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Chapter Address

On December 15, 2017, Fr Philip Cleevely made the following chapter address to the community.

Although in one sense, writes Fr Faber, the Church remains always the same, because her divine life is continuous, in another sense she differs from her own past appearances very materially. And this must necessarily be so, he continues, from the very fact that her mission is to interfere with the world, to mould it or to thwart it

Now we might think that the sequence of thought here is hardly irresistible. Surely the mission of the Church to interfere, to mould or to thwart, suggests the opposite of what Fr Faber affirms: it suggests precisely a manifestly and self-consciously unchanging Church, a Church which because she is unchanging is able to confront the mutability of the world without compromise or confusion. 

But Faber is not ignoring this way of thinking; on the contrary, his purpose is to challenge it. He wants us to understand that the unbroken identity of the Church is neither in conflict with the manifold changes she undergoes, nor even serenely unrelated to them. Instead, his argument is that the changes are a necessary expression of her identity. His thought is that the Church could not be what she always is, unless, as he puts it, her lineaments, and her outward physiognomy, change most strikingly. In fact he goes further: not only ‘lineaments’ and ‘outward physiognomy’, but more - he says - her interior life as well must necessarily change, if the Church is to remain what she is. According to Fr Faber, then, the ‘continuity’ of the Church’s ‘divine life’ positively requires of her both exterior and interior mutability; and this mutability, he tells us, because it is a necessary expression of her continuity, unfolds according to nothing less than the dispositions of God.

Faber’s analysis perhaps configures things rather differently from the way in which any of us might instinctively position them. Nor does he hesitate to derive the practical consequences. The spirit of the past, he tells us, and so its beauty, are lost in the stupid servility of a dull and unimaginative copy. Hence it is, he continues, that all mere revivalisms, as contrary to the nature of a living and immaculate Church, are either…the…life of a heresy or a schism, or, when imbecility, or good though mistaken intention accompany them, an innocuous ineptitude and blunder. Instead, a cheerful, reverent, submissive, admiring loyalty to the present epoch of the Church and to the Rome of today, he concludes, this is the health, and sinew, and heat of the real Catholic life

Well - easy for him to say, we might think. Faber, after all, was writing in 1850, when the contemporary Church, to which he urges such absolute loyalty, could perhaps still be thought of as the Tridentine Church, as indeed he explicitly calls it. Nothing is easier than to point out that things are very different in the Church of today, liturgically and devotionally, philosophically and theologically. Of course - but what kind of resistance to Faber’s argument is involved in pointing this out? 

It seems to me that we ought to avoid framing our hesitation by claiming, in effect, that if he were alive today then he, like all good Catholics, would prove to be a revivalist after all. The problem with his argument, I think, is rather different. The problem lies in his assumption that, in any given age, the ‘lineaments’, ‘outward physiognomy’ and ‘interiority’ of the Church will always manifestly cohere, according to a single and intelligible form. Because of this assumption, he perhaps overestimates the manifest intelligibility even of the Medieval and Tridentine Churches. But whether or not he does so, what seems undeniable is that the contemporary Church resists interpretation in this way. It is marked, instead, by a coexistent diversity of interiorities, lineaments and physiognomies.    

But if it is true that Faber does not seem to have foreseen such a situation, nonetheless, I suggest, his fundamental analysis is not undermined. Against every temptation to what he calls ‘idolatry of the past’ and its ‘antiquarian edification’, we must continue to try to understand the Church of today in its apparently insoluble complexity. We are not dealing merely with a fateful recession from former clarities, which must be retrieved and insisted upon as the condition of our perseverance. Instead, we must continue trying to locate and enter into a perspective - and there may be more than one - from which we can take seriously Faber’s insight that the Church always concretely expresses, although perhaps in unprecedented ways, the continuity of the divine life which inhabits her. And the search for such a perspective, as Faber also insists, must continue to be the form of our loyalty to the Church, which can only mean loyalty to the Church as she is: the health, and sinew, and heat of the real Catholic life

Chapter Address

On November 17, 2017, Fr Derek Cross made the following chapter address to the community.

