September 2018 Letter from the Provost

September 2018 Letter from the Provost

As a former Fleet Street hack, I was asked soon after my studies for the priesthood had begun: “Wasn’t that an extraordinary change, going from journalism to the cloth?” The temptation was to answer: “Yes, in some ways leaving the gossip column to become a Catholic priest felt like abandoning a mildly disdained occupation to join what many of one’s contemporaries believe to be a criminal organisation.” That was five years previous to the explosion of revelations of sexual abuse within the archdiocese of Boston, and a full two decades before the new disclosures of  gross betrayal of trust and abuse of authority which have been shaking the Church on earth to Her foundations in recent weeks.

Fleet Street was not exactly a saint factory. But the transgressions one was likely to encounter there – heavy drinking, professional jealousy, and other indiscretions which are not so hard to guess – were generally of the variety that can be attributed to the frailty of fallen human nature. In contrast to this, the recent Grand Jury report on sexual abuse in America details events of such wickedness and depravity as to leave the most cynical tabloid reporter shaken.

All of this can only be disheartening for anyone who loves the Church. That pastors who have been ordained to be the living image of Our Lord and Saviour on earth could deliberately do such harm to those little ones whose angels behold the face of their Father in Heaven defies words. The resulting crisis of credibility which has hobbled the Church’s mission of evangelisation in recent decades can only have been exacerbated wherever the institutional response has been to issue defensive official statements crafted by expensive lawyers and spin doctors. With the latest revelations, and the promise of worse to come, the Church has experienced a paradigm shift in which PR-speak has lost any power it might once have had to reassure.

The Church is not a criminal organisation. Yes, history furnishes us with examples of clericalist mafias of various types which have managed to hijack Her hierarchical structures in the service of their own agendas. It was the Oratory’s own Baronius who coined the phrase saeculum obscurum (dark age) to describe the corrupt papacies of the tenth century which later Protestant historians would label “the Pornocracy”. Despite the transgressions of Her members, however, the Catholic Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, founded by Our Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation of mankind. She is where we find saving truth in its fullness, and where we encounter Our Lord in the Sacraments and receive Him in His entirety in Holy Communion. A supernatural field hospital in which our sins are forgiven and the wounds that they inflict on our souls are healed, She also produces saints today – among those laity and religious who devote their lives to the poorest of the poor, among priests who give their lives sacrificially for the salvation of their parishioners’ souls, among bishops who in some parts of the world risk their lives daily in the service of their flocks, and among all those “ordinary” Catholics who live the Beatitudes heroically from day to day.

After Our Lord scandalised the Jews by insisting that He is the Bread of Life and that we must eat and drink His flesh and blood if we are to have eternal life, His disciples left Him in droves. He turned to the twelve Apostles and asked “Will you also go away?” Peter replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we have believed and have known, that thou art the Christ, the Son of God.” If we now begin to witness a new exodus of members from the Church in response to revelations of dreadful scandals, we need to keep these words of the fisherman inscribed on our hearts. We must hold tight to the Faith – not some counterfeit version of ambiguities and compromises as peddled by the compromised, but the Catholic Faith in its fullness, as handed down from the Apostles and believed and lived by the Saints. If you find that current events have made you doubt your own place in the Church, please find a priest whom you trust and open your heart to him.

The chastisement which it seems the Church on earth must endure for Her renewal is a most urgent call to sanctity to each one of us. A body is only as healthy as its individual parts. As living members of the Mystical Body of Christ, we contribute to Her health by responding to that call more generously and lovingly. Any hope of restoration of the Church’s credibility in our time rests on a living witness to our Catholic Faith, which means living in charity and devoting ourselves ever more wholeheartedly to the service of the most needy and vulnerable in our society. At the Oratory, we have various study groups to encourage parishioners to deepen their understanding of the Faith. What brings our community and parish to life, however, is the active witness to Our Lord’s redeeming love that we show in the support we give to the disadvantaged, and the hope we bring to the lost. So this is a challenge to us. One initiative for which we are grateful is the Wilfrid Faber Counselling Service, which provides support from trained counselors at the Oratory on a charitable basis, supporting the priestly work that the fathers are supposed to be doing here. Among those who find support from this valuable resource are victims of abuse.

We should pray for the victims of those shepherds who have turned out to be wolves. The consequences of this betrayal include ruined lives of isolation, sustained anguish and sometimes suicide. May they encounter the healing presence of Our loving Saviour from which they were driven by pastors who were demons in disguise. We must also commit ourselves to reparation. These sins cry to Heaven for vengeance, and we cannot know what torments they added to Our Lord’s Passion. This is a time for much prayer, fasting, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and Masses of reparation. Let us also take up the prayer to the St Michael the Archangel, whose feast we celebrate this month, for the restoration of Christ’s wounded Church, and for the protection of the innocent:

Holy Michael, the Archangel, defend us in the day of battle. Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do you, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the wicked spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen

Fr Julian Large

August 2018 Letter from the Provost

August 2018 Letter from the Provost

The month of August is bathed in the glorious rays of Our Lady’s Assumption into Heaven. This doctrine of the Faith was only given the official seal of dogmatic infallibility sixty seven years ago by Pope Pius XII. But the definition enshrined in Munificentissimus Deus, which was proclaimed at St Peter’s with all the splendour and majesty of the old papal ceremonies on 1st November 1950, was really a formality. It was the definitive recognition of a belief that Christians had held since the beginning. The Church was proclaiming that the Blessed Virgin’s Assumption had always been part of Her memory of events and belongs to the Deposit of Faith which was entrusted to the Apostles.

We have been given many ways of describing the Church, each of which helps us to understand a different aspect of Her nature and mission. She is the Barque of Peter, the divinely appointed vessel of salvation traversing the stormy seas of history throughout the ages, with the successors of the fisherman at Her helm. She is the Bride of Christ, born from Our Lord’s pierced side on the Cross just as Eve was formed from the side of Adam as he slept in the garden. She is united indissolubly to Her Divine Spouse and waits to greet Him when He returns to earth in Glory at the end of time. She is also the Mystical Body of Christ, into which we are incorporated as living members in our Baptism. Christ is the head of this Body, and from this head flows the supernatural life which unites us into a single whole, just as the soul which is the principle of life unites and animates all of the parts which form a single living organism.

By the time you have finished this sentence, around fifty million of the cells of your body will have died and been replaced (or so the trusting Provost read recently in a scientific journal). The truth is that our cells are dying and being replaced all the time, and yet we retain a continuity of memory and identity throughout a lifetime. Similarly, as the centuries roll on, generations of Catholics die and are replaced within the Church on earth, while all the time the Church retains Her own continuity of memory and identity. This means that when a dogma is proclaimed, She is not teaching anything new. All She is saying is that She was there when Our Lady was taken into Heaven, that She witnessed it happening through the eyes of the Apostles and that She has treasured that precious memory ever since. Dogmas are proclaimed with papal authority in order to clarify confusion and confute error, and, for the edification of the faithful and the glory of God, to ensure and promote authentic devotion to the Mysteries of salvation.

