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 ( 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 ( 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

September 2016 Letter from the Provost

Close to Marble Arch there is a traffic island at the beginning of the Edgware Road. At its centre lies a stone disc engraved with the words “The site of Tyburn Tree”. It was here that, between 1535 and 1681, 105 Catholic priests and laity suffered the horrible ordeal of being hanged, drawn and quartered, all for remaining loyal to the Faith of their fathers. Gentrification of the area in the eighteenth century would obliterate all reminders of the public executions, with the gallows removed, and Tyburn Road and Tyburn Lane becoming Oxford Street and Park Lane.

         This intersection must be one of the noisiest and busiest corners of the city. Nearby, however, is a place of extraordinary tranquillity. In the early twentieth century a convent of Benedictine nuns was founded in the Bayswater Road. The crypt chapel of their convent is now filled with relics of the English Martyrs. There is even a replica of the gallows over the altar. Upstairs, in the public chapel, the sisters pray day and night before the exposed Blessed Sacrament.

         The memory of Tyburn Tree, then, is kept alive at Tyburn Convent. As the nuns keep vigil before the Sacred Host, they offer up a constant stream of prayers for the well-being and the conversion of our city and our realm. They have chosen the “better part” or “good portion” which Our Lord attributes to St Mary Magdalene in the Gospel. This “good portion” is the life of contemplation, lived at the foot of the Cross. We can be sure that if we make it to Heaven, we shall see just what extraordinary graces and blessings were secured for us, for the Church and for the human race in general by these lives devoted to prayer.

         In Baptism, we are elevated to a participation in the life of the Blessed Trinity. An essential part of this supernatural relationship with God is communication. We are invited to communicate our thoughts, our hopes and fears, our joys and sorrows, praise, thanksgiving and petitions to God, and in return He communicates His divine life to us in abundance. We should thank God for those who answer this calling in a way that is quite radical. All over the Catholic world there are communities of religious who pursue this “good portion” which is the life of contemplation. Normally we do not hear much about them. This is because they have been buried in seclusion so as to be in the constant presence of Almighty God. They die to this world so that the life of the Resurrection might take ever greater possession of their hearts and souls.

         In a fallen world which tends towards rebellion against the laws that God has written into nature, we can be grateful for those who do penance and intercede for His mercy. Holy Scripture tells us that sin deserves punishment, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church declares that there are sins that “cry to Heaven” for retribution (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n.1867). They include murder and injustice to the wage-earner. When such sins proliferate in our society we should thank Heavens for those men and women who mortify themselves on our behalf. In Marseilles in southern France there is an extraordinary community of nuns called the Religious Victims of the Sacred Heart, founded in the 19th century to make reparation for the sins of priests. What a great and important work that is.

         To the shallow and materialistic mind the contemplative life always looks like a waste of time. With the eyes of faith we know that when prayer is combined with penance and sacrifice it has great power before the Throne of Grace. The history of Jonah and Nineveh illustrates how fasting and prayer can save a civilisation from a sentence of destruction. Sodom and Gomorrah had no just citizens praying to God, and were utterly destroyed.

         It is God’s desire to bless rather than to punish. As the current Sovereign Pontiff has reminded us on a number of occasions, “God never tires of forgiving us. We are the ones who tire of seeking for His forgiveness.” Be grateful for those who ask for mercy on our behalf.

         Let us pray that God will continue to send vocations to contemplative communities. Of course, most of us are called to a different sort of life – more like Martha, with many practical and worldly duties and responsibilities. But we should also try to imitate Mary’s prayerfulness. In London it is not so difficult to find churches that are open during the day, so that we may walk in and rest in the presence of Our Lord. The Martyrs who celebrated and attended Holy Mass in attics and cellars would have rejoiced to see the day when sanctuary lamps burning in public would once again summon God’s children to adoration.

         It is possible to visit the chapel of the Martyrs at Tyburn Convent by appointment, and there to be inspired by the faith and zeal of the nuns as they tell the story of the dramatic events that happened just a short walk along the street. Then go upstairs to the church to spend some time in front of Our Lord enthroned over the altar. Do all of this and you will have experienced a taste of the “good portion” that Our Lord commends in Mary.