My dear Fathers and Brothers:

We have been reading, once again, in refectory Sheridan Gilley’s Newman and His Age. Although I once read the book myself and also have heard it read aloud previously, this opportunity to revisit Newman’s life still supplies the unremembered anecdote, the unremarked connection. We have just been confronted again with the painful quarrel between Newman and the London Oratorians. At this late date and in this hemisphere there is nothing to be gained by taking sides in the matter, Newman vs Faber. We can learn from both The Spirit and Genius of St Philip (Faber) and The Mission of St Philip Neri (Newman). But I suspect that something might also be learned from dwelling with this paradigmatic example of “When Oratorians Quarrel.” Does it when probed touch any of our own contradictions and blindnesses, perplexities and struggles?

In a letter to Fr Dalgairns Newman made a distinction between different “views” about the Oratory and different “lines” within it: “We must not go out on different views as regards the Oratory, though as individuals we may, and must, if my view of the Oratory is right, go out on different lines.” A little later, Newman wrote to Fr Antony Hutchinson, explicitly applying his notion of “view” to the constitution of community: “There are three bonds of a community, carità, obedience, and intellectual agreement. St Paul speaks of this third, when he prays for his converts that their caritas abundet in scientia et omni sensu, and that they may be perfecti in eodem sensu et in eadem sententia. It is astonishing how much men get over who have the same views. It is the way in which good kind of people get on together, and is no mean support of the religious principles of love and obedience.”

Everything rides here on the substance of this intellectual harmony, sensus, or common “view,” which evidently cannot be a chance conjunction of opinions or a merely pragmatic alliance. But neither does Newman intend it to be a strait-jacket or a tightening noose. A “view” is, I would venture, related to what Newman calls an “idea,” a visible form expressed through a definite attitude. If this is so, Newman makes the particular application that interests us in his Chapter Addresses following on the Dalgairns dispute: “when once we have apprehended … the difference of living … to ourselves and living to St Philip, we shall see our duties in a new light. As Christians we have given ourselves to Christ; to make this more sure and definite, we have, as Oratorians, given ourselves to St Philip—we are not our own property, but his, and we must please, not ourselves, but him.” The “light” shed by the notion of “belonging”—whether to Christ, St Philip, or ourselves—thus seems a support to the notion of “duties” (which Newman had previously called “obedience”). As for love or charity, the other bond of community, it, too, would seem to be embraced by the horizon of “belonging.”

A philosopher or theologian will have a ready question to put to the categories of belonging, viz., how we can know that we belong to Christ or to St Philip. Important as that may be, another question is more immediate: how we can know whether we belong to ourselves? Can we ever not belong to ourselves? Or, can we not ever belong to ourselves? These questions were inextricably connected to the topic of “belonging to St Philip” during the English Oratorian quarrels. For it seems there is another category of belonging, “belonging to another.” Newman unabashedly writes to Faber: “Recollect, my dear F. Wilfrid, what I have already urged on you—your own words, that I am the bond of union among those who otherwise would not have come together. F. William says the same this morning ‘you know it is not to be Oratorians, but to be with Newman that we are met together—we came not seeking the Oratory but you’.”

What are we to make of that? It is meant to bring Faber up short, just as the swift reassurance of Dom Placid Murray’s commentary on the passage is intended to surprise us in turn. What does Murray say? “Such a preponderance of personal influence was in itself quite in the Oratorian tradition.” Newman could hardly quarrel with this judgment of Murray’s. Personal influence had been at the heart of Newman’s work as a tutor at Oxford, and it is one of his distinguishing marks of the Oratorian as opposed to the Jesuit vocation. “Influence … may be said to do for the Oratorian, what Rules do for the Jesuit; and if we wish for an example, we cannot have one more apposite than that of St Philip himself, of whom personal anecdotes abound whether in books or in the traditions of Rome, whereas though St Ignatius lived so long there, it is, I conceive just the portion of his life of which very little is preserved.”

