Wednesday 23 February 2022

Particular times and particular places

This year we will be celebrating the 400th anniversary of St Philip’s canonisation on 12 March. It’s a sobering thought that this is probably the last Philippine centenary most of us will celebrate. It’s not likely that those who celebrated 500 years since his birth in 2015 will make it to the fifth centenary of his death in 2095. The members of Young Oratory will already be preparing to retire when the Oratory reaches the age of 500 in 2075.

There’s quite a gap in the middle, and so we must make the most of our last great Philippine year for a while. Make sure you join us for our Solemn Mass at 11am on March 12!

We are fortunate to have been around for such a concentration of Oratorian celebrations in recent years. As well as all these centenaries, many of us have witnessed both the beatification and canonisation of St John Henry Newman, Our Cardinal. It was the same saint who famously wrote:

God has created me to do him some definite service; he has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another. I have my mission—I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. Somehow I am necessary for his purposes. I have a part in this great work…

As he continued this meditation, Our Cardinal reflected on how our relationships with other people — ‘the bond of connection between persons’ — enable us to play a part in God’s work. Through our friendships, we can draw others closer towards God. And even if we find ourselves separated from all we know and love, we should trust God has a plan that he is bringing to fruition through us.

Therefore I will trust him. Whatever, wherever I am…still he knows what he is about.

This idea leads quite naturally into another: that we find ourselves in a particular time and a particular place for a reason, whether we are aware of it or not. St Paul says that God has marked out our appointed times in history and the boundaries of our lands so that we would seek and even find him (Acts 17:26–27). Our relationships, our time and our place all play a definite part in our journey towards God.

This is a comforting thought, when news headlines seem to report disaster after disaster and crisis after crisis. We find ourselves living in a world that, in many ways, needs rebuilding. Even the Church is no exception.

But there is a reason that we find ourselves living at this time and in this place. And perhaps all these anniversaries are meant to encourage us to look at the example of St Philip, who lived through a time of great difficulty. Rome suffered from plague and poverty in his lifetime — both physical and spiritual. It was a time of terrible corruption in the Church, and vast swathes of Catholics were lost to schism and heresy in the reformation. But what Philip did in Rome 500 years ago, what John Henry did in Birmingham 150 years ago, we are called to do here and now in Oxford. St Philip teaches us:

We must have confidence in God, who is what he always has been, and we must not be disheartened because things turn out contrary to us. When tribulations, infirmities, and contradictions come, we must not run away in a fright, but vanquish them like men. Let us throw ourselves into the arms of God, and be sure that if he wishes anything of us, he will make us good for all he desires us to do for him. Do not let a day pass without doing some good during it.

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