News Archive

Saturday 23 October 2021

A great start to our Oratory Young Adults meetings last night. Here is a shot in church at the end of the meeting for the concluding prayers. Join us for the next one on 19 November. #oxfordoratory

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Wednesday 20 October 2021

Wisdom

Our Father Jerome died on 19 October, two years ago. Many of you found his sermons and talks both interesting and entertaining. His was indeed an inimitable style. Although our Weekly Reflection is ordinarily published anonymously, the following is the text of a sermon, preached by Fr Jerome in our church on the 30 July 2017. May he rest in peace.

Solomon prayed for wisdom, and discernment. Wisdom is not the same as knowledge: St Paul tells us that knowledge puffs up, but wisdom comes from on high. What is the difference? (It has been said that knowledge tells us that a tomato is a fruit, while wisdom tells us not to put it in a fruit salad.) Knowledge on its own is useless: only wisdom tells us how to make use of it.

This city is plagued with two universities and countless other institutions all peddling knowledge. But they do not teach wisdom.

Wisdom comes from listening to God, not studying in websites, books or lectures. Wisdom is within the reach of all: there is no need to be frightfully clever, for God speaks most clearly to the little ones; no need to have the wealth they demand for teaching knowledge, for God reveals himself to the poor. God speaks directly to every human heart, if only we have the patience to listen.

God speaks in what we call “conscience”. But when we say that, we are easily misunderstood: people use that phrase “following my conscience” to mean “doing exactly what I want”. They can convince themselves with all sorts of subtle arguments and clever “knowledge” that what they happen to want to do is their right. That’s why Newman tried to invent a new word for “conscience” — he called it the “illative sense”, but somehow that didn’t catch on. Perhaps “intuition” is a better word: what we mean is that after all the clever arguments and subtle knowledge, something cuts in and says “you know that’s all nonsense: what you want to do is something you really should not do.” Or, more often, “that is something you should not have done.” Conscience, in the true sense of the word, is that within us that tells us what is right and what is wrong, what is true and what is false. Listening to conscience is true wisdom, “how to discern between good and evil” as Solomon put it. False knowledge is what the devil promised, experience of good and evil. Wisdom is the instinctive feeling we have when all argument ceases, this is good, this is true, no matter what the experts say.

Wisdom comes from listening to God. All our prayer, all our worship is for listening. We may use words, but it is God who speaks through them. We may remain in silence, and it is God who speaks in silence. It is only after prayer that we can become aware of how our conscience has become more subtle, more accurate, listening to God.

And God speaks to us through others, yes, even the Catholic Church. When we discover that our feeling, our intuition, our conscience, agrees with what billions of others have felt, have heard God say, why, then we can be confident in ignoring the chattering arguments of the knowledge-peddlers.

This is not to say there cannot be good knowledge for those who have the leisure and the interest to acquire it. Part of wisdom is to discern between what is worth knowing, and what should be thrown away because it is no use. But wisdom is for everyone: wisdom is what we seek, and for that it is worth giving up everything else: that is the point of the parable of the pearl of great price.

Wisdom in the end is not a thing, not an abstraction: Wisdom is a Person, the one we love. For “God cooperates with all those who love him”, and it is the Son of God, Our Lord himself, who is the living Wisdom and the Power of God. It is the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son who breathes within us. Conscience, intuition, the illative sense, is that part of us that can hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. The more we listen to him, the more clearly we become aware of what God within us is telling us, how he is leading us into all truth.

All truth, all wisdom, comes from on high. But the Holy Spirit lives within us, so that the divine wisdom also wells up from inside us, from the heart, which speaks to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.


These reflections are sent out each Wednesday to all those on our mailing list. Click here to sign up to our mailing list, and receive our Sunday E-newsletter and these reflections straight to your inbox.

Tuesday 19 October 2021

St Frideswide, patroness of the city and university of Oxford, with burning lamp on her feast day, complete with ox.

