspect of human life and society. In its extreme form, the Enlightenment sought to banish all mystery and transcendence to the graveyard of ignorance and superstition. The end result of this has not been so much real enlightenment, but, as one venerable English philosopher has described it, a severe light pollution that prevents man from seeing the stars.

         Many of our contemporaries have been taken in by the idea that reason and Faith must ultimately be opposed to each other, or at best unrelated. They assume that to embrace Faith must mean that we have to jettison our reason. Perhaps we have to admit that, looking at how strangely religious people sometimes behave, and how ill-equipped we often are to give a coherent account for our beliefs, it is hardly surprising that this misunderstanding prevails.

         As far as the Church is concerned, nothing could be further from the truth than this apparent conflict between these two lights of Faith and reason. The Church rejoices in reason. She teaches that man’s God-given intellect is the highest part of his nature, and that man’s natural capacity to discern and communicate truth and consciously to unite himself with what is good illustrate how the Creator’s image is stamped indelibly on our souls.

         We also have to accept that reason on its own, and science on its own, can never answer the deepest longings of the human heart or the desire of the human mind for knowledge. We cannot ultimately find redemption in science or reason. Unaided reason can never carry us to the sublime height for which we were created – to be happy with God for ever in eternity. Science can never make us immortal.

         Faith is that supernatural gift from God that elevates our reason. It is very important to understand that Faith does not suppress or replace reason. When we embrace the gift of Faith, it is like walking into a lift and finding ourselves carried up to a new realm of knowledge and life, because through this gift of Faith, we are now able to engage our reason with divinely revealed truths.

         If the secularist Enlightenment ended up producing light-pollution that obliterated the stars, then the true enlightenment that comes with Faith in Our Lord brings those stars back into focus. It allows us to penetrate into that realm of mystery in which man finds perfect and supernatural fulfilment – the Mystery of the Divine Love that flows continually between Father, Son and Holy Ghost. It makes us value our neighbour, whoever he or she might be and wherever he or she might come from, as a being created in God’s image with a supernatural vocation to be incorporated into Our Lord’s Mystical Body and to participate with us in the life of the Blessed Trinity in eternity.

         The light of reason and the light of faith, then, are not in opposition at all. In fact, it would be impossible for them ever to be in conflict. This is because they both have the same source – the Eternal Word, or Logos, Who took on our human flesh and came to us as the Light of the World. He is ultimately the author of all truth, scientific and religious, philosophical and theological. The Child Whom Mary carries into the Temple on the occasion of Her Purification is Truth itself.

         On the feast of Candlemas, let us pray that the Light Who enlightens the Gentiles and the Glory of God’s people Israel will fill our hearts with light so that in our dark and fragmented society we may bear radiant witness to God’s love. The light of Faith tells us that the real value of our fellow human beings is not relative to success, health, youthfulness or productivity. It is to be found in that potential for eternal life with which God has endowed each and every human soul. Simeon and the prophetess Anna, who each praise God at the arrival of the Christ Child in the Temple, are both greatly advanced in age. They remind us to have a very special care and solicitude for the frail and the elderly, and to treasure their role in the life of the Church.

         Candlemas is not a day of obligation, but please make an effort to come to the High Mass and receive a blessed candle. Take this precious sacramental home so that it may bring protection and inspiration to you and your loved ones during the coming year.

Fr Julian Large

January 2017 Letter from the Provost

Every time we say the Creed, we profess our Faith in a Church which is “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic”.