This is certainly not to say that the magnificent promulgation of Munificentissmus Deus was essentially a ‘non-event’. Heaven forbid. In an increasingly sceptical world it shot like a bolt of divine lightning across the firmament. In an age when Christians might be tempted to reduce the role of the Church to social activism, the solemn declaration of the Assumption is a powerful reminder of the profoundly supernatural character of our religion. It raises our hearts and mind to Heaven. Our Lady’s Assumption body and soul into that realm of everlasting bliss, where She reigns as Queen over the Angels and Saints, also brings Heaven much closer to us. If after the Resurrection and Ascension of Our Lord we were left in any doubt about the final destination of our own human bodies, the Blessed Virgin’s Assumption must dispel any doubt. Bodies do not just exist in a state, they exist in a place. In Heaven there are already two bodies that we know of, Our Lord’s and Our Lady’s. This makes Heaven a real place. And there is place there for our bodies as well as our souls.

The Immaculate Virgin is the New Eve because the obedience of Her fiat to the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation ushers in the invincible reversal of the dreadful consequences of Eve’s disobedience when she consented to the temptation of a fallen angel. Death is the result of Adam and Eve’s sin. The Incarnate Word, conceived in Our Lady’s womb at the moment when She uttered the words “Be it done unto me according to Thy word”, has overcome death in His Resurrection, and with the promised reunion of our souls and bodies at the end of time will come the fullness of salvation.

Our Lady’s Assumption has sublime implications for us then, and also for the Church as a whole. The Church on earth is called the Church Militant because we must constantly struggle against temptation and sin in our own hearts and against evils in the world around us. At times it might seem that evil is gaining ground, both because of our own failures and due to public scandals within the Church which inflict horrific damage on Her credibility and mission. The Assumption points us to that glorious moment when the Church Militant on Earth will be perfected and glorified as She is subsumed into the Church Triumphant in Heaven. Meanwhile, we ask the intercession of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven to help us in the task of beautifying the robes of the Bride of Christ with our virtues.

Fr Julian Large

July 2018 Letter from the Provost

July 2018 Letter from the Provost

Very early in Holy Scripture we are confronted with the presence of an evil personality, Satan, who comes to Eve in the form of a serpent. His appearance strikes a discordant note after an account which assures us of the intrinsic wholesomeness of the universe. Genesis informs us that at the end of each day of creation, God surveyed His work and “saw that it was good” (Gen 1). It is only as the Scriptures unfold that we learn that Satan belongs to a faction of an angelic order which, made in the image of God and blessed magnificently with Sanctifying Grace, had forfeited friendship with the Creator through an abuse of freedom of choice and an act of rebellion.

In the New Testament, Our Lord identifies the devil as “a murderer from the beginning” and the “father of lies” (Jn 8.44). We see how the devil earned this title in his first engagement with the human race, promising Eve that if only she and Adam would disobey God’s command not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, then they would never die and would be like gods. Silly Eve forgets that she and Adam have already been blessed with immortality and that, being in a state of grace, they possess a supernatural likeness to God Who has shared His own divine life with them. In other words, the devil’s intention is to deprive the human race of the very goods which he is promising them. And because they prefer the word of the serpent over the promises of God, man falls from grace and sickness and no end of suffering become part of human existence.

A terrible and radical consequence of that original sin is death, in which man’s body returns to decay in the dust from which he was created and his soul becomes a disembodied entity. This is really a violation of what we human beings are at the most essential level of our being. In tempting us to sin, the devil achieves his aim of disfiguring the image of God which is emblazoned on our souls, spoiling God’s plan for our immortality and depriving us of the Sanctifying Grace which the devil threw away for himself forever.

Mercifully for us, this was not to be the end of the story. While the third chapter of Genesis deals with the calamitous fall of man, the rest of Holy Scripture is the account of God’s rescue plan. It culminates in a revelation of God’s love for mankind which confounds all intellectual powers of comprehension, with the God of all transcendence uniting Himself with our frail human flesh in the Incarnation, with God the Son opening His arms wide on the Cross to receive us into the harbour of His Sacred Heart, with His death, Resurrection and Ascension body and soul into Heaven. He leaves this earth in His visible form with the assurance that He remains with us in His Church, and with the promise that He will return in majesty and power to judge the living and the dead, when our bodies will be raised from the earth to be reunited with our souls in eternity (His desire is for this to be in Heaven and he will give us all the means needed to achieve this, but He respects our freedom and so our ultimate destination will depend on the choices we make now). The best news of all is that our Creator’s plan is for us to enjoy an existence more sublimely joyful and fulfilling than anything experienced by Adam and Eve in Paradise. And the King of Kings has established the beginnings of the Kingdom of Heaven already on earth, with the Beatitudes as the charter for making it a reality around us now.

A happy ending then. However, that sin of our first parents gave to Satan an entrée into human society, and anyone with eyes to see will recognize that the devil is all too present and all too active in the world around us. Our societies seem to facilitate his increase whenever they enact legislation which violates the very laws which God has written into human nature and which He gave to Moses amid thunder and lightning on Mount Sinai, and wherever oppression of the most needy and vulnerable, such as the unborn, becomes institutionalized.

We must never forget that Satan is the father of lies. His intention is always to deprive us of the very goods which he promises us. He betrays his hand most obviously in conflicts between nations and in the degradations and miseries that accompany war. More subtle than all the beasts of the earth, however, he also acts insidiously within our ostensibly civilized institutions. He undermines the family and the education of the young in the name of equality and diversity. He convinces us that the only way of exercising responsible stewardship of our planet is by means of essentially misanthropic programmes of population control enforced through contraception and abortion. He promises us happiness if only we learn to be spiritual without being religious, knowing full well that authentic Catholic religion is the means that God has granted us to share in His divine life now and to enjoy perfect happiness in Heaven for eternity. The devil, by the way, is the ultimate personification of one who is “spiritual but not religious”. As a fallen angel he is pure spirit, but He refuses to genuflect before the Word made Flesh Who makes Himself present on the Altar at Holy Mass. As the father of lies he is quite capable of assuming the guise of humility and meekness in order to fool us, but he has made himself incapable of obedience to God’s commandments. In addition to tempting us as individuals, we can be sure that he also tempts the Church to abandon the Gospel of salvation through the way of the Cross in favour of political posturing, just as he tempted Our Lord and Saviour in the wilderness. His proposals for enlightenment, freedom and quality of life conceal his malicious agenda to ensnare us in a reign of darkness, enslavement and the culture of death.

Ultimately, however, the devil can only be as powerful in our lives as we allow him to be. Compared with the might and omnipotence of the Holy Spirit, he is miserably puny. Next to the beauty and splendour of the Holy Angels, he and his army of renegade demons are as dismal little germs. However, just as a minute bacteria can cause havoc in our body if it gains entry through some abrasion or ingestion, so may the devil bring ruin to our soul if we allow ourselves to flirt with his beguiling promises in preference to the word of God. He may even take possession of us if we are foolish enough to open the doors of our hearts to him by dabbling in the occult. Any exorcist will tell us that fortune telling, Ouija boards and other forms of esoteric divining are like an open invitation to those elements of the spiritual realm with which we would not wish to have any contact if only we saw them in their ugliness.