Fr Julian Large

August 2016 Letter from the Provost

Probably we were told when we were children that it is rude to call people names. Our Lord actually had a good line in nicknames. He referred to Herod as an old fox. We know from the Gospel of St Mark that He called the two brothers James and John “Boanerges” – Aramaic for “Sons of Thunder.” And in the Gospel of St Luke, we see how James and John merited and lived up to their nickname, when the Sons of Thunder plead with Our Lord to rain down fire from Heaven to devour the inhabitants of a Samaritan town that has just refused Him hospitality. Their reasoning: how dare these sectarian bigots insult the Lord of Creation? Surely the time has come to teach the world a lesson and to show sinners what lies in store for anyone who scorns the King of Kings and Creator of the universe?

The Master rebukes His disciples. Their zeal has made them bloodthirsty and they want to see retribution. Our Lord views things very differently. Yes, the time for fire will come. Our Lord warns us of the fire that awaits Dives in Hell, and many of us will have to be saved “yet so as by fire” (1 Cor 3:15) in the purification of Purgatory. But His mission on earth is not directed towards punishment and retribution. He has not come to precipitate that final conflagration which he has promised will consume the world at the end of time. He has come rather to light a flame of divine love in our hearts so that nothing and no one can ultimately destroy us. Now is the time of mercy and salvation.

John is the youngest of the Apostles, just a teenager. But what a cauldron of intense passion simmers within that youthful heart – a passion that is ready to boil over at the first provocation into wrath.

How very different is this Son of Thunder from the picture of John that emerges later on, the John who quietly rests his head on Our Lord’s shoulder at the Last Supper and who will stand in silence at the foot of the Cross. In fact, the nickname that Our Lord gave to John would not last for long. It was to be replaced by the title ‘Apostle of Love’. The word love, or charity, appears more in John’s Gospel and in his Epistles more often than anywhere else in the whole of the Old or New Testaments together. St Jerome tells us that in his old age John’s disciples had to carry him around to preach in Ephesus because he was so frail. They tired of listening to him preach the same sermon over and over again – all he would say is “Children, love each other!” When they asked why he must be so repetitive, he just replied: “Because it is the teaching of the Lord. If this only is done, that will be enough.”

This transformation from Son of Thunder to Apostle of Love is a good example of what happens when Divine Grace is able to penetrate into the depth of a soul. There is one thing that remains constant in John – his passion and zeal. But his youthful impetuosity and aggression are of little use to Our Lord. His capacity to love is of great use.

We all come into this world with strengths and weaknesses. And God is able to use everything – our strengths and our weaknesses – to make us saints. Very often our failures are of more use to Him than our successes, if only we allow our failures to teach us poverty in spirit and make us aware of our neediness before God.

John was transformed by contact with Our Lord. And through that contact – through friendship with Christ – his weaknesses were transformed into an heroic virtue which made him one of the greatest saints that ever lived. He can inspire us today to be apostles of love. Looking around us we see so much anger, division and recrimination. The world – our society – are thirsting for the charity of which we must be apostles.

Like John, we are invited to cultivate friendship with Our Lord. Bring to Him our weaknesses and failures, confess to Him our sins and receive the healing balm of divine forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance. All friendships require communication, so we must rest in His presence with open hearts, making the channels of communication as wide and uncluttered as possible, and allowing Him to lead us to that wholeness and holiness for which we were created. During this Year of Mercy, Pope Francis has encouraged us to take a friend with us when we go to Confession. Encourage our friends to come back to this sacrament, so that they too may experience the transformative touch of grace.

Fr Julian Large

July 2016 Letter from the Provost

Until relatively recently, the Iraqi town of Mosul was home to a flourishing Christian community which was one of the most ancient in continuous existence, tracing its origins to the first century A.D. and maintaining the Aramaic language spoken by Our Lord. Since the war in 2003, and especially since the arrival of the Islamic State two years ago, much of the Christian population has been forced to flee and significant numbers have been murdered. Many survivors have apparently preferred to go into hiding rather than enter refugee camps where they face the prospect of further persecution. Any who remain must pay a heavy tax called the Jaziya.

         Last month, Islamic State henchmen turned up at a Christian house in Mosul demanding that the inhabitants pay the tax or leave. The mother of the family living there asked for a few seconds to collect the money, but they immediately set fire to the house, where the woman’s twelve year old daughter was trapped in a bathroom. The mother made an attempt to rescue her daughter, who was horrifically burned, but the little girl later died in her arms. The very last words that she said to her mother were: “Forgive them.”