The Oratorian pedigree of personal influence is, then, impeccable. And we do well to take that to heart. St Francis de Sales’ (and Newman’s) motto Cor ad cor loquitur is another name for personal influence, after all. But we would have to be much more naïve than most of us are not to recognize that personal influence has its shadow side—a shadow that often looms dark and overwhelming. It was said of some of Heidegger’s students that they were “moths who flew too close to the flame.” If someone belongs to us, at least significantly so, have we liberated his love or alienated his affections? Is his bond such that gives more freedom and integrity, or does it overshadow and reduce the scope for spontaneous thought and responsible action? Does our beneficence mask a needy thirst? The balance of “belonging” is the dilemma every teacher, preacher, spiritual director, and community member—whether novice or senior—must confront. Who would dare to point a finger? The ever-present possibility of self-deception, in the cor ad cor especially, renders the glaring light of self-righteousness especially unreliable.

Newman draws comprehensive parallels between our life and ministry: “What the Oratory is within among its own members, such is it in its intercourse with the faithful outside its walls. It exercises, not power but influence; it dislikes whatever savours of pomp, pretence, or violence. It has a hidden life; it doth not cry, nor strive, neither is its voice heard in the streets.” Personal influence, right belonging to self, other, St Philip, and God must eschew power, violence, and self-publication. Let us try to do the same, both within the Oratory and outside.

The Oratory Christmas Tree 2016

This year the Toronto novices with Fr. Juvenal returned to Drysdale's Tree Farm to get a Christmas tree.

It was much snowier than last year.

The snow made it much heavier.

There were even difficulties baling the tree.

Some hot Vietnamese food was in order after the cold adventure!

Three New Oratorian Novices Clothed

On the Feast of the Assumption, Monday, August 15, 2016, the Very Rev. Provost Jonathan Robinson clothed three new Oratorian novices in the Fathers’ chapel of the Toronto Oratory. The three new novices completed their postulancy at the Oratory in the summer and thus entered their first probation for the Toronto Oratory. They join four other novices currently living in residence at the Toronto Oratory: Br Francis King, Br Conor Power, and Br Peter Buckley studying philosophy for the Oratory-in-Formation in Brisbane, Australia; and Br James Tabarelli studying philosophy for the London Oratory. Brief biographies of the new novices are followed by a picture from after the clothing and the Father’s address on that occasion.

Jason Flammini was born in 1986 and raised in Toronto and later in Sudbury. After graduating from high school he moved to Ottawa where he studied Fine Arts, obtaining a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Philosophy. With a growing interest in fashion, and in the history, significance and production of ecclesiastical vestments in particular, Jason gained wide experience in the world of clothing and fabrics, and eventually began his own vestment-making business. In this undertaking he acquired a varied clientele among individuals and institutions in search of traditional vestments made with aesthetic and theological understanding. First coming to know the Oratory during his university years, Jason subsequently spent several years as a professed brother in the Dominicans, as well as some time with the Benedictines at St-Benoît-du-lac. After five years living once more as a layman here in Toronto, during which time his connections with us grew deeper, Jason believes he has found what he was seeking in the vocation of lay brother at the Toronto Oratory: a life focussed on prayer and community which also accords him the right context and necessary freedom to pursue his aesthetic and intellectual interests.

Paul (Alexander) Griffiths was born in 1988 in Missisauga, Ontario and after high school obtained undergraduate degrees in Commerce and Political Science from Queen’s University. During his undergraduate years Alexander was engaged in both practical political activity and in the larger cultural questions to which politics gives rise. At the same time Alexander’s musical interests developed, especially as a singer in both the classical and liturgical repertoires. He also discovered the serious practice of the Catholic faith through his involvement with Newman House. After graduation and a period working in financial services, and finding his sense of a calling to the priesthood deepening, Alexander entered St Philip’s Seminary and with intellectual distinction pursued a two year course of studies in philosophy. With a growing sense of the importance of both intellectual and liturgical life, following his seminary studies Alexander decided to pursue his vocation as a novice at the Toronto Oratory.