In our Baptism, we have been claimed for Christ, and restored to that supernatural likeness to God which was forfeited to the human race by the sin of Adam and Eve. The devil’s burning ambition is to deprive us of this Sanctifying Grace by means of mortal sin. After Baptism, the Sacrament of Penance is the most mighty weapon that Our Lord has provided to liberate us from the power of our enemy, along with devout reception of Holy Communion, always in a state of grace. Pray daily to St Michael and the Holy Angels, before whom demons tremble and flee. In our morning offering, invite our holy Guardian Angels to read the innermost secrets of our hearts to give them the advantage over our spiritual adversaries who have not been granted such a prerogative. Best of all, we are blessed with the loving care of a Mother in Heaven, the Second Eve Whose Immaculate Conception and whose fiat to St Gabriel at the Annunciation mark decisive victories in the invincible reversal of the consequences of the Fall. Ask Her to protect us always, keeping us close to Her like little children within the folds of Her garments. This most meek and gentle handmaid of the Lord fights with the ferocity of a tiger to protect Her young ones from predators and to bring us back to safety whenever we stray. Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, pray to Jesus for us. Holy Michael, Archangel, defend us in the day of battle.

Fr Julian Large

June 2018 Letter from the Provost

June 2018 Letter from the Provost

Last month the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York held an annual knees-up to raise money for its costume collection. Tickets for the event reportedly cost $30,000, and tables $250,000, and the publicity department is tasked with thinking up cautiously ‘controversial’ themes which will titillate fashion-correspondents without triggering the disapproval of the politically correct. This year’s was “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination.” Outfits at the fancy dress party included a predictable rag-bag of angel wings, plastic pontifical rings and heavily-apparelled copes. One entertainer managed to balance a whole Nativity set on her head, and another announced that she had come as the Final Judgment scene from the Sistine Chapel. The media the following morning was particularly taken with a female performer who tottered up the museum’s imposing staircase wearing a shimmering mini dress and a precious-looking baroque mitre described by press agencies as a “pope hat”.

Inevitably, the Provost’s breakfast was interrupted by a telephone call from a reporter asking if the Oratory fathers were offended by a public spectacle of such irreverence. Having explained that most of the fathers had probably never heard of the Met Gala Party, he begged permission to finish his toast and promised to think of something to say as the morning went on. If the journalist had been hoping to hear an explosion of spluttering indignation as lime marmalade went down the wrong way at this end of the telephone line then she must have been disappointed, and she never bothered to ring back for a sound bite.

It wasn’t that the Provost did not try his very best to formulate a protest. He reminded himself that the Holy Mass is the foundation stone of Christian civilisation, and for billions of us around the globe the most sacred event that takes place upon this earth. Parodying the vestments of the altar in what is supposed to be a temple of high culture must surely count as “inappropriate” if anything does. And certainly there was something pitiable about the spectacle of people who like to think of themselves as rather cosmopolitan and sophisticated making themselves look so ignorant and boorish. One could easily imagine these aristocrats of popular culture all shaking their expensively-coiffured heads in solemn accord about the brashness of a certain world leader, without having stopped for a single moment to reflect on the vulgarity of an occasion into which they had seen fit to thrown themselves with such abandon.

The truth, however, is that the Catholic religion does not really ‘do’ taking offence. Perhaps this makes us quaint in a modern culture in which ‘safe-spaces’ and ‘no-platforming’ have become de rigueur, but Our Lord’s injunction to turn the other cheek, and the example of those heroes of the Faith like our holy father St Philip who refused to take themselves very seriously, mean that while sticks and stones might break our bones, name-calling and mockery do not generally have the power to provoke us to fits of outrage. Certainly it can be argued that when Our Lord saw the Temple defiled he made a whip and sent the money changers flying, but the fact that in the new dispensation we are all made living temples of the Holy Ghost through Baptism means that most Christians today probably understand that event in the Gospel primarily in terms of self purification with the assistance of God’s Grace.

It is of course possible that the Met’s PR team was hoping to stir up a publicity storm by inciting wild-eyed fanatics to rain down threatening condemnations on the editor of Vogue magazine. If this was the case, they obviously picked the wrong religion. The reaction of a practising Catholic is more likely to be the not so newsworthy response of patience and prayer. While acknowledging the crassness of the occasion, we cannot read the inner secrets of the hearts of the organisers and participants and would not wish to judge their motives as malicious. We can pray for all involved. Perhaps the realisation that they have so publicly associated themselves with such a massive style-fail will help them to take themselves a little less seriously. A good dose of humility is a necessary mix in the foundations for the blessings God wishes to build in all of our lives.

At the London Oratory we still use the traditional style of vestments which largely inspired the costumes at that party. Some of the older sets were bought with generous donations from Irish immigrants who were fleeing famine in the 1850s. Threadbare after centuries of use and therefore of negligible monetary value, they are nevertheless very much part of what St Philip called “the patrimony of the poor.” Worshipping God in such beauty and solemnity at the altar, we should pause to ask ourselves how much we do as a community and a parish to honour Him in the most needy in our city today. If we were neglecting this essential part of the Christian mission it would mean that our use of splendid vestments and vessels in church was at least as grotesque and potentially more offensive to Almighty God than anything on display at that Metropolitan Museum fancy dress party. Examining our consciences regularly and carefully, we shall probably find there is always much room for improvement.

Fr Julian Large

May 2018 Letter from the Provost

May 2018 Letter from the Provost

Reading the newspapers, even (perhaps especially) some of the Catholic ones, we could easily end up thinking that the Catholic religion is all about issues. Can women be priests? Should the Church give Her blessing to the use of artificial birth control? Should the divorced and remarried be allowed to receive Holy Communion?

          These are all matters of importance. If the Church is to be faithful to Her identity as the pillar and foundation of Truth, (1 Tim 3.15) then Her teaching must always be continuous and consistent with principles that She has upheld and taught since the age of the Apostles. However, these particular questions have already been settled long ago. In that sense they are non-issues and a woeful diversion of energy. If we allow the orchestrated controversies that are being fabricated around them to become the main focus of our engagement with the Faith, then how shallow and how impoverished our spiritual lives must become. It will mean that we have allowed the media, and those whitewashed sepulchres who use the media to peddle their own agenda of confusion and division, to set the narrative for our lives as disciples. What ineffective and useless disciples we shall then become, and how sad for us that we shall never experience that Christian joy and the serenity of heart which Our Lord promises to us when He says “Peace I leave you, my peace I give to you” (Jn 14.27) – a promise repeated at every Mass, between the Consecration and Holy Communion.

          In the Gospels we see how the disciples were thrown into turmoil by the crucifixion. Shattered by the terrible events of Good Friday, they were fearful and confused. Even when Our Risen Lord appeared in their midst, they thought that they must be seeing a ghost. But when He showed them His hands and His feet, and the truth of what had really happened began to sink in, then their joy was so overwhelming that they were dumfounded. After eating a piece of fish before their eyes, He then explained to them how – if only they had been listening at the time – He had already told them while He was with them that He must be put to death before rising from the dead.