A prayer of St Cajetan for the city:

Look down, O Lord, from your sanctuary, from your dwelling in heaven on high, and behold this sacred Victim which our great High Priest, your holy Son our Lord Jesus Christ, offers up to you for the sins of his brethren, and be appeased despite the multitude of our transgressions. Behold, the voice of the Blood of Jesus, our Brother, cries to you from the cross.
Give ear, O Lord. Be appeased, O Lord. Hearken and do not delay for your own sake, O my God; for your name is invoked upon this city and upon your people; and deal with us according to your mercy. Amen.
That you would defend, pacify, keep, preserve, and bless this city, we beseech you, hear us.

#oxfordoratory

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Friday 15 October 2021

The Forty Hours has begun

Tonight
11pm Sung Compline followed by Benediction

All night vigil

Saturday
5am Sung Matins and Lauds
6am Low Mass in the Extraordinary Form
9am–10am Confessions as usual
10am Mass
5pm Musical Oratory with the Parish Choir
5:30pm–6:30pm Confessions as usual
6:30pm Sung Mass for Peace
9pm Sung Compline

Exposition until midnight

Sunday
Morning Masses as usual

Exposition resumes after 11am Mass

5pm Closing Choral Vespers, procession and Benediction

#oxfordoratory

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Friday 15 October 2021

We were delighted to welcome Brian and Pat Barnes, who were married in our church 60 years ago today. Brian was baptised here, began serving at the altar at 8 years of age, and his family have a long association with the parish. The Fathers were very pleased to give them a blessing on their anniversary. #oxfordoratory

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Friday 15 October 2021

A shot from the night walk to Littlemore last week, to prepare for the feast of St John Henry Newman.

If you missed out, there is another chance for late night religion today, as we begin our Forty Hours Devotion, including an all-night vigil!

#oxfordoratory

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Wednesday 13 October 2021

Push through and run

Our annual Quarant’ore devotion — Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament all weekend — begins with a Solemn Mass on Friday evening. The Sacrament will remain exposed, and the church open, all night and throughout the next day, interrupted only by the celebration of Mass. Staying up all night does feel like something of a marathon, like a great feat of endurance, and there are times when one feels the need to just keep going, just push through. But as much as the forty hours seem like a race of sorts, they should not be a race of strength or endurance — as if this time were the intrusion into our lives or a distraction that takes us away from more pressing things. We do this because we know Christ is our goal; and the thousand other things that clamour for our attention and draw us away from our real source and centre, they are the intrusion and the distraction. We need to “push through” such things and run to Christ, calming our restless bodies and distracted minds and, even if it is for the briefest of time, relearn what it means to rest gently in his love.

If you come to our church on Friday night or the early hours of Saturday distracted, inconvenienced, worrying about how the laundry is going to get done, or the dinner cooked, or wishing you were on the sofa watching the telly, then you will be in good company. To one degree or another, we all are distracted. If sitting in silence before the Lord makes you uncomfortable, if you think “what am I supposed to do?”, or “how am I supposed to pray?” — join the club. Silence can be uncomfortable. It forces us into the encounter with ourselves and the God who speaks in the depths of our being. Push through and run! That is why the Forty Hours are punctuated by Compline, Benediction, Masses, Musical Oratory — we have a chance to rest and recharge.

For what is placed in the monstrance, is a Who and not a thing — he is Christ the Lord, and we come to be in his company, in his presence. This we know and believe with all our hearts. But even though we will see the Host, seemingly immovable and inactive, enthroned in its monstrance, surrounded by candles and flowers and gold hangings, we know and believe with all our hearts that there is more happening than the eye can see. Christ is not inactive and immovable in the Eucharist. In this sacrament, he continually pours himself out in love for us and for the world he came to save. We gaze on him in the Blessed Sacrament because he first gazed upon us, not with a look of reproach or judgment, but with eyes of love, a look that pierces us to the soul and sees into the core of our being, loving us, calling out to us, asking that we forsake our sinful ways and our petty distractions, and return our love for his. Where Christ is, there is heaven and when Christ comes he never comes alone. All of heaven draws near to us, the angels and the saints, our brothers and sisters who have gone on before us draw close; past, present and future all converge in him who is the Lord of time and history. This is why when the Christian prays, he or she never prays alone. And this gift, this call to step out of time and into his company, is given not because we deserve it, nor is it denied us because we are sinful. It is given because of the love he has for us, and the mercy with which he deals with us until the day when our time is ended.