Christopher Huynh was born in 1992 and raised in Barrie, Ontario. Christopher displays accomplishments in many fields: as a pianist and singer, a visual artist (especially drawing), as a student of languages, and also as a contributor to online forums dedicated to Japanese popular culture in particular; in this connection he has written liner notes for a CD of game music performed by the London Symphony Orchestra. Following an outstanding undergraduate degree in Physics from McMaster University, during which he and his collaborators had an article published in a professional journal, Christopher decided to pursue a vocation to the priesthood and completed two years of Philosophy at St Philip’s. During this time his attraction to the Oratorian way of life blossomed, and upon graduation he petitioned to enter the Toronto Oratory as a novice.

Brs Alexander, Jason, and Christopher with the Father in the garden after the ceremony

Clothing of Brothers Jason, Alexander, and Christopher
(Feast of the Assumption: August 15, 2016)

The clothing of a new novices is always a time for rejoicing, both for the novices themselves, and for the community. For the novices because they has found what they believe is the will of God on how they are to live their lives, and for the community because it has new members. Both these reactions are sound ones, and so in the hearts of all of us there should be a song of thanksgiving for his gifts to all of us, and we all sing with our new brothers, `I was glad when they said unto me, we will go into the house of the Lord’.

It is Into the House of the Lord that Jason, Alexander and Christopher are coming, and if you ask what is the House of the Lord, that is, what is it other than the Church, and they already belong to that; if you ask what is the special mark of the House of the Lord into which they are coming, then we reply in our Lord’s words – my House shall be called a House of prayer. Domus mea, domus orationis vocabitur; we are reminded of those words every time we go into our Church.

We are not a political movement, nor a pressure group dedicated to bringing about certain specific reforms, we are not a religious order in the technical sense with clearly determinate purposes. The Oratory, as the Constitutions put, it takes its name from a place dedicated to prayer.

Prayer has many different aspects; and there are many kinds of prayer; and it is all too easy to mistake theories about praying for the activity itself. Pray as you can, don’t pray as you can’t Abbot Chapman says in his Spiritual Letters. He meant: do what you can in the way best suited to you, but get on with it; actually do some praying.

In one of the little prayers St Philip gave to Francis Zazzara there is one that goes like this: `I seek you and I do not find you, come to me, Lord Jesus’. Remember that is, to paraphrase St John of the Cross, that if the soul is seeking God it should also be aware that God is seeking the soul even more. Do what you can and leave yourself open for God; you want Him because he already wants you a lot more than you want Him. Leave yourself open and then the Holy Spirit will lead you into the heart of Christ; so long, that is, as you do not put up road-blocks to his coming.

And that, of course, is what we are all constantly doing; putting up road blocks. After a certain point, left to ourselves, there seems little we can do to remove them. But, if we persevere, and don’t turn back, then God will begin to do most of the work. But let us all remind ourselves that God’s chosen instrument for removing the road-blocks, and accomplishing our sanctification is suffering, suffering that forces us onto our knees, suffering that gradually conforms our hearts and stubborn wills to the obedience of Christ. For in his will is our peace; and only in his will is our peace. Serious prayer is not a hobby or a pastime; and most people, as St John of the Cross teaches, turn back when the going gets tough.

The unknown writer of The Cloud of Unknowing says in The Epistle of Privy Counsel that:

Many great storms and temptations, peradventure, shall rise in this time, and thou knowest never whither to run for sorrow. All is away from thy feeling, common grace and special….Yet be not abashed; for he shall come, I promise thee, full soon, when he liketh, to relieve thee and with his great might deliver thee of all thy sorrow and pain, far more worthily than ever he did before. Yea! And if he after go, after will he come again; and each time, if thou wilt bear it by meek suffering, will he come more worthily and merrylier than other. P.C. Ch. 12.