          The disciples had been so taken up by events that they had not really listened to the word of God even when the Word Himself had lived with them and taught them. But their experience of the Resurrection would change all of this. From then on the Apostles would be anchored in their Risen Lord, and the serenity, courage and joy this gave to them meant that, having been huddled together behind locked doors for fear of the Jews, they would now go boldly into the lion’s den itself to proclaim in the Temple, of all places, the good news that Christ was risen. Neither the furies of the Synagogue nor the steel and might of the Roman Empire would daunt them.

          We, like the Apostles, have the benefit of experiencing the Resurrection. We have experienced it first hand in Baptism, when we were raised from spiritual death and made temples of the Holy Ghost. We experience it in the Sacrament of Penance which lifts us from our sins and restores us to the life of grace. Above all, we experience it in Holy Communion, where we encounter Our Risen Lord and He feeds us with His living Body.

          In the Acts of the Apostles, we read about St Peter going into the thick of the lion’s den, and preaching the Resurrection to the Jews in the Temple. He does not hesitate to accuse them: “It was you who accused the Holy One, the Just One, you who demanded the reprieve of a murderer while you killed the Prince of Life.” But Peter concedes: “You did not know what you were really doing.” (Acts 3.13-17) In other words, the Jews who had called for the release of Barabbas and the death of the Saviour had been the victims of a fake news campaign, whipped up by leaders and their spin-doctors whose motivation was anything but spiritual. Those priests could probably have recited the verses of the Scriptures by rote, but their politicking and worldliness had made the word of God a dead letter to them. Rather than penetrating into their hearts and souls and transforming them, the Scriptures had become a tool to be wielded in the service of human power and status. No doubt the people had listened to the reading of the Scriptures in their synagogues just as we listen to them at Mass. But their interest in them had remained superficial, and so they were easily hoodwinked and manipulated into committing the most terrible crime.

          Where do we look for truth? In our own time, a culture of political spin and prevarication has created a severe crisis of credibility in public life, to such an extent that this age in which we are living has been called the post truth era. We are overwhelmed with conflicting information from all directions, but where, and to whom, should we go for the truth? If we are looking for the truth that brings us serenity of heart, then the best place to look is probably not in the newspapers, or on the internet or television. We shall most certainly find it in abundance in the Gospel. The disciples on the road to Emmaus were despondent. They had seen the one whom they had thought would be the Saviour of Israel denounced as a rebel by the same fickle crowd that only days before had welcomed Him as a hero. But when Our Lord joined them on the road and began to open the meaning of the Scriptures to them, then their hearts began to burn within them. They knew that this was no fake news. It was the real thing. Their lives were transformed by it.

          We must ask Our Lord to open the Scriptures to us. We need to put down our newspapers and turn away from our television and computer screens. We need to place ourselves in His presence and to sit down and read in a reflective and prayerful way the life-giving words of Holy Scripture. A good place to start, to keep the power and joy of Easter ever fresh in our hearts, is in the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection, and the Acts of the Apostles. No fake news there. Just the pure life-giving and liberating words of Divine Truth. The more we allow this Truth to penetrate our hearts, the freer we shall become from the tyranny of spin and emotionalism which spawn so much turmoil in our society and can create a frenetic atmosphere within the Church.

          Having experienced the Resurrection in Baptism, may we always be anchored, like the Apostles, in Our Risen Lord. We must not allow the controversies and acrimonious debates that fly around us to be a distraction from the business of getting to know Him better, and giving Him room to speak in our hearts, and cultivating the quietness that will enable us to listen to Him. The Blessed Virgin, who “kept these things and pondered them in Her heart” (Lk 2.19) and Who remained united with Her Son during His Passion while others fled, is our model of the contemplative reading of the Scriptures.  Our holy father St Philip, whose apostolate coincided with a period of violent upheavals within Christendom, is our model of Christian joy throughout adversity.

          Let us pray for peace in the world, and peace in the Church. Let us ask Our Lady and St Philip, during this their month of May, to gain for us ever greater peace of heart, so that we might be more effective disciples.

Fr Julian Large

April 2018 Letter from the Provost

April 2018 Letter from the Provost

Since the earliest days in the catacombs, no image of Our Lord has appealed more powerfully to the Christian imagination than that of the shepherd – the good and gentle shepherd who guards and guides his sheep and eventually gives his life for them. To the Jews, this is also an image loaded with significance. From Moses feeding his flock when he came across the burning bush to David tending his sheep in the wilderness and the Prophet Ezekiel upbraiding the leaders of the Jewish people under the image of faithless shepherds who neglected their duties, the Old Testament is full of shepherds and shepherding. “The Lord is my shepherd, therefore shall I lack nothing” (Ps 22.1) is one of the most popular verses in the Psalms for both Christians and Jews, and it establishes the idea of a divine shepherd. When Our Lord identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd, and even calls Himself the gate of the sheepfold, (Jn 10) the implication is that He is not just one in a line of shepherds. The Good Shepherd is no mere divine employee: this Shepherd is God Himself.

          We, meanwhile, are not just some faceless flock. Our Shepherd calls each one of us by name. His gaze penetrates to the most hidden corners of our hearts. He knows our needs better than we can ever know them ourselves. We have a shepherd who is tireless in His efforts to bring us back into the sheepfold whenever we look like straying. The pastures where He leads us are the freshest and richest, and nutritious beyond imagination. He not only guides us with a steady hand, but He speaks to us, whispering to our hearts through the voice of the conscience. But the Good Shepherd does not leave us subject to the uncertainty of interior voices. Our wellbeing is far too important to Him for that, and His methods are always perfectly suited to our needs. He has therefore appointed the different offices of His Church’s hierarchy to participate in the shepherding of His flock. To Peter and his successors as popes He has given the office of chief shepherd on earth, with overall responsibility for the welfare of the flock and for ensuring the continuity of the Deposit of Faith entrusted to the Apostles. To the bishops in communion with the Supreme Pontiff He has given the task of teaching the flock and guarding the sheep from the spiritual wolves that threaten their destruction. As for the feeding of His flock, He has commissioned His priests with the administering of the Blessed Sacrament.

          We should be grateful that, down the ages, the Church has been blessed with countless dedicated and holy pastors – many of whom have given their lives for the flocks when it came to the crunch. At this very moment there are valiant shepherds enduring persecution and imprisonment in places like China and parts of the Middle East. The wolves that we must face today are many and varied. In some places the flock is hounded by communist police. In our own part of the world the threat comes more from the ever-extending tentacles of crackpot ideologies, and heresies which threaten to contaminate the life-saving milk of Catholic doctrine with deadly poison.