What are our to-do lists compared to this? What is one hour or so away from the telly or computer in comparison? What is so hard, really, about spending time with the One who loves us? Nothing surely.

So we still our souls, we raise our hearts and minds and voices to the Lord; we put aside our distractions for a time; we cease worrying about how we are to pray; prayer, after all, is not the words we speak, it is listening to the heart of God speaking to our hearts, and our hearts making their fleeting, and faltering, and yet eminently precious answer to his love. So come to the Lord this weekend during the Forty Hours, if not for the all-night vigil then at least for an hour or so. He will be waiting to spend time with you.


These reflections are sent out each Wednesday to all those on our mailing list. Click here to sign up to our mailing list, and receive our Sunday E-newsletter and these reflections straight to your inbox.

Tuesday 12 October 2021

The English Aquinas

The sermon of Br Albert Robertson OP for the feast of St John Henry Newman

At the top of a bookshelf in the library of the Dominican community in Edinburgh, there’s a quotation from St John Henry Newman. According to the quotation, St John Henry Newman is supposed to have said that ‘What England needs is more Dominicans.’ I’m not really sure where this comes from. I’ve never been able to track it down. The quotation has no reference. But St John Henry Newman was keen on the Dominicans. Our sisters at Stone in Staffordshire were visited by Newman on a number of occasions, and he had a great love for that community, connected as it was to the mission of Bl Dominic Barberi. Indeed, for a while there was the question of whether Newman himself would become a Dominican. When his own small community of converts from Littlemore arrived at Maryvale in 1846, the question of the future of their community life came to the fore. Bl Dominic Barberi wanted Newman and his friends to be ‘preachers, missionaries, martyrs.’ Wiseman’s idea was that they should use their special intellectual gifts contending with the various infidelities of their time. A letter dated 6 July 1846 ends with Newman’s speculation about the future, and explores the idea of embracing the life of the Friars Preachers. At the very end he states his objection: ‘Is not the Dominican Order’s great idea extinct’? Are not the Jesuits ‘the fashion of the age’?

Talk of becoming a Dominican seems to have filled his companions with some dread. In a letter from Frederick Sellwood Bowles to Ambrose St John, Bowles writes ‘For my part I would sooner be a Jesuit. I have no fancy for that no meat diet, and eight months’ fasting you talk about. And how do you think you would stand all that hard head work, living on nothing but air?’

If Newman had become a son of St Dominic, the fit may have been a very difficult one. The English province of the Order was, at that time, in a precarious state, propped up with friars sent from other provinces. During his time at Rome, Newman found that Aquinas wasn’t much taught. This is probably a surprise to us now, but until the revival of St Thomas under Leo XIII, Aquinas was an obscure figure. Despite this obscurity, Newman recognised St Thomas as, in his words, the champion of revealed truth. But the difference between them is great enough for Newman to be considered an English Aquinas, almost an English version of Aquinas — not only because of the range of questions he addressed and the amount which he wrote, but to also reflect the real difference in their thought: Newman was certainly no Thomist. His time in Rome did not equip him with the vocabulary or thinking of St Thomas, and his age meant that he was unlikely to ditch his own intellectual system in favour of another. So what should a Dominican say of St John Henry Newman? For all their differences, Newman and Aquinas stand as two intellectual giants in the Catholic Church, and it was precisely in their understanding of the intellectual life that they stand as one. For both Newman and Aquinas, our faith is not simply about what we know, but about abiding in Lord, and allowing the words of Christ to abide more deeply in us.

From its very beginning, St John’s Gospel tells us that the life of the disciple is one of abiding with the Lord; the intimate relationship between Father, Son, and Spirit, is the basis of an intimacy between the Lord and His disciples. The Lord’s first disciples are called when he invites them to ‘come and see’ where he is abiding and they respond in turn by abiding with him. But in the chapters which recount the Last Supper, the Chapters from which our Gospel Reading was taken, the Lord tells the disciples quite plainly that this relationship is mutual: ‘Abide in me, and I in you.’

