October 2019 Letter from the Provost

October 2019 Letter from the Provost

On Sunday the 13th October, Bl. John Henry Newman will be canonised during a papal celebration of Holy Mass in St Peter’s Square in Rome. At a canonisation, the Successor of St Peter declares that a person practised heroic virtue and lived in fidelity with God’s grace to such an extent  that we may now be certain that he is interceding for us in Heaven. Verified miracles are accepted as proof that our saint is working on our behalf at the Throne of Grace, and as evidence that God looks favourably on the canonisation. While beatification allows public veneration in particular localities and congregations, canonisation raises a saint to the altars for the purpose of liturgical cult throughout the whole Catholic Church on earth.

Blessed John Henry’s canonization is a great blessing for the London Oratory. Although now we correctly talk about the English Oratories in the plural, what would become the Birmingham and London houses began life in 1848 as one English Oratory, founded by Father Newman with the blessing of Bl. Pope Pius IX. A year later, Newman settled in Birmingham and Father Faber was sent to found a house in London, but Newman remained “Father” of both communities until October 1850 when the English Oratory was officially divided into two distinct congregations. We shall mark the canonisation of our first Father with a High Mass of Thanksgiving at 6.30pm on Thursday 17th October, celebrated by His Eminence Vincent Cardinal Nichols, and with a sermon preached by the Provost of the Birmingham Oratory. Please keep an eye on our newsletters and website for details of the Novena we shall be praying in the days before the canonisation, in addition to events taking place at the other Oratories in England.

Newman’s canonisation is also, of course, a wonderful and timely gift to the whole Church. In these tumultuous times when the Body of Christ on earth seems more politicised than ever, and the Holy Father himself talks about the possibility of schism, Newman’s wisdom should bring us serenity of heart and hope. As an Anglican clergyman and Oxford don, his research into the Arian heresy, which from a purely human point of view had seemed likely to extinguish the light of authentic Catholic teaching on the Incarnation in the Fourth Century, made him realise that orthodox doctrine inevitably prevails in any dispute that rages within the Church. It was, in fact, his studies on the Arian crisis that convinced him of the truth of the Catholic Church. In his Apologia he writes: “I saw clearly that in the history of Arianism, the pure Arians were the Protestants, the semi-Arians were the Anglicans, and that Rome now was what it was then. The truth lay, not with the Via Media, but with what was called ‘the extreme party’.”

Oratorians avoid contention wherever possible, but with Newman’s searing intellect, his dogged adherence to the quest for truth, and his aversion to towing any party line, it was inevitable that he would find himself embroiled in and bruised by the ecclesiastical controversies of his time. His famous Biglietto Speech, which he delivered in Rome on 12th May 1879, the day on which it was announced he was to be a cardinal, is best remembered as a robust attack on the spirit of liberalism in religion – the absurd notion “that one creed is as good as another” and “that revealed religion is not a truth, but a sentiment and a taste” – and for its accurate predictions of the disastrous effects that this would have on society. But in the Biglietto Speech Newman was also defending himself against allegations that he was not a real Catholic. The source of these slurs had been a number of extremists within the Ultramontane party in the Church who had been pushing for a maximalist interpretation of the doctrine of Papal Infallibility. This powerful and highly favoured faction consisted of the sorts of people who would have us believe that all popes are chosen by the Holy Ghost (rather than by fallible cardinals in a conclave), that every utterance of a pope carries the authority of the inspired word of God, and that if the reigning Pontiff sprinkles salt on his porridge in the morning, then all Catholics are bound by precept to do the same. Needless to say, Newman had no truck with such silliness, and so the champions of exaggerated papal prerogative maligned him as a half-baked convert who was disloyal to the Pope. When Newman embraced the moderate and traditional interpretation of Papal Infallibility as it was eventually defined at the First Vatican Council in 1870, he distanced himself from those liberals who rejected it and put themselves outside the Church.

It might be assumed that the extreme Ultramontanists and liberals stood at opposite poles of the ecclesiastical landscape, with Newman somewhere in between. In reality, there was error (extreme Ultramontanism and liberalism) at one extreme and Catholic truth (Newman’s position) at the other. With a powerful prophetic insight that was nourished by his extraordinary appreciation of history, Newman would not have been at all surprised to see extreme Ultramontanism and liberalism one day fused together into a noxious mélange. Were he alive today, his stubborn refusal to tow any party line would almost certainly attract the ire of the spin doctors in the media who have set themselves up as gatekeepers of the Magisterium, and who use Twitter to denounce as un-Catholic and subversive anyone who fails to “get with the programme” of their own agenda.

Amongst other things, Newman’s life, trials and writings teach us that whatever disputes and politicking hinder the effective proclamation of the Gospel in any age, the truth of traditional Catholic doctrine in continuity with the Deposit of Faith entrusted to the Apostles always prevails in the end. While his confidence in the earthly hierarchy of the Church was always limited, his trust in the divine guarantees which Our Lord had invested in His Mystical Body was rock solid. In the final paragraph of the Biglietto Speech, having lamented the dire effects of liberalism in religion and on the society of his own country, he inspires in us the cultivation of peace of mind, civility and prayer: “Such is the state of things in England, and it is well that it should be realised by all of us; but it must not be supposed for a moment that I am afraid of it. I lament it deeply, because I foresee that it may be the ruin of many souls; but I have no fear at all that it really can do aught of serious harm to the Word of God, to Holy Church, to our Almighty King, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, Faithful and True, or to His Vicar on earth. Christianity has been too often in what seemed deadly peril, that we should fear for it any new trial now. So far is certain; on the other hand, what is uncertain, and in these great contests commonly is uncertain, and what is commonly a great surprise, when it is witnessed, is the particular mode by which, in the event, Providence rescues and saves His elect inheritance. Sometimes our enemy is turned into a friend; sometimes he is despoiled of that special virulence of evil which was so threatening; sometimes he falls to pieces of himself; sometimes he does just so much as is beneficial, and then is removed. Commonly the Church has nothing more to do than to go on in her own proper duties, in confidence and peace; to stand still and to see the salvation of God.”