         To modern ears, the description of our Church as ‘Holy’ might not sound entirely convincing. When many people today hear the words ‘Catholic Church’, holiness is not necessarily a quality that they would immediately attribute to the institution referred to. A good number of our well-educated and upright contemporaries are more likely to associate the Church with scandals involving breaches of trust of a most grave and horrible nature. Catholics who have lived through recent decades can certainly understand why this should be the case. As a priest, one is sometimes asked: “Father, what effect does your clerical collar have on people when they see you climbing onto a bus or coming into the pub?” To be honest, it has to be admitted that the effect is quite mixed, ranging from friendliness, to mild cheekiness of the “More tea, Vicar?” variety, to indifference. Occasionally one is also aware of being regarded with wariness and suspicion. This is only to be expected when we consider the misuse of authority by which victims of abuse have too often been instructed by clericalist powers-that-be to keep quiet and not to rock the boat. Whatever might have been the case in the past, it is probably safe to say that clerical dress carries no weight as a ‘status symbol’ today.

         So how can we profess belief in a Catholic Church that is ‘Holy’, without crossing our fingers, when we say the Creed? The answer of course is that the Church is Holy in so far as She is the Mystical Body of Christ, and as St Paul tells us, Christ is the Head of this Body of which we are made members through Baptism. So the Holiness that is in the Church flows from Christ into the Body – a Body of which He is the Head and into which we have been incorporated.

         In a sense, when we say the Church is Holy, we are saying this in much the same way that we might describe a hospital as healthy. You would not expect to find a hospital full of healthy people. Leaving aside the fact that modern hospitals are so over-heated that they must be incubators for tropical diseases, a decent hospital, in theory at least, possesses all of the means available to make us healthy. Likewise, the Church is endowed with everything necessary to make us holy.

         One part of the Church is very holy indeed. The Saints in Heaven form that part of the Mystical Body of Christ which we call the Church Triumphant. They are very close to the Head of this Body Who is Christ, and they worship Him and intercede for us at His throne. The Holy Souls in Purgatory, meanwhile, are also genuinely holy. They died in a state of grace and are being purified in the refining furnace of divine love so that they too will be able to enter Heaven as Saints.

         It is only on earth that we find the Church is full of a mixture of saints and sinners, including those of us who might be trying to be saints but only half-heartedly, so that we keep finding ourselves sliding into sin. The Church, like a good hospital, keeps the apparatus that will bind up our injuries and heal us when we sin, especially in the great Sacrament of Penance, in which we are lifted from the death of sin and restored to the supernatural life given in Baptism.

         During the coming year there will be much talk about the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. No Catholic in his right mind would consider ‘celebrating’ such an appalling blow to the Mystical Body of Christ. But we should rise to the occasion and put more effort into praying and working, in charity and truth, towards the day when all Christians might be reunited under the Successor of St Peter and be able to receive the Blessed Sacrament together in Holy Communion. We can also use this anniversary as an opportunity to reflect on what it is to be Catholic, and to renew our zeal for Catholic devotions which might have fallen into neglect. We should redouble our devotion to the saints, and especially to the Blessed Virgin in this hundredth anniversary of Her appearing in Fatima. We should make greater efforts to venerate the holy relics of the saints with confidence that this makes us close to them and earns their intercession for us at the Throne of Grace. We should dust off our prayer books and return to devotions to which rich indulgences are attached, to assist the Holy Souls in Purgatory during their current sufferings, in the confidence that they will intercede for us when they join Our Lady and the other saints in Heaven.

         A body is only as healthy as its individual cells, organs and limbs. Likewise with the Church: if we look at the Bride of Christ on earth and we see that there is so much that is unholy – so much politicking and posturing, and sometimes prevarication and obfuscation about Our Lord’s clear doctrine on Faith and Morals – then we first of all have to look at ourselves. If the Body of Christ on earth is not as healthy as we might hope, is it that we are not quite as holy as we should be? If that is the case, then we can certainly do something to address and remedy the malaise. When we come to that part in the Creed when we profess our belief in a Catholic Church which is holy, let us say that with great conviction, trusting in the intercession of Our Blessed Mother and the saints to make us holy like them.