For St Thomas, this abiding is expressed as friendship. The disciples gathered around our Saviour enjoy not just his companionship, but also his friendship. The true sign of friendship is that friends reveal the secrets of their hearts to each other, and an intimacy and confidence grows between them. Ultimately friends become of one mind and one heart. In Christ, God reveals his secrets to us by allowing us to share his wisdom when we abide in Jesus, and Jesus’s words abide in us.

But it is the Church which ensures that we remain in this abiding friendship with God. As we are grafted onto the vine, the words of Christ are not just words to us. They become effective in our lives, they mould and shape us, and the Holy Spirit guarantees that these words are as effective now in each of us as they were when Christ first spoke them. As Newman wrote in one of his sermons, ‘…the heart of every Christian ought to represent in miniature the Catholic Church, since one Spirit makes both the whole Church and every member of it to be His Temple.’ The mysteries of Christ’s life are, for St John Henry, almost tangibly imprinted on us. In another of his sermons he writes ‘Christ Himself vouchsafes to repeat in each of us in figure and mystery all that He did and suffered in the flesh. He is formed in us, born in us, suffers in us, rises again in us, lives in us.’

If we love Christ’s words, they remain alive within us, they teach us and mould us to abide in an ever deeper relationship with our divine master and teacher. St Thomas tells us that by loving and believing in the words of Christ, by constantly meditating on them, we come to accomplish them, and we do this, says St Thomas, by living well and teaching well. This is the fruit which we bear. Loving the words of Christ brings an integrity and a coherence to our lives. Indeed, for Newman, the divorce of our thought, our intellectual life, from our life in Christ was the very essence of the rationalism and liberalism which he fought against. Our path to that mature Christian life which St Paul encourages the Christians in Ephesus to aspire to, is only possible if we have, Newman says, ‘clear heads and holy hearts.’

When we think of Newman or Aquinas at work, we perhaps think of these great men precisely as towering intellectuals. We picture Newman standing at his desk and scratching away at his paper with his ink pen, or Aquinas in his intellectual ecstasy dictating to his numerous scribes. What we perhaps don’t see are these two great saints abiding in God, loving the Word of God, and allowing the Word of God to abide in them. If we want to see this a little more clearly, it might be worth remembering that for both Aquinas and Newman, their theology spilled over into poetry: the treatise and the tract were not enough for them to convey the depth of their love.

Newman was received into the Church on this day in 1845, and this feast and anniversary stands at the head of each academic year; a fitting feast day for a saint who loved this city and University and who rejoices that the sons of St Philip and the sons of St Dominic find a home here. This feast which for many of us marks a new year, means that he can be for us a special guide and patron to show us the true meaning of study and enquiry. St Thomas and our very own English Aquinas, St John Henry Newman, teach us that knowledge of our faith is not enough. We must love and meditate upon Christ’s words, as well as believing them. Aquinas distinguished theology from other kinds of knowledge, he said that some things like geometry train the intellect, but theology differs from these other bodies of knowledge, because it trains not only the intellect, but also the affections. In Grammar of Assent, Newman writes that ‘Every religious man is to a certain extent a theologian’, because everyone can come to a fuller understanding of revelation through prayerful and reasoned reflection. St John Henry saw Our Lady as the model for this; in a sermon written while still an Anglican he said that Our Blessed Lady ‘does not think it enough to accept Divine Truth, she dwells upon it; not enough to possess, she uses it; not enough to assent, she develops it; not enough to submit to Reason, she reasons upon it.’ For both Newman and Aquinas every aspect of our lives has to be shaped by the words of Christ which dwell within us, it’s this which leads us out of shadows into a fuller reality. For both Newman and Aquinas knowledge of our faith is not enough, all theology worthy of the name, and really all intellectual life is, for the Christian, rooted in heart speaking unto heart.