Let us give thanks to God for the life and for the canonisation of this great Oratorian and apostle of Christian Hope. May he intercede for us, and for our Holy Church which he understood and loved so well.

Father Julian Large

September 2019 Letter from the Provost

September 2019 Letter from the Provost

A believable anecdote relates that Napoleon was boasting about his power to destroy the Catholic Church when, in response, the Pope’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Consalvi, asked him: “If, in 1,800 years, we, the clergy, have not managed to destroy the Church, do you really believe that you will be able to do it?”

          It is probably true that, of the all the crises that the Church has had to live through since the Day of Pentecost, the most deadly and destructive have come from within. Nero and Diocletian did not harm the Church anywhere nearly as badly as the betrayals of trust and the abuse of position and authority that have shaken the Church to Her foundations in our own lifetime. At times, while the heavy artillery of the media is beleaguering the Church from the outside, it might well feel as though the edifice of the Church on earth has been so weakened by internal decadence that it must about to crumble into dust around us.

          As Catholics, however, we know that this can never really happen. We know this with the certainty of Faith, because God Himself has promised us. We see that promise being made in the Gospel, when Our Lord says to His chosen apostle Simon: “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” It has been said that the only two things of which we can be quite certain are death and taxes. But we can also be sure of something else. We know that when Our Lord returns in glory at the end of time, His Bride, the Church, will be here to greet Him.

          So we can thank God for founding His Church on Peter, and for promising to protect Her from complete destruction. But we also have to remember that His promise is, in a sense, a negative guarantee. While at certain times and in particular places our holy Catholic Faith has been taught and lived with such extraordinary zeal that it seemed to blaze across whole continents like wildfire, no guarantee has been granted that the Church’s presence on earth will never be reduced to one minuscule corner of the planet, or that the proclamation of, and belief in, our Holy Catholic Faith will not be reduced to little more than a flickering pilot light. Complacency and triumphalism in times of plenty are usually a sure sign of famine on the horizon, while the hunger that accompanies dearth has often proven to be the seedbed of renewed sanctity and expansion.

          During this month of September, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross reminds us of the centrality of the Cross in our lives as Christians. Reading the Gospels, it might surprise us to find that Peter, the rock on which Our Lord built His Church, so often shows himself to be an enemy of the Cross. At one point, Peter’s determination to bypass Calvary in establishing the Kingdom of Heaven on earth is so reminiscent of the temptations concocted by the devil to test Our Lord during His forty days in the desert that Christ calls Peter Satan. After the Resurrection, however, Peter realises that the Cross is the threshold which must be passed before we can participate in eternal life, and bears witness to this truth by stretching out his own arms to be crucified. Having reflected on the Gospels, it might dismay us but it should not really surprise us if sometimes even some of our religious leaders seem to shun the Cross in favour of worldly diplomacy and politicking, and in the hope of an easier relationship with the secular powers-that-be and especially the media. We must pray for them, and for ourselves, that we may all be given the grace to embrace rather than flee the Cross when God brings it into our lives for some salutary purpose.

          It has been said that, at times in the past, the Church’s focus on God’s justice and the prospect of divine punishment for sins was so all-pervasive as to obscure for us the transforming gaze of love with which Our Lord looks into our hearts. If there is any truth in this then the opposite is almost certainly true today. The modern temptation is to focus so exclusively on God’s mercy that any concern about the punishment due to sin in justice is denounced as “pharisaical” and cruel. Both extremes are deplorable. God is infinite in His perfections, and if we truly love Him, we should not wish for any one of His perfections to be diminished on our account. The genius and magnificence of His plan for our salvation is that, in the Cross, we find the perfections of His justice and His love both exemplified and glorified. If we think of the vertical trunk of the Cross as representing the vast chasm opened between the creature and his Creature by sin, then we see how the justice of God is perfectly satisfied by a Sacrifice of infinite value. The horizontal beam of the Cross, meanwhile, illustrates how God the Son paid that price on our behalf by stretching out His arms to embrace mankind in a gesture of profound and merciful love. In the Cross, divine justice and divine love intersect, to our eternal benefit.

          During this month, let us venerate the Holy Cross with profound gratitude for that Sacrifice of perfect love, and let us pray that God will give us the grace we need to carry the Cross in our own lives, both for our personal sanctification and for the strengthening of the Church.

Father Julian Large

August 2019 Letter from the Provost

August 2019 Letter from the Provost

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

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

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

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

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

Father Julian Large

July 2019 Letter from the Provost

July 2019 Letter from the Provost

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

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

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

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

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

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

Father Julian Large

June 2019 Letter from the Provost

June 2019 Letter from the Provost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Father Julian Large

May 2019 Letter from the Provost

May 2019 Letter from the Provost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Father Julian Large

April 2019 Letter from the Provost

April 2019 Letter from the Provost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fr Julian Large

March 2019 Letter from the Provost

March 2019 Letter from the Provost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fr Julian Large


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

February 2019 Letter from the Provost

February 2019 Letter from the Provost

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

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

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

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

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

Fr Julian Large

January 2019 Letter from the Provost

January 2019 Letter from the Provost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fr Julian Large

December 2018 Letter from the Provost

December 2018 Letter from the Provost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fr Julian Large

November 2018 Letter from the Provost

November 2018 Letter from the Provost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fr Julian Large