         Although that girl was killed, she is the victor in this terrible story. Her response to hatred and appalling cruelty was love and forgiveness. The word martyr means witness, and with those two short words “forgive them” that twelve year old girl gave a clear and resounding witness to our holy Catholic Faith which we should hope will be remembered until the end of time as we know it, and which has surely earned her the crown of sainthood for eternity in Heaven, where she is now in a position to intercede at the Throne of Grace for her mourning family and her tortured homeland.

         We should reflect on the heroism and the simplicity of that girl’s witness. Our Lord tells us that those of us who would follow him must take up our crosses daily, but how tempted we are to avoid and evade the Cross in favour of comfort and respectability. We live in a society in which, for the moment at least, we are free to witness to our Catholic Faith. This is not something that we should ever take for granted. When we hear Christianity being bashed and rubbished, do we speak up and say: “Actually, I am Catholic, and my Faith is the most important and beautiful thing in my life?” or do we remain silent, perhaps even preferring not to be exposed as believing and practising Catholics?

         Christians living under the Islamic State who refuse to apostatise really have taken up the Cross on a daily basis. Remaining Christian in such circumstances means making huge sacrifices, and often the ultimate sacrifice of their own lives and the lives of their loved ones. What they suffer for the Gospel is a great witness to us and to the world of the power of grace to sustain us in the Faith.

         Please pray for the Christians of the Middle East, whose future looks very uncertain. The recent killing of that little girl is just one example amongst many thousands of such terrible events. The media has largely lost interest, and so these Christians are easily forgotten. As they are dispossessed and their families are killed, they look to us in disbelief as our western leaders concern themselves with more fashionable causes favoured by the secularist press.  Heaven forbid that we Catholics should ever forget our persecuted Christian brothers and sisters. As well as praying for them, we can also contribute financially to support them. Thanks to the generosity of our parishioners the Oratory has been supporting the charity Aid to the Church in Need, which works tirelessly to support Christians who have been driven from their own homes, and to bring their plight to the attention of the world.

         The name of that little girl who asked her family to forgive her killers in Mosul has not yet been released. Perhaps one day she will be formally canonised, along with other martyrs in the Middle East. Meanwhile, we can be confident that she is a martyr and a saint in Heaven, and in our private devotions we can ask her to pray for us. By her intercession, may we be filled with a love of the Faith which is as great as hers, and the courage to profess it with as much conviction and charity.

Fr Julian Large

June 2016 Letter from the Provost

Stockholm Syndrome is a psychological curiosity which describes a condition in which victims of oppression find themselves experiencing feelings of sympathy and even affection for their persecutors. It takes its name from a hostage situation in the capital of Sweden in 1973, when bank employees were held at gunpoint for six days. During this time they developed emotional attachments to their captors, declined to co-operate with attempts to release them and even kissed and hugged the hostage-takers when the siege ended, before going on to defend them during the trial. This sort of phenomenon is also known more broadly in the world of psychologists as “capture-bonding” and “traumatic bonding”. Apparently victims come to mistake any lack of abuse by their captors/tormentors as positive kindness. Captivity gives them an irrational sense of security and belonging, and they dread liberation into the wide world.

         Stockholm Syndrome is one of the more baffling vagaries of human nature, and it is as old as original sin. The serpent promised Eve that if she took the forbidden fruit she would be like God and would never die. Flattered by the attention, silly old Eve immediately forgot that she had already been created in the image and likeness of God and bestowed with the gift of immortality. In sinning, Adam and Eve subjected mankind to the tyranny of Satan. With our intellects clouded and the original harmony that existed between our mind, will and passions disrupted, we are easily convinced that imprisonment in vice is more fulfilling than the freedom that comes with virtue. The devil is the architect of a “Project Fear” which he uses to persuade us that slavery and darkness are preferable to freedom and light.

         We can detect an early manifestation of Stockholm Syndrome in those Jews who were reluctant to allow Moses to lead them from bondage in Egypt to a land flowing with milk and honey and who, after their release, pined for the three square meals a day with plenty of onions that they had enjoyed in captivity. In the New Testament Our Lord declares: “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” The Jews, oppressed by the pagan Roman invaders on one side and the tyranny of religious leaders who have turned the law into a crushing burden on the other, reply: “We are descendants of Abraham, and have never been in bondage to anyone.” Our Lord has to explain: “Everyone who commits a sin is a slave to sin.” It is significant that it is within this context that He makes the explosive revelation: “Before Abraham was, I am”, recalling God’s revelation of His own Name (“I Am Who Am”) when He commissioned Moses to deliver His people from bondage in Egypt.