          This means that we need always to pray that God will bless His Church with good shepherds – bishops and priests who would shed their blood rather than compromise on any truth of the Gospel. Such conscientious pastors are never to be taken for granted. Our Lord warned us that there would also be time-servers who pocket the stipends and pile their plates with vol au vents at wedding receptions but who draw the line at wolves.  In recent times the Church has been blessed with a succession of clean-living popes, but the antics of some of those who filled St Peter’s shoes in the age of our Holy Father St Philip Neri would be enough to churn the stomach of a grown man. No-one in those days subscribed to the curious and modern superstitious view that popes are hand-picked by the Holy Ghost. Everyone knew only too well that popes were elected by fallible cardinals, whose fallen human nature made them as much susceptible to browbeating and bribery in highly politicised conclaves as they were to the promptings of the Paraclete. In such an environment we can be confident that the election of a great saint like Pope Pius V was the fruit of much prayer and fasting by Catholics who loved their Church and never gave up hope, even in an era of such rank corruption.

          As well as praying for good shepherds, we sheep must constantly examine our own consciences. “My sheep know me and they listen to my voice,” says Our Lord. His sheep are not the ones who traipse around the valleys looking for a shepherd who will tell them what they want to hear. Errant sheep are free to seek out errant shepherds if they so wish. No doubt, if we set our hearts on it, we could all track down a desiccated clerical beatnik who would tell us that it’s ok for young couples to go to bed together before marriage, or that God isn’t going to mind if we receive Holy Communion in a state of mortal sin. The trouble is that while the people-pleasing shepherds might seem to make life easier in the short term, their way is ultimately disastrous, and when the Good Shepherd returns on the Day of Judgment then the hirelings along with the sheep who have sought them out risk being counted with the goats and excluded from the Fold of the Redeemer for eternity.

          Our Lord’s sheep are those who always listen for His voice, and follow Him to His choice of pasture. They are the sheep that live on everything that comes from His hand, by way of teaching and sacraments. The good shepherds, meanwhile are those who accompany us and patiently help us to discern God’s will in our lives, sparing no effort to make the truths of the Faith accessible to us, and never dismissing those truths as irrelevant or too hard for modern life. The Good Shepherd reaches out His arms to lift us out of the mire of sin. He does not leave us there with the empty assurance that all is well.

          On Good Shepherd Sunday, please be sure to pray for vocations to the priesthood. Pray each and every day for your priests, bishops and Pope. Pray that, for all of us, there will be a decrease in the hireling spirit and a marked increase in the shepherding spirit, so that the Good Shepherd will recognize us as His own when He returns in glory to judge the living and the dead.

Fr Julian Large

March 2018 Letter from the Provost

March 2018 Letter from the Provost

Children’s drawings of Noah’s Ark usually depict smiling giraffes stretching their necks out of Mr and Mrs Noah’s well-appointed living quarters, while lions and sheep stand shoulder to shank and ready to sail on the deck. Such scenes of prelapsarian bucolic harmony surely belie the reality of those forty days and nights during which Noah and his family found themselves crammed into a creaking hull full of irascible and malodorous beasts.

          Thanks to Thames Water, the inhabitants of Oratory House were recently afforded an insight into what the sanitary conditions inside the Ark must have been like. The Provost returned from a few days on family business to find that, while it was pouring with rain in London, the Oratory Church, House and Lodge were in a state of severe drought. Days earlier, a shuddering of pipes and spluttering of taps had signalled the termination of any water supply. Every tank, cistern, sink and basin on the site was stone dry. Abandoning a great hole which they had begun digging in front of the church, Thames Water’s dynamic team of problem fixers downed-tools and went home on Saturday afternoon and it was only when pressed on the telephone in the early hours of Sunday morning that a spokesman disclosed that they had decided that the whole situation was none of their business and we would have to deal with it ourselves. Having engaged a private plumbing firm and with preparations underway to have the courtyard dug up at vast expense, we asked the congregation at the High Mass on the Sunday to pray for a solution. Deo Gratias, by the time Holy Mass was over, we were informed that Thames Water had discovered that their men had turned off the stop cock the previous week, and all that was needed was for them to rotate it in the opposite direction.

          MI5 has famously said that we are just “four meals away from anarchy.” The theory is that, deprived of the bare necessities, it would only be a day or two before our reasonably well-ordered society would be reduced to riots, looting and general chaos. Mercifully, things did not quite reach this stage in Oratory House. Although there were serious concerns about the more elderly and infirm amongst the twenty two souls in residence here, and for the thousands of parishioners (a number of them disabled), and the many employees in the music department who spend a good deal of time on the premises on a Saturday and Sunday, we all survived and, apart from considerable expenditure of resources on private plumbers and blood pressure medication, there were no fatalities. It probably helps that the more senior fathers are the products of educational establishments in which conditions during the immediate post-war years would be considered unacceptable in a modern prison. And anything which serves to toughen up the younger fathers and novices is all to the good. Apart from the obvious public health risk, by far the most unsettling aspect of the crisis was having to enter the Kafkaesque zone of attempting to communicate with Thames Water.

          During Lent, we priests often remind our flocks of the benefits of self-denial and mortification. In the light of eternity, we can be certain that the recent indignities to which we ourselves were subjected by the water board were not without value. They provided rich material for reflection on the suffering of those who face far more serious deprivations than anything we have had to endure – not only the housebound and other vulnerable people in the London and the Thames Valley who find themselves at the mercy of incompetent and indifferent public utilities officials, but also the many in this world for whom the lack of the most basic provisions such as clean water is not some temporary inconvenience but rather a more permanent and dreadful reality of daily life. It reminds us of the urgent need to pray for them, and to provide material and practical assistance to those who work to alleviate such poverty.

          In Lent, we are encouraged to embrace discomfort and self-denial, not for their own sake, but as a way of uniting ourselves with the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ. In our Baptism, we die with Christ and are buried with Him, before being raised from the waters of regeneration overflowing with the life of the Resurrection, and in that great sacrament we receive the vocation to keep dying to ourselves in the here and now so that the life of the Resurrection may take ever greater possession of our hearts and souls. In the days when nuns wore starched wimples they would teach the schoolgirls in their charge to “offer it up” when they complained of toothache or homesickness. In Lent, we offer up our voluntary sacrifices with the gifts of bread and wine at Holy Mass, so that they take on a supernatural value at the Altar. As we heard in a sermon preached in the Oratory Church at the High Mass on Ash Wednesday, “Fasting is a physical prayer that you offer up.” We should also ask for the grace to do the same with the sufferings and inconveniences which come to us unbidden, offering them up for the world, for the Church and for our own sanctification.

          Coming into the church on Good Friday, you will find the holy water basins empty and dry. This reflects the sense of desolation of Our Lord’s Passion and Death. At the Easter Vigil, we celebrate the Resurrection by soaking the whole congregation, priests and people, with a generous sprinkling of the new water blessed for the baptismal font. After recent events, the fathers are looking forward more than usual to singing Vidi Aquam.