The writer is saying, that once we begin to pray seriously over a period of time, then our control over both the rhythm of our prayer and the content of our prayer will be taken away from us. When this happens we have to not only to accept, but also to do our best to co-operate with what God thinks best for us at the time. This alternating of darkness and light, of desolation and consolation is designed to make us pliant to what God wants of us, or, we might say, readily disposed to do his will.

For iron, says St John of the Cross, cannot adapt itself and be subservient to the intelligence of the artificer, unless he use fire and a hammer, like the fire which Jeremiah says that God put into his understanding, saying: ‘He sent fire into my bones and taught me’. And Jeremiah says of the hammer: Thou hast chastised me, Lord, and I was instructed’. Even so says the preacher: He that is not tried, what can he know? And he that has no experience knoweth little’.[LLF 138]

The writer of The Cloud teaches the same lesson is a less dramatic, but equally forcible way:

And this he doth because he will have thee made pliant to his will ghostly as a roan glove to thine hand bodily. P.C. Ch 12.

That is, just as a well made glove of fine material fits so well that it is responsive to every movement of the muscles of the hand, so it must become possible for our soul to be responsive to every movement of the will of God. The shadows and the darkness are an essential element of God’s dealing with a generous soul.

But it will not be all darkness and shadows, and the man of prayer is always looking for the things that are yet to be. In Philippians there is a text that St Gregory of Nyssa tells us sums up the attitude a Christian ought to have towards the things of this life and our need for God:

… one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on to the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 4:13-14.

Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead. No matter how high the hills we may have climbed so far, the summit shows us another range even higher and more beautiful – and more challenging - than the country we have already passed through. The struggle against sin, the darkness, even the temptations to despair and to give up, are all very real, but they do not have the last word. There may be periods when these things may seem to dominate the landscape of a life given over to Christ, but they are not the final note of such a life. So, try to forget what lies behind and press forward in hope and joy to what lies ahead, for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Let us, then, all of us, start again this afternoon with a prayer of thanksgiving. Start again, each in his own way and according to the circumstances of his life: Jason, Alexander and Christopher for the grace of their vocation to St Philip’s House, and, for those of us who are already here, a prayer of gratitude to Almighty God, to our Lady and to St Philip for our new brothers. Let us all, 'forgetting what lies behind, strain forward to what lies ahead'.

St Philip's Day Celebrated at the Toronto Oratory (May 26, 2016)

The Solemn High Mass offered on the feast of St Philip Neri this year at the Toronto Oratory included the following musical selections:

01 Frescobaldi Elevation Toccata from Fiori Musicali, followed by a short improv.
02 Introit Caritas Dei & Gloria from Josquin Missa De Beata Virgine.
03 Josquin Gloria
04 Gradual Venite Filii & Alleluia De Excelso, Philip Fournier
05 Obrecht Credo Sub Tuum Praesidium
06 Offertory Viam Mandatorum & motet: Justus es Domine, Robert White.
07 Josquin Sanctus
08 Josquin Benedictus
09 Agnus De Beata Virgine, Francisco Guerrero
10 Communion Cor Meum & the Peter Philips Ave Verum

The singers on this occasion were:

○ Soprano: Natalie Mahon & Bronwyn Thies-Thompson
● Alto: Rebecca Claborn & Jessica Wright
○ Tenor: Mark Rainey & Daniel Webb
● Bass: Sean Nix & Chun Lo
○ Organ & Direction: Philip Fournier

The homily for this occasion was delivered by the Rev. Fr John Hodgins, pastor of the Ordinariate Parish of St Thomas More in Toronto. You can read it here

Brisbane Novices' Formation Film

The novices of the Brisbane Oratory-in-Formation made this short documentary to share with their benefactors and supporters their formation at the Toronto Oratory, where they experience life in an established Oratory, are formed in the ways of St Philip, and also undergo their education in philosophy.