         Spiritual Stockholm Syndrome can afflict us in many ways. In an era in which there are so many stimulants within easy reach, there are numberless addictions which can have us enslaved before we know it. The Internet offers resources which, if used prudently, can enrich our spiritual lives. At the same time, if meditation on the Gospel is substituted with the devouring of every morsel of Catholic “news”, then our hearts can soon become dungeons of despondency, cluttered with the dead bones of ecclesiastical political intrigue. We need to allow ourselves to be freed from this if we are to flourish into that for which we have been created. If we have made idols of our anxieties and fears, then we need to pray for the grace to smash them so that unfettered we can proceed in hope and joy.

         The Holy Door of this Jubilee Year of Mercy is a potent symbol of the liberation offered by the Gospel. Unburdened of the guilt of sins and refreshed with Sanctifying Grace in the Sacrament of Penance, we may also be freed from all temporal punishment due to sin by means of the indulgences attached to the Holy Door by the Sovereign Pontiff. The conditions are Confession, Holy Communion and prayers for the Pope, and we also need to pray for the grace of detachment from all sin if we are to gain a “plenary” or complete indulgence for ourselves or for a Holy Soul in Purgatory. If we have not yet taken advantage of this blessing, we should do so. Holy Doors have been erected all across the country to make it as easy as possible.

         Imaginative readers might be wondering if considerations of Stockholm Syndrome are relevant to this month’s referendum on our future relations with the E.U. The Provost would not dream of inflicting his antediluvian political views on the Catholic public. The Bishops of England and Wales have encouraged us to pray to the Holy Ghost for guidance, and have proposed a good prayer for us to use as we prepare to cast our votes:

         “Lord, grant us wisdom that we may walk with integrity, guarding the path of justice, and knowing the protection of your loving care for all. Amen”.

Fr Julian Large

May 2016 Letter from the Provost

Open our Bibles at the opening verses of Genesis, and there we find the spirit of God hovering over the very beginning of creation. Some versions of Scripture refer to this spirit as a roaring wind, others as “the power of God”. In Monsignor Ronald Knox’s 1950 translation of the Old Testament this spirit is described in evocative terms of “the breath of God” stirring over the waters of the deep.

         This image of the “breath of God” recurs in Scripture. A little further on in Genesis we are told: “the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” And in the Gospels we encounter this creative power of the breath of God in action once again, when Our Risen Lord breathes on His Apostles and says to them: “Peace be to you.... Receive my spirit.” (Jn 20:19-22)

         He breathes His Spirit on them and into them to restore them and to build them up. The Apostles had abandoned Him in His hour of greatest need, but now He brings them the peace which comes with knowing that our sins are forgiven and we are loved by God. Easter morning was brimming over with the freshness and the power of that same breath of God which hovered over the waters of the deep at the beginning of creation – a restorative, life-giving breath that brings life and courage to the soul. It is very much present and active in the world today, despite all attempts to suffocate it.

         When Our Lord breathed His spirit into the Apostles, He instructed them that He was ordaining them with a very specific mission: “Whosoever sins you remit, they are remitted. And whosoever sins you retain, they are retained.” (Jn 20:23) In this moment, we witness the institution of the Sacrament of Penance. Our Lord breathes His spirit into the Apostles so that they, the same sinners who abandoned Him during His Passion, might not only be made whole themselves, but that they might breathe the healing balm of forgiveness into the hearts of all sinners who repent and confess.

         That spirit of healing is breathed into all priests, in every generation, when they are ordained in the Sacrament of Holy Order. To sinners is given the power to forgive sins, to lift the anxiety and sense of isolation that accompanies guilt and to build up the Church. Serving in a church in the centre of a great city means that the Oratory fathers have the privilege of giving absolution to many people who might not have used the Sacrament of Penance for many years or decades. In the confessional we experience the wondrous power of God’s grace in action at close quarters, on a daily basis. Every time a penitent opens his or her heart in the Sacrament of Penance and asks for God’s forgiveness, all of the freshness of that first Easter morning is breathed into a soul, bringing health and wholeness.

         Of course, we priests go to confession ourselves, and so we realise how difficult it can be to articulate our own sins in all honesty, humility and frankness. But it is worth it, each time, to receive not only forgiveness, but to be refreshed and strengthened by the touch of the breath of God. The same breath of God is active in all of its creativeness and power in the other Sacraments. During the Holy Mass, when the priest utters the words of consecration, the stillness of the Church is filled with God’s Presence as Christ comes to the altar in His Living Body and Blood to feed us.