Fr Julian Large

December 2016 Letter from the Provost

December 2016 Letter from the Provost

When the Word was made flesh two thousand years ago in Bethlehem, men were free to take Him or leave Him. The shepherds summoned by angels came to worship, while Herod’s men sought to murder. Later on the religious authorities would conspire and have Him put to death. At birth the King of Kings was laid in a feeding trough, and the closest He would ever come to ascending to a throne in His earthly life would be the Cross.

         Sometimes the question is asked “Would we recognize Jesus if He came into this world again? Or would His presence make us so uncomfortable that we would again reject Him?”

         The truth, of course, is that He will come into the world again, but His Second Coming will be quite different from that first arrival in the dead of a cold December night in Palestine. Next time, He will not be coming in meekness. In His own words, we shall “see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of Heaven with power and great glory, and He will send out His angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other…” (Mt 24.30-31). When the glory of that second arrival fills the skies from East to West, then whether we happen to be the Pope, the Dalai Lama or the Richard Dawkins of the day, it will be clear to all of us that Jesus Christ is God the Son and Creator of the universe, and there will be no denying that He has come in power and majesty to judge the living and the dead.

         In other words, there is no chance of anyone not recognizing Our Lord at His Second Coming. Meanwhile, however, there is always a very real danger that we might fail to recognize Him as He is in the world at this moment. Talking about our duty to clothe the naked and feed the hungry, and to visit the sick and those in prison, Our Lord warns: “as you did it not to the least of these little ones, you did it not to me” and “as you did it to the least of these little ones, you did it to me” (Mt 25.40,45). The verdict we encounter at the moment of judgment, then, will depend largely on how we have ministered to or neglected Our Lord in the needy. To focus our minds He tells us that there are only two possible outcomes in that moment when our souls leave our bodies and we find ourselves at our particular judgment: eternal punishment or eternal life.

         Along with other local churches, the London Oratory provides various opportunities to minister to the King of Kings in the disadvantaged. During the winter months the Friends of the Oratory (oratoryfriends@gmail.com) run a food shelter on Saturday evenings at which volunteers and guests sit at table to eat together and converse over supper. The Oratory Young Adults Group for 18-35 year olds (youngadultsgroup@bromptonoratory.co.uk) co-operates with our friends and next door neighbours at Holy Trinity Brompton to provide a similar service on Wednesday evenings. If you would be willing and able to assist at either or both of these projects, please enquire by email at the addresses above, or enquire at Oratory House.

         Giving time to the elderly, the sick and the needy is one way of ministering to the image of the Christ Child in our neighbour and extending His Kingdom. Engagement in public life is another. We should be encouraging young Catholics to consider prayerfully whether God might be calling them to involve themselves in politics, to ensure that Christ’s reign prevails on a more national and universal scale. The number of committed Christians in Parliament who are prepared to show the courage of their convictions seems to be relatively few, but such a presence is essential if the Christian voice is to be kept alive.

         We need this more than ever at a time when the public discourse around politics seems to be increasingly acrimonious. The recent presidential election in America has provoked responses ranging from violent hysteria and calls for assassination at one extreme of the political spectrum to quiet relief and cautious optimism at the other. The Provost would not dream of wading into this on one side or the other: for one thing, when men of the cloth start making a stand on party politics, the Catholic Faithful usually display a healthy instinct to do the exact opposite of what they are told from the pulpit to do and believe. But something that all Catholics can and should do is to pray for the new President Elect of the United States. Pray, especially, that he will honour the very explicit promises he made during his campaign to protect the lives of unborn children. The Holy Father said recently that every unborn child who is unjustly condemned to death by abortion has the face of Christ. The reform of laws which allow this killing of the innocent must be a priority for every decent human being.

         As Catholics, we should pray for all of our lawfully elected leaders. Pray without ceasing that the Holy Spirit will take possession of their hearts so that, even in spite of themselves, they will pursue policies which honour the image of God emblazoned on the human soul. After such a tumultuous year, let us pray that 2017 will be a year in which the Christ Child brings peace and salvation.