Father Julian Large

February 2018 Letter from the Provost

February 2018 Letter from the Provost

One of the Oratory Fathers was recently approached by a guest at a local night shelter who announced that he had “a bone to pick.” When Father asked him what was up the guest replied: “That church of yours is freezing cold.” Father explained that, contrary to rumours that the lack of heating during the winter months has been due to misplaced parsimony on the part of the Provost, the Oratory’s boilers have finally reached the end of their life. The man at the night shelter became considerably less disgruntled when he heard that the inhabitants of Oratory House have been reduced to boiling kettles and pans of water for their daily ablutions while plans are made to install a new and more efficient system. “Sounds like we are all in the same boat then,” he said, “at least I can still thaw out my hands over the candles in front of that statue just inside the church door.”

Saint Anthony of Padua must heartily approve that the candles at his pricket stand are being put to such a practical use. As well as being one of the Church’s great miracle-workers and a “Hammer of Heretics”, St Anthony is a special patron of the disadvantaged. This is why, when he answers our prayers (especially for the restoration of lost keys, mobile telephones etc., but also for more serious requirements) we should reimburse him according to our means. All donations to St Anthony’s Bread are distributed to those in need. The banks of candles that we see blazing in front of his statue are a testimony to the faith of many Catholics in his intercessory power at the Throne of Grace. It is also fitting that their flames should occasionally lend warmth to the hands of those who have found themselves without the basic necessities of warmth and shelter.

It is hard to imagine the Catholic religion without candles. En route to her first Parliament on a bright January morning in 1559, Elizabeth I was received at the entrance to Westminster Abbey by the Abbot and community of the monastery which had recently been restored in the reign of her half-sister the good Queen Mary. The monks had come to greet their new monarch carrying flaming beeswax tapers. The new queen, whose every word and gesture were being scrutinized for signs of what to expect from the new regime, is said to have dismissed them briskly with the words “Away with those torches – we can see you well enough without them.” As the Italian saying goes, se non è vero, è ben trovato. What is indisputable is that the extinguishing of lights before statues, relics, altars and tabernacles that followed ushered in a new spiritual ice-age that did not really begin to thaw until our own Father Faber led the charge in fanning the devotional life of this country back to a golden blaze in the middle of the nineteenth century.

This month we celebrate Candlemas, the great Christian festival of light which marks the Presentation of the Infant Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem and the Purification of His Blessed Mother. The mystical significance of the Christ Child’s Presentation in the Temple was not lost on Simeon, the pious senior citizen who had been assured by the Holy Ghost that he would not die before setting eyes on ‘the Christ of the Lord’. Simeon’s Canticle, the Nunc Dimittis, is sung by the Church each night at Compline, and expresses all of the longing of the Old Testament for the universe-changing event which Simeon witnessed unfolding before him: “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace … for mine eyes have seen thy salvation … a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel.” (Lk 2.29-32) At Candlemas we process with candles to celebrate this inextinguishable light that has come into the world. The faithful are encouraged to take their blessed candles home because these sacramentals bring us blessings and supernatural protection when we use them with devotion.

Ash Wednesday this year falls on 14th February, and throughout Lent we look forward to the lighting of the greatest candle of all, the Paschal Candle, which represents our Risen Lord Himself. The ocean of light that pours into every corner of the Church as the candles of the congregation are lit from the Paschal Candle at the beginning of the Easter Vigil fills the Christian heart with joy as we see how faith and hope have gained the definitive victory over sin and death. During the singing of the Exultet, the deacon praises the bees for producing the wax “to build a torch so precious”.

If the light of candles in church signifies the salvific illumination that comes with faith, the heat generated by their flames reminds us that our Catholic faith must always be enlivened by charity. Indeed, without charity, faith is cold and dead and cannot be pleasing to Almighty God. This is why the extra prayer and fasting that we undertake during Lent must be accompanied by almsgiving and/or other charitable works. And for these to be meritorious, we need to examine our consciences to make sure that we are living in charity with those around us. The Sacrament of Penance is a great help in this area of our spiritual lives, not only in gaining absolution for us when we have failed in charity, but also in securing for us the supernatural help we need to forgive and to love when this does not come easily.

If we can raise sufficient funds in time, it is hoped that the Oratory's new boilers will be installed during the summer months, in time to make the church more hospitable again next winter for worshippers and for anyone who comes in search of peace, shelter and warmth. Meanwhile, we should each of us be working on making our hearts a blazing furnace of charity.

Fr Julian Large

January 2018 Letter from the Provost

January 2018 Letter from the Provost

On the Feast of the Epiphany the scene at the Crib is completed, with the arrival of the wise men, or Magi, in Bethlehem. We should all make an effort to visit the Crib. It can be tempting to think of the Crib as something primarily for children. In a sense it is, but Our Lord tells us all: “Unless you become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of God.”

At the Manger, we all become like children, and at the Crib, our own eyes should sparkle with wonder as we behold the tenderness and the intimacy of the Holy Family, as Jesus, Mary and Joseph bid us to come closer. At the entrance to the Crib, we are invited to leave behind the encumbrances of worldly sophistication, and to rediscover simplicity and meekness.

The first outsiders to arrive on the scene were shepherds, summoned by an angel. This is a reminder to us to make room for the needy and the heavy-laden in our lives. The shepherds have privileged access to the manger, showing us who are the real V.I.P.s in the Kingdom of God. At Epiphany, however, we celebrate the arrival of dignitaries – wise men or Magi. And these grandees also have a lesson for us, because in our contemporary age, when piety is often considered to be outdated and unsophisticated, and when the adjective ‘pious’ is more often than not used in a pejorative sense, these elegant gentlemen of learning and wisdom set us a beautiful example of piety. Seeing the star that leads them to the King of Kings they rejoice exceedingly. Arriving at the place of His dwelling they fall down on their knees and they adore Him.

This adoration that the Magi offer to the Christ Child leaves us in no doubt about His identity. This child is no mere human child, however great. The adoration which the Magi give to the Christ Child is the highest form of worship which can be given to God alone. It is the same sort of worship – adoration – that we offer to the Blessed Sacrament. And we should imitate the piety of the Magi whenever we come into a Catholic Church. When we see a light burning that indicates that the Sacred Host is in the Tabernacle, we should always genuflect, if we are able to, before taking our place. If the Blessed Sacrament is exposed for adoration, we make a double genuflection, on both knees. These outward signs of piety are important. The fact that Our Lord’s real and bodily Presence remains hidden under the signs of bread and wine means that through carelessness we may easily become forgetful of this wondrous mystery. Cultivating the habit of piety in His Presence helps us to maintain the proper interior dispositions.

Over Christmas, there were many thousands of people attending the various functions celebrated in the Oratory Church. It is always a joy to welcome visitors. Sadly, every Christmas there are also instances of irreverence involving the Blessed Sacrament when it comes to time for Holy Communion. The cause of these incidents never seems to be malice, but rather carelessness and ignorance. And the truth is that when the people have lost their sense of the sacredness in relation to something as awe-inspiring as the Blessed Sacrament, then it is probably we priests who should shoulder the blame. If we clergy cease to be pious, the we can hardly be surprised if the laity end up losing sense of the sacred.

So please pray for your priests, that God will increase our piety. A priest spends so much time in proximity to the altar that there is always the peril that he will be become overly familiar with the mystery of mysteries that takes place within his own hands, and lose sight of its majesty. No doubt this has always been a danger. At the Crib we find shepherds and wise men adoring, but where are the priests? Perhaps they are too busy with their politics in Jerusalem to accompany the Wise Men and adore the Word Made Flesh.