         In our Baptism we were each clothed with a white garment. In ancient times this robe was worn for a whole week before being taken off on the Saturday following Easter, after which the new Christians were sent out into the world in civilian dress to spread the Gospel. As the Baptismal robe of cloth was laid aside, they were admonished to treasure and guard the white robe of Sanctifying Grace with which their souls had been invested. If this white robe of grace which we receive in Baptism is cast off through mortal sin, then it is extremely urgent that it should be restored to us in the Sacrament of Penance. Without this, we cannot receive Holy Communion and we face everlasting separation from God in hell. If our sins are venial, the robe of grace remains intact, but loses its lustre. This is why all of us can benefit from immersion in the fuller’s soap that is offered in the Sacrament of Confession.

         If it is perhaps a while since we went to confession, we should resolve to do so soon, and allow the breath of God to restore us to that dazzling condition to which we were elevated in Baptism.

Fr Julian Large

April 2016 Letter from the Provost

Not long ago His Holiness Pope Francis became the first successor of St Peter ever to visit a Waldensian Temple, during a gita to Turin. On behalf of the Catholic Church, the Sovereign Pontiff requested forgiveness from the Waldensian community, descendants of a proto-Protestant movement condemned for heresy in 1215. The pontifical apology was “for the non-Christian and even inhuman attitudes and behaviour that we have showed you.” On hearing this Eugenio Bernadini, the pastor of the Waldensian community in Turin, looked pleased as Punch, and the Italian press reported with enthusiasm on the conviviality of the get-together. Some weeks later the Waldensians convened a synod at which they discussed what to make of the Pope’s gracious overture. After deliberation, the Synod replied to the Holy Father in no uncertain terms: “Dear Brother in Christ Jesus, the Synod of the Evangelical Waldensian Church accepts with deep respect and not without emotion your apology … but this new situation does not allow us to step in the place of those who testified with their blood or the other Protestants suffering for their faith, and to forgive you.”

         This withholding of forgiveness in response to the Holy Father's apology was interpreted by some Catholic commentators as churlish. However, rather than adding pressure to already bruised feelings by calling the Waldensians monumental party-poopers, perhaps we should see in their sober response a recognition of significant differences between the Catholic understanding of ‘the Church’ and non-Catholic views on ‘church’ – differences which might make it possible and meaningful for the Catholic Church to apologise for events that happened many centuries ago, but which probably make it unthinkable for denominations such as the Waldensians to offer forgiveness for inconveniences endured by their own spiritual ancestors.

         The Catholic Church identifies Herself as the Mystical Body of Christ. Enlivened by the Holy Ghost, and united on earth in every generation under the successor of St Peter, She is an organic whole in a similar way to that in which a human being is a single living unity. All of Her members who are in a state of grace are animated by the same supernatural life force infused in Baptism, and Christ is the Head of this Mystical Body. During a lifetime it is possible that all of the cells of a human body will die and be replaced several times, while we retain a continuity of memory and identity from cradle to grave, which means that we remain the same person. This explains why it is possible to prosecute and punish someone for a crime committed decades before. Cell regeneration never seems to have been accepted as a mitigating factor in a court of law. Similarly, in the Church, generations are born and die, to be replaced by new members, but the Church retains Her own memory and sense of identity because of the supernatural life that animates Her and binds Her members on earth, in Heaven and in Purgatory into a living whole. This also makes it possible for the Church to acknowledge some responsibility for the actions and words of Her members in times past.

         This understanding of the Church explains a significant difference between the act of Faith for a Catholic and for a Protestant. An old-fashioned Protestant of the best sort will tell you that he believes in Pentecost, for example, because it is recorded in the Bible. The Catholic Church, however, teaches us about Pentecost because She was there when it happened. It was her own birthday, and the festivity of it all is still fresh in Her memory, as is the fact that at the time She told Herself to make a note of it in the Scriptures that She was then in the process of writing. She teaches Our Lady’s Assumption with equal conviction. For some reason She did not get around to writing any explicit account of that event, but She remembers it and rejoices in it as if it happened yesterday.