Fr Julian Large

November 2016 Letter from the Provost

November 2016 Letter from the Provost

The encounters we experience with Our Lord when reading the Gospels may unsettle us. The parable in the 18th chapter of St Luke’s Gospel, in which God is seemingly compared to an unjust judge, is rather startling. However, it is important to realise that when the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity took on our human nature in the Incarnation, He became like us in all things but sin. It should not surprise us, then, to discover that the Word Made Flesh had a sense of humour. This might be difficult for modern people to imagine. Since the 1960s there has been a tendency to brainwash us into thinking of Our Lord as an earnest moraliser who came to earth to lecture us on “preferential options” and “development goals”. This po-faced social justice warrior is a far cry from the Jesus of the Gospels, who paved the way to the Cross by offending against the political correctness of His day.

         The nagging widow in the parable (Lk 18.1-8), who wears down the judge so successfully that he eventually caves in to her wishes, is a type that many parish priests will recognize. Persistent laity sometimes have an important role to play in challenging the inertia that can devitalize the Church’s mission when the clergy become weary under the weight of administration and bureaucracy. We can be grateful for those stout-hearted matrons of ancient Rome who refused to take no for an answer and kept the flame of faith alive during the early centuries of persecution.

         The point of Our Lord’s parable seems to be the importance of perseverance in prayer. If even this bloated self-satisfied judge eventually gives in to the poor widow’s demands, how much more should we not hope for from a God Who loves us, and Who desires whatever is good for us? And if our prayers do not immediately seem to meet with success, we need to keep praying with ever greater persistence, until our requests are answered. Perseverance is of the essence in the Christian life, and it merits rewards.

         One of the most dangerous delusions we can fall into as human beings is a sense of self-sufficiency. When we lose awareness of our dependence on God, then we enter a realm of unreality which can only bring us disappointment and ultimately despair. The prayer that Our Lord Himself taught us is full of petitions and requests:  “Give us this day our daily bread … forgive us our trespasses … deliver us from evil”. Asking God for what we needs reminds us that we were created from the dust of the earth, and we depend on His Providence for all good things.

         The human race at the moment seems to be going through a particularly rocky patch, in which there is great deal of anxiety about the present and much uncertainty about the future. In these circumstances, it is natural that we should concern ourselves about what we can do to make this planet a better and safer place, for ourselves and for the generations that follow. Often we can feel helpless, as if everything is in the hands of forces outside our control. But we have a secret weapon which is supernatural and ultimately invincible, and which grounds us in the reality of a universe in which nothing happens unless it is willed or permitted by the Almighty Creator – the gift of prayer. In our Baptism we receive a vocation to communicate with God, and part of this communication includes asking God for what we need. This is actually pleasing to God because it shows that we acknowledge that all good things come from His hand and that we take nothing for granted.

         So what should we request when we pray? We can never be certain that God wants us to drive a Ferrari, or to own a holiday house in the sun. We can be quite sure that He wants His peace and His justice to reign in our hearts so that we may extend His Kingdom in that part of creation that is under our influence. If we are exercised about the current condition of politics or the state of international relations, we should certainly pray for peace and justice in the world. We can also be confident that He wants us to be full of faith and hope and charity. Sometimes He may allow us to suffer because of some great blessing He wishes to bestow on us in eternity. It is certainly legitimate and proper to pray for relief from sickness and pain, but even if this prayer seems to go answered on the physical level, we can be confident that prayer will bring the spiritual reinforcements needed to sustain us through the trial.

         So we should pray for all of these goods. At the moment, especially, we need to ‘storm Heaven’ for peace in the world.

         November is the month of the Holy Souls. It is an act of great charity to pray for these members of the Church who are undergoing purification before their entry to Heaven, and it is also useful: every soul liberated from Purgatory by our prayers and Masses is a new saint in Heaven who with Our Blessed Mother will intercede for us and for this world at the Throne of Grace.