As we kneel at the Crib this Epiphany, we should pray, all of us – priests and people alike – for the gift of piety. It is piety that makes this universe beautiful. When the nonbeliever looks at the cosmos, he might well feel hopelessly dwarfed and crushed by its magnitude. When a pious man looks at the stars then he, like the Magi, is filled with wonder at the work of God. When the pious man observes the material universe in its splendour and complexity, he is inspired to praise the Creator Who humbled Himself to unite Himself with the frailty of our human flesh. For the believer, the magnificence of the cosmos is an invitation to commune with the God who created it and who gave us the capacity to appreciate His work.

As we kneel at the Crib, we should reflect on the gift of Himself that Our Lord gives to us in the Blessed Sacrament. May we always make sure that when we do receive Holy Communion it is in a state of grace, restored to us if necessary in the Sacrament of Penance. And may we always approach the altar with the utmost humility, awe and wonder.

Fr Julian Large

December 2017 Letter from the Provost

December 2017 Letter from the Provost

On Christmas day we celebrate the moment when God came to us in human flesh. This mystery and event of the Incarnation made possible the sanctification of the physical world which is our home. The Holy Land is truly holy because it contains the stones which were trodden on by the feet of the Word made flesh. Its trees lent Him shade and its waters quenched His thirst. The remains of an ancient feeding trough from Bethlehem are venerated as a precious relic in Rome because they formed part of the holy manger in which the Blessed Virgin laid Her infant Child. When He was an adult the touch of the hem of His garments would stem the flow of blood, and He would consecrate simple substances of water, bread and wine to be used as instruments of healing and salvation. As far as we know, planet earth itself has a unique status in the material universe as a magnificent monstrance which radiates glory into the distant reaches of the cosmos. This is because the Church’s mission has ensured that the Word made flesh Who comes to us on the altar at every celebration of Holy Mass is reserved day and night in tabernacles around the globe.

          The nativity of the Incarnate Word two thousand years ago in Bethlehem also facilitated the sanctification of time. Perhaps Christmas is that season of the year when many of us become most acutely aware of the passing of time. When we were children, the countdown to 25th December was so agonizingly slow that it seemed to take forever. As we grow older, each Christmas day arrives more rapidly than the last, and is over so quickly that we can easily neglect to reflect on its significance. If this is the case then it means that we need to make some adjustment in our life, because we have allowed time to become our enemy rather than a friend.

          The Church’s ‘liturgical time’ is designed to save us from such spiritual and temporal impoverishment. If the skeletons of Christmas trees that start appearing on pavements on Boxing Day are a sign that for many of our neighbours Christmas has been and gone, for Catholics it has really just begun. The ‘octave’ granted to Christmas in the liturgical calendar extends the beautiful celebration of Our Lord’s Nativity over a full eight days. In the Roman Canon of the Mass we continue to praise God for “that day when Mary without loss of Her virginity gave the world its Saviour” every day from Christmas Eve until 1st January.

          The Christmas octave is also rich in feasts. If we understand them properly, they do not distract from our celebration of the season but rather illuminate the Mystery of the Nativity and its significance for the Christian life. Boxing Day is the feast of St Stephen, whose martyrdom reminds us that Christ’s message of salvation is not always welcomed in the world but that there is a great reward in Heaven for those who suffer for the Faith. Before being stoned, Stephen sees the heavens open and “the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” The feast of St John the Evangelist on the 27th is a good opportunity to reflect on the prologue to the fourth Gospel, which describes the Incarnation in theological terms as the Eternal Word through Whom all things were created becoming flesh and dwelling among us, and as the Light of the World Who alone can dispel the darkness of sin. The feast of the Holy Innocents on the 28th illustrates how the King of Kings came in meekness, so that earthly kings remained free to take Him or leave Him: the Magi would kneel in adoration, while Herod sought to murder. When our rulers disdain the kingship of Christ, the innocent and vulnerable inevitably suffer. The feast of St Thomas Becket the following day teaches us that Christ the Prince of Peace calls us not to make compromises with the spirit of the world in order to obtain a false peace. Our Lord offers us a peace “such as the world cannot give”, but to acquire this peace will often require sacrifice and courage. On 1st January we celebrate the feast of the Mary, Mother of God, Whose trusting obedience played such a crucial role in facilitating the Incarnation. We can consecrate the New Year to Her, and entrust ourselves to Her intercession and protection.

          We should make the effort, then to keep the Christmas season holy, in the company of the great saints who feasts enrich the Christmas Octave. In this noisy, angry world we need to make time for silence so that the Christ Child can speak to our souls and fill us with His peace. Two millennia after His birth in Bethlehem, He asks to be born afresh in our hearts today.

Fr Julian Large

November 2017 Letter from the Provost

When we were baptised, we would have been clothed in a white robe. For children this christening gown is sometimes an ancestral heirloom, passed down in the family from generation to generation. As modern parents insist on postponing the baptisms of their offspring for ever more frivolous reasons, gowns that were created for Edwardian babies often seem in peril of bursting at the seams when occupied by the strapping limbs of incipient toddlers.

          After the Baptism itself, the child is covered in another white garment, such as a shawl or a bonnet. This is a visible sign of an invisible reality. It symbolises the life of grace which now animates the soul of the Christian. In Baptism a great change comes over us. Before Baptism, God looks on us and He sees that we are made in His image, with a mind and a will. After Baptism, He sees that in addition to this image which belongs to us by nature there is a supernatural likeness. We call this ‘Sanctifying Grace’. It is what we are talking about when we talk about someone being in a ‘state of grace’, and it bestows on us a participation in the very life of the Blessed Trinity.

          Fresh from the waters of supernatural regeneration, the newly baptised Christian is enjoined to carry his baptismal garment without stain throughout his life until reaching the judgment seat of Jesus Christ. This reminds us that the outcome of our particular judgment – the judgment that occurs immediately after our death when our soul finds itself before Our Lord Jesus Christ – will depend on whether we are in a state of grace when we die. If, pray God, we are, then our eternal destiny will be everlasting blessedness in Heaven, very possibly after a period of purification in Purgatory. If, heaven forbid, we are not in a state of grace, then Our Lord has warned us in St Matthew’s Gospel of an eternity of weeping and gnashing of teeth.

          Reading the twenty second chapter of St Matthew’s Gospel, we might be unsettled by the treatment given to the wedding guest who sits himself at table improperly dressed and is subsequently thrown out, having been bound by his hands and feet. Surely it is not his fault if he could not afford to kit himself out in a morning coat at Moss Bros? The message of this Gospel obviously refers not to outward appearances but rather to the interior state of our souls. The wedding banquet is a symbol of Holy Communion, when we, as members of the Church which is the Bride of Christ, receive Our Living, Risen Lord at the altar rails.