         Leaving aside any questions about the merits of the abundance of apologies that has been proffered in recent decades, we can at least see how it is possible for a pope to apologise for actions or attitudes of certain Catholics in past centuries. One can only imagine that, in centuries to come, the appalling abuses and betrayals that have sullied the wedding garments of the Bride of Christ so nastily in our own time will furnish future popes with plenty of material for apologising. The Provost knows next to nothing about Waldensian ecclesiology, but assuming that these particular separated brethren do not share our ‘high’ understanding of the Church as Mystical Body of Christ united on earth under the successor of St Peter, we should also understand why they might feel unable to accept any apology on behalf of deceased predecessors. Rather than being ungracious, it seems that the Waldensians were just being honest, God bless them.

Fr Julian Large

March 2016 Letter from the Provost

The emotive force of the Church’s liturgy is at its most potent during the Easter Vigil. Before Mass, the atmosphere of desolation evoked by the commemoration of Our Lord’s death and burial on Good Friday still shrouds the church in pitch darkness. The kindling of the Easter fire at the entrance gives the first hint that something has stirred in the Tomb. The congregation then follows the flickering light of the Paschal candle into the church, where an awed silence is punctuated by the deacon’s threefold chant of Lumen Christi, which elicits a resounding Deo Gratias

         Meanwhile, the candles of the faithful are lit from the Paschal flame, so that light gradually spreads in every direction, carrying with it the news that Good Friday was not the end of the story. Arriving in the sanctuary, the Paschal candle is enthroned on its candelabrum, and the deacon addresses to it the ancient hymn of praise known as the Exsultet. This traces the history of God’s salvific interactions with His people, from the fall of Adam up to this “truly blessed night, worthy alone to know the time and the hour when Christ rose from the underworld”. Like the disciples whose hearts burned within them on the road to Emmaus while our Risen Lord “interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself”, we are then led lesson-by-lesson through the salient events of the Old Testament under the illumination of the Pascal candle. With these readings completed, the intonation of the Gloria in Excelsis triggers an explosion of bells, the air swells with the thundering of the organ and the building is flooded in an ocean of light. The Church can contain her joy no longer: Christ is risen; death has been conquered.

         Mindful of the transformative effect of the Resurrection on the disciples, the Church’s aim is that, through her liturgy, each of us should be brought to a personal encounter with our Risen Lord. On Good Friday we see the Apostles and many of the disciples dispersing in terror as the religious and political authorities combine forces to destroy the Messiah. St Mark is so desperate to flee the Garden of Gethsemane when the soldiers arrive that he leaves behind his clothes and disappears naked into the night. Enheartened and grace-filled after the Resurrection, however, St Mark would go on to found the Church in Alexandria, where according to tradition he so rattled the pagans with his fearless preaching that they put a rope around his neck and dragged him through the streets until he was dead. There is no record of him trying to run away on that occasion. Meanwhile, St Peter, who in the Gospels is so often found trying to deflect Our Lord from the way of the Cross, would open wide his own arms to be crucified in Rome.

         When self-doubt troubles us, we might be tempted to tell ourselves that these disciples enjoyed the obvious benefit of the physical presence of our Risen Lord, while all we have to go on is testimony, which is not the same. This is to underestimate the nature and the power of the Church’s sacramental life. The purpose of the liturgy is not merely to stir up emotions using the drama of finely choreographed theatre. The baptismal water blessed at the Vigil has been invested with the power to transform us just as radically as the experience of the Resurrection changed the disciples. At the font we are truly united with Our Lord’s death and burial, so that we emerge overflowing with His Risen Life. In the Sacrament of Penance we are raised up from the death of sins committed since baptism, and restored to the freshness of life eternal. In the Holy Mass we offer ourselves with the sacrificial gifts of bread and wine, so that when they are in turn transformed into His Body and Blood, we are united mystically with His self-oblation on Calvary. It is then in Holy Communion that we are given the most sublime and transformative encounter with the Resurrection, when He feeds us with His risen living body.

         Challenged by secularisation and other menaces within our society, it can be a temptation for Catholics to retreat from engagement with the world, and to live the faith ever more privately, in the hope of being left in peace. The example of the disciples after the Resurrection should save us from such defeatism. The Apostles who had previously huddled behind locked doors “for fear of the Jews” walked voluntarily back into the lion’s den, preaching the Gospel daily in the Temple, gaining many converts, and accepting the consequences in the knowledge that life in Christ has the last word over persecution and death. Transformed by our own encounters with our Risen Lord in this Easter’s liturgy, may we be similarly emboldened.