Fr Julian Large

October 2016 Letter from the Provost

Our Lord presents us with the scenario of a woman with ten silver coins. Each is so precious that if she loses just one she will turn over the whole house in search of it. The rediscovered coin is then the cause for a great celebration(Lk 15.8-10).

            Coins are traditionally stamped with the image of a sovereign. As human beings, we too are inscribed with an image. In Genesis we see that when God created the human race He said “Let us make man in our own image” (Gen 1.26). Every human being, then, bears the image of the reigning Sovereign Who is Almighty God, imprinted indelibly on the soul. It is this divine image which makes each innocent human life sacred to God and inviolable, at every stage of its existence – from conception in the womb, when God infuses that soul into human flesh, until the moment when our souls and bodies are separated at the moment of death.

            In Genesis we are told that God not only created Adam in His own image. God actually says: “Let us make man in our image and according to our likeness.” Reading this superficially, we might assume that image and likeness are the same thing. After all, God can afford to use as many words as He chooses to express the same reality. The Church’s theologians and saints, however, have seen a distinction between image and likeness. They tell us that while the image of God is natural to us because it lies in our mind and our will – in our capacity to discern the truth and to unite ourselves with what is good – the likeness to God is something supernatural. It is a participation by grace in the divine life of God Himself, whereby man in His nature is elevated to the state of Sanctifying Grace and lives in friendship with Almighty God.

            It was this supernatural State of Grace that was lost for the human race when Adam and Eve chose to follow the counsel of the serpent rather than the word of God Who had blessed them with the gift of divine friendship. Hence the lesson of the woman with the silver coins. Because man has fallen from the State of Grace, God the Son takes on our human flesh and He comes to sweep out the house in search of us, to save us as individuals, because each of us is precious to Him. He comes to save us from the state of sin and separation from God, and to restore us to grace and friendship with God. The most profound token and celebration of this friendship is Holy Communion, which gift He purchased for us with His Blood on the Cross. His Living Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity are made present for us through the presentation of His Sacrifice on the Cross on the altar, every time Mass is celebrated. That is how precious we are to Him.

            As Christians and Catholics it is so important that we always remember that this supernatural reality is the very essence of our Faith. When our religion is reduced to social activism it is diminished to the point of destruction. Our Lord has come into the world primarily to restore us to the supernatural reality of friendship with God. He tells us: “Though I gain the whole world, if I lose my own soul what does it profit me?” The answer, of course, is nothing. I might feed the whole world and clothe and house the whole world, and if I am not in a state of grace, these earthly achievements by themselves count for nothing in eternity. As a priest I might preach inspiring sermons of impeccable orthodoxy and celebrate the Sacraments with minute regard for the rubrics, and my observance of the Church’s fasts might be faultless, but if the immaculate façade conceals an unrepented mortal sin on my soul, then none of these works counts for anything as far as getting into Heaven is concerned. Indeed, while my administration of the Sacraments will have been efficacious to those who received them, it will have added to my own offenses the sin of sacrilege.

            Once we are in a state of grace, however, then our good works take on an eternal value, because we are animated and enlivened with the very life of Christ Himself. United with God the Son in this way, our works of charity partake of the supernatural Charity that has been infused into our hearts in Baptism. Divine Charity and the State of Grace are distinct, but they are co-existent in the soul and co-extensive. Mortal sin does not immediately kill the Theological Virtues of Faith and Hope, but it does extinguish Charity. Once in a State of Grace, then the more we love and give, the more that supernatural life of grace expands within us and takes possession of our souls. The saints in Heaven are there because they loved while on earth, and the greatest saints are the ones who loved the most.

            In this Year of Mercy, we should consider ways in which we can be merciful to others. First of all, though, we have to be merciful to ourselves, by asking God to forgive us our sins and embracing His Divine Mercy in the Sacrament of Penance. We have to be sure that the Kingdom of God is firmly established in our own hearts before we can start to build it in the world around us.

Fr Julian Large