          Following the Gospel, the Church has always taught that we must be in a state of grace before we receive Our Lord in Holy Communion. This means that if we have committed a mortal sin – a sin that is called ‘mortal’ because it kills the life of grace that is infused into us in Baptism – we must first have that grace stored to us in Penance. If we were knowingly and deliberately to receive Holy Communion in a state of mortal sin, then we would commit a further grave sin of sacrilege.

          Sceptics sometimes mock Catholics for treating the Sacrament of Penance as a sort of spiritual laundrette. Actually, the deep-cleansing that takes place in a top-of-the range German washing machine is quite a good analogy for what happens in Confession, where the stains of sin are removed from the white robe of our Baptism, and it is restored to brilliance and newness. The grace that is infused into us in the Sacrament of Penance gives to our souls a dazzling splendour which is beautiful to the eyes of God the Father, because it is the very life of His Son.

          The white christening robe reminds us that it is always important to be in a state of grace before receiving other Sacraments. Children making their First Communion and Confirmation also dress in white, which symbolises the state of grace received when they were made living Temples of the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Baptism, and restored, if lost, in the Sacrament of Penance. Traditionally brides also wear white for their weddings, reminding us how crucial it is for both parties to be in a state of grace to benefit from the blessings being bestowed in that great Sacrament.

          The image of the marriage feast holds great importance for all Christians. Once baptised into the Church, we are members of the Bride of Christ. At Mass, we all stand together as we pray towards the East ‘Thy Kingdom come.’ We, the Church, are the Bride, awaiting the return of the Bridegroom Whose presence will fill the skies from East to West when He comes again in majesty and power to judge the living and the dead. We wait for that day in joyful expectation. We do not know when it will be. It could be soon, or it might be many millennia in the future. Meanwhile it is our job to beautify the marriage garments of the Bride of Christ with our humility, our chastity and our charity, so that when He does return He finds His Bride radiant and prepared.

Fr Julian Large

October 2017 Letter from the Provost

October 2017 Letter from the Provost

Curiosity might have killed the cat, but it also brought salvation to the house of the tax-collector Zacchaeus. In the 19th chapter of St Luke’s Gospel we see how the whole world wanted to see Jesus of Nazareth, the miracle-worker who taught with greater authority than any of the priests or the professionally religious. There was such a crowd that Zacchaeus, who was “of low stature”, did not seem to have a chance. But what Zacchaeus lacked in height he made up for in his capacity to climb. And so he ascended the sycamore tree, in the hope of catching a glimpse of the Saviour. Something wonderful then happened. Our Lord raised His eyes, He fixed His gaze on Zacchaeus, and He addressed him by name: “Zacchaeus! Come down from that tree immediately. I have to stay at your house this evening.” Salvation came to Zacchaeus’ soul, and his life would never be the same again. According to some traditions, the despised publican went on to become the first bishop of Caesarea and to be venerated as a great saint.
          Many things considered, it might surprise us that Our Lord should single out Zacchaeus to be his host for the night. The Gospels emphasise God’s special concern for the poor, and make our solicitude for the needy a prerequisite for entry into Heaven. But St Luke tells us explicitly that Zacchaeus was a rich man. Tax-collecting was a highly lucrative business and this little fellow was one of the bosses in the tax office. Very probably he wore expensive clothes and lived in a well-appointed mansion with staff to cook his breakfast and iron his sheets. We might imagine that it would have been a more poignant gesture of humility, simplicity and solidarity with the destitute for Our Lord to choose to have taken up residence for the evening in a poor man’s dwelling. If He had been accompanied by a press team, no doubt it would have guided him in the direction of a more modish cause, perhaps some popular victim of Roman oppression.
          From a worldly point of view, Jesus’ choice of Zacchaeus’ mansion as a suitable venue to rest His head was, indeed, a public relations gaffe. The puritans in the crowd “murmured” and complained that He had chosen to avail Himself of the hospitality of a sinner. Zacchaeus, it seems, was outside the peripheries of what was considered to be fashionably marginal. He was the first century equivalent of a modern day Eurosceptic or global warming denier – someone beyond the pale of those considered worth being seen ministering to by the bien pensant of the day.
          But man’s ways are not necessarily God’s ways. Mercifully for Zacchaeus, Our Lord did not think like a politician or a spin-doctor. Virtue-signalling was of no interest to Him. He was not looking for a photo-opportunity, but for a soul to save and a disciple to recruit. He actually made it look as if He had come to Jericho precisely to seek out this rich little publican.
          So what is the message for us? The truth is that Zachaeus was suffering from the worst type of poverty there is: spiritual poverty. Tax-collecting on behalf of the occupying Roman forces was a dishonourable way of making a living. Much of Zacchaeus’ fortune would have been built on ill-gotten gains. But it seems that, in his large house, waited on by his servants, Zacchaeus was living with the nagging discomfort of spiritual destitution. Perhaps the voice of his conscience had been telling him for some time that, despite all of his creature comforts, he had yet to find real happiness and fulfilment. God made us to know Him, love Him and serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in Heaven, after all. If we attempt to fulfil our human aspirations on the material level alone, then the result can only be interior malnutrition in this life, and ultimately the agony of eternal separation from God in hell.
          What spiritual poverty there is around us today. We see unmistakable evidence of it in the ugliness and brutality of so much contemporary art, which can sell for millions and which will have an enduring value in centuries to come if only for the authentic statement it makes about this age through which we are currently living.
          We have to make a distinction, however, between spiritual poverty and poverty in spirit. Spiritual poverty is amongst the greatest of evils, destructive to the human soul as famine and plague are detrimental to the body. Poverty in spirit, on the other hand, counts among the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” The man floundering in spiritual poverty may admit to no desire for God or salvation, as he tries to convince himself of his own self-sufficiency. In contrast to this, poverty in spirit is an acknowledgment of our need for Almighty God. And it is the fact that poverty in spirit takes root in Zacchaeus’ heart that salvation comes to his house.
          The puritans were focused on Zacchaeus’ transgressions, and contemptuous of his politically-incorrect status. What interested Our Lord, however, was not his sins but his potential for goodness. And as a result of Our Lord inviting Himself into Zacchaeus’ life, and Zacchaeus’ acceptance of that invitation, what a transformation we see. The dreaded tax-collector promised to give half of his property to the poor, and to repay anyone he cheated four times the amount. Note that Zacchaeus only promised to give half of his estate away. Very likely he remained a rich man. But the important thing is that his attitude to his possessions had changed completely. Now he would lively honestly and see to enhancing the lives of the disadvantaged. Through poverty in spirit, his spiritual poverty was changed into beauty of soul. Society would benefit from this transformation.
          So rich little Zacchaeus, who possessed so much gold in this world, now wears the golden crown of a saint in Heaven. To those blessed with material wealth, the converted Zacchaeus shows how to use it. Do not wallow in complacency and the delusion of self-sufficiency, because you will not find real happiness in this life, and certainly not in the next. Purify your souls by confession and penance, because it is when we are in a state of grace that almsgiving takes on a supernatural value which benefits the soul of the benefactor in eternity. Cultivate poverty in spirit, and give generously for the love of Christ.

Fr Julian Large