Fr Julian Large

February 2016 Letter from the Provost

In The Great Divorce, a short allegorical short novel dealing with the soul’s entry into eternity, C. S. Lewis describes an extraordinary scene. Approaching in a procession, a woman is preceded by luminous spirits who scatter flowers, and she is surrounded by boys and girls. The narrator explains that if only he could write down the notes of the musical setting that accompany their song, “no man who ever read that score would ever grow sick or old.” As the woman comes closer, he realizes that she seems to be clothed “in the almost visible penumbra of her courtesy and joy which produces […] the illusion of a great and shining train that accompanied her across the happy grass.” Dazzled by her “unbearable beauty”, and awe-struck by the thousand liveried angels who accompany her, the narrator asks his guide: “Is it? … is it?”

         Reading thus far the Provost assumed, perhaps with the narrator, that this magnificent woman could surely only be one person: the Queen of Heaven. But the response that the narrator receives from his guide reveals an even more wonderful truth: on earth, this regal figure was in fact one Sarah Smith, who lived in Golders Green. Extraordinary in Heaven, her earthly life could not have been more ordinary, at least as far as outward appearances went. The young men and women who accompany her are the children whose lives were enhanced by her kindness, including the butcher’s boy who carried meat to her back door. She had become a mother to them in such a way that “they went back to their natural parents loving them more.” Taking in the scene, the narrator is then taken aback when he realizes the retinue includes scores of animals. “Did she keep a sort of zoo?” he asks. The answer: “Every beast and bird that came near her had its place in her love. In her they became themselves. And now the abundance of life she has in Christ from the Father flows over into them […] there is joy enough in the little finger of a great saint such as yonder lady to waken all the dead things of the universe to life.”

         Lewis illustrates a truth which provides rich material for meditation: that behind the veneer of everyday appearances, there exists the vast and extraordinary universe of the spiritual and the supernatural. Because this realm remains invisible to the naked eye, it is quite possible that our vision never extends beyond the world of shadows and semi-blindness that presents itself to our senses. To penetrate the surface and to begin to see reality in its fullness, we need Faith.

         As part of His sacred mission to redeem mankind, Our Lord laid aside His glory. He did this so successfully that many thought that the carpenter’s son from Nazareth must be mad to believe that anyone would accept Him as the Son of God. On the Gospel appointed for the Second Sunday of Lent, however, we see how He revealed a glimpse of His true glory to Peter, James and John, in His Transfiguration on Mount Tabor. This vision of the Messiah radiating brilliant light and talking with Moses and Elias while the Father’s voice declares from Heaven “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear ye Him” (Mt 17:5), was perhaps given to encourage and sustain these three chosen disciples through the terrible trials that will follow during in His Passion. It also serves the purpose of sustaining us in Lent, reminding us that the end of our Lenten observances is glory – both in beholding the glory of the Beatific Vision in Heaven, and in participating in that glory now.

         The season of Lent provides us with the practical means to readjust our vision. In fasting, we temper the tyranny of our appetites, which so easily blind us to the spiritual realities that lie beyond the reach of our senses. In self-denial, we unite ourselves with Our Lord’s sacrifice on the Cross, and we die to ourselves, so that the supernatural life of the Resurrection which was poured into us in Baptism might take ever greater possession of our hearts and souls. In almsgiving and works of charity, we remind ourselves that our neighbour bears the image of God on his soul, so that in ministering to the needy we pay great honour to God Himself. In deepening our prayer life, we widen the channels of communication, so that God is able to communicate His Divine Life to us in abundance.

         If we are not careful, our vision can become permanently fixed on what is happening in front of us, so that the more significant background becomes so blurred that it disappears, and we end up living in a world of unreality or half-reality. Lent is the perfect opportunity to adjust the focus. If we make the most of this holy season then, with God’s grace, we shall be able to participate in a marvellous way in the glory of Our Lord’s Resurrection on Easter Sunday.

Fr Julian Large

January 2016 Letter from the Provost

On the Feast of Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception, the Sovereign Pontiff opened the Holy Door of St Peter’s Basilica. The unsealing of the Holy Door is a potent symbol of the opening of a Year of Jubilee, when God’s mercy flows in torrents in the form of Holy Indulgences and graces merited from pilgrimages to the Holy City and any of the great number of churches around the world which have been granted a Holy Door of their own. This Jubilee Year has actually been designated as a "Year of Mercy". At an official press conference in Rome, Archbishop Rino Fisichella outlined the purpose of 800 "Missionaries of Mercy", who have been granted extraordinary faculties to forgive sins which are normally reserved to the Holy See. As Archbishop Fisichella listed these ‘reserved sins’, it was sobering to note that most of the most heinous crimes in the book are specifically clerical offenses: they consist of priests absolving accomplices in sins against the Sixth Commandment, bishops consecrating new bishops without papal mandate, and priests breaking the seal of the Sacrament of Penance, as well as profanation of the Blessed Sacrament and physical violence against the Roman Pontiff. Meanwhile, the Holy Father gave an interview in which he promised that he will himself engage in a concrete “work of mercy” initiative on one Friday each month for the next year. One deed already accomplished has been his personal decree allowing priests of the Society of Pius X to grant absolution in Confession.

         We might ask why a "Year of Mercy" should be necessary. After all, any Catholic with a half decent knowledge of history knows that, despite the disinformation nurtured by centuries of anti-Catholic propaganda, the Church has been a witness to and a dispenser of God’s mercy for two millennia. Recent experience of themed years in the Church’s calendar might also have left us feeling less than enthusiastic. A Year of Faith was proclaimed with great promise in October 2012, and then flopped like a failed soufflé a few months later when the oven door was opened during the baking process and Pope Benedict XVI announced his abdication.

         If this is how we been feeling, then we should pray to the Holy Ghost that such negative sentiments be banished far from our hearts and replaced with some evangelical zeal. We have entered a brutal period of history, when the world is groaning for healing. There is a sense of hopelessness abroad, and there are signs of a growing acknowledgment of the fact that our society has lost its way. In these increasingly desperate circumstances, the Church’s Gospel of charity and mercy is a good brand. It has potential to capture the imagination of people who are bewildered and anxious. Besides this, the Gospels convey a sense that, as long as we keep in mind that sin is the greatest of evils, mercy really cannot be emphasized too much. Those who provoked Our Lord’s wrath were the unmerciful, and especially those of the unmerciful who held office in the religious hierarchy.

         Of course, every Holy Year is really a year of mercy. The word ‘Jubilee’ is believed to have its root in the Hebrew jobel, denoting the ram’s horn whose sounding summoned the ancient Israelites to a holy year in which debts would be remitted, slaves liberated and prisoners released.

         The fact that a major aspect of a Christian Jubilee Year is the promotion of the Plenary Indulgence which can be gained every day of the year reminds us that we are able to act as instruments of God’s mercy to the Holy Souls in Purgatory, who are liberated from the suffering of Purgatory by means of our prayers and sacrifices. For the current Jubilee the Holy Father has decreed that the Plenary Indulgence is attached to prison chapels, and has exhorted prisoners to raise their hearts and minds to God every time they cross the threshold of their cells because the mercy of God “is also able to transform bars into an experience of freedom”. The housebound, sick and elderly may obtain the Indulgence through uniting themselves with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on television or radio.

         To understand what is meant by mercy, we need to have some grasp of the nature of sin. The primary aspect of sin is that it is an offense against God’s majesty, and in justice it deserves punishment. A secondary aspect of sin is the damaging effect that it has on the soul. Many modern people have difficulty in reconciling the first aspect with their belief in a loving God, while the second aspect seems more accessible as an idea. We can take heart in the realization that, while the Pharisees were fixated on the first aspect and were all too eager to participate in the application of punishment, Our Lord showed Himself to be more concerned with the second. In the accounts of his dealings with sinners in the Gospels, He treats sin as an obstacle to be removed so that the image of God in a person’s soul may be burnished into a gleaming supernatural likeness. Thus liberated and enlivened, a person will soon come to see for himself the evil of sin, without anyone having constantly to make it the major topic of conversation.

         In this Holy Year of Mercy, we should be merciful with ourselves by making good use of the Sacrament of Penance, so that filled to overflowing with the Sanctifying Grace that was first infused into us in Baptism, we are re-energised in our mission to build the Kingdom of Heaven on this earth. Share the Gospel of Divine Love with our family and acquaintances, by talking with them about the blessings on offer in this extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. Maybe ask a lapsed Catholic friend to accompany us on a pilgrimage to a church with a Holy Door in our local diocese, and on arrival gently encourage our companion to join us in the line for Confession. May God’s mercy abound in our lives in 2016 and beyond.

Fr Julian Large