An Oxonian Blog Worth Reading

The dreaming spires of Oxford. (Source)

I have just discovered that Once I Was a Clever Boy, a blog I used to enjoy but was sorry to see in hiatus, has returned. John Whitehead, the blog’s author, is a friend and a Brother of the Little Oratory here in Oxford. He hasn’t put up any new content recently. Nevertheless, there was a long time when for whatever technical reason – either on John’s end or mine, I was never sure – the blog was totally inaccessible. I’m very happy to see it’s back, and I look forward to more content from this quintessentially Oxonian blog.

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My Favorite Hymn to St. Philip Neri

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St. Philip, pray for us (Source)

As my readers will well know, St. Philip Neri is my favorite saint and has been for a long while now. I take every opportunity I can to sing his praises on this blog, and today happens to be one of them. In Oxford, we are celebrating the Feast of the Patronage of St. Philip, a local solemnity that honors the canonical erection of the house here as a Congregation of the Oratory. Please pray for the Oxford Fathers on this, their silver jubilee.

To celebrate, here is my favorite hymn to the Apostle of Rome – Pangamus Nerio, as sung by the choir of the Birmingham Oratory. It is the vesperal hymn of St. Philip.

Pangamus Nerio, debita cantica
Quem, supra nitidi sydera verticis,
Virtus et meritum sustulit inclytum,
Carpturum pia gaudia.

Noctes sub spectabus, corpora martyrum,
Quas implent, vigilat sedulus integras,
Ex ipsis satagens discere mortuis
Normam qua bene viveret.

Nocte dum Nereus fercula pauperi,
Gestans praecipitat, panniger Angelus
Tecto significat, qualiter excidat
Numquam fervida caritas.

Orantis penetrans cordis in intimum,
Laxavit spatium Spiritus impete
De Coelo veniens, esset ut hospiti
Immenso locus amplior!

Coelorum Domino, dum sacra munera
Libabat Nerius, saepius advolans,
Tellurem rapido corpore deserit,
Christo fiat ut obvius!

Corpus deseruit, cum Deus Hostiae
Fertur sub niveae tegmine conditus,
Prudens, in Patriam, pergere splendide
Nolens absque Viatico.

Amen.

Unfortunately, I don’t have an English translation (nor the time and energy to translate from the original myself). Alas.

May St. Philip Neri pray for Oxford, for the Oratorians there, and for all of us who call upon him in filial affection.

 

For Blessed John Henry Newman

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Bl. Newman in his Oratorian habit (Source).

There is so much I could write about Cardinal Newman, on this, his feast day. I have, indeed, already written posts about him many times in the past. But now that courses are starting, I don’t find that I can say as much as I would perhaps like. I also write this essay in some state of exhaustion, having just completed the walking pilgrimage from the Oxford Oratory to Littlemore in honor of Newman’s reception into the Church by the Blessed Dominic Barberi.

So instead of making this a terribly erudite post about a point in Newman’s life or theology, I thought I’d just express my profound gratitude. It can be gauche to make any feast of the Church about one’s self. That is not at all my intention, and I hope I will not be thought self-seeking in writing of my own experience. I don’t pretend that my story is terribly uniquebut it is mine, and no one else can tell it. I am emboldened to relate the history of my own friendship with Blessed John Henry because, as I was taught by Dom Mark Daniel Kirby, “a grace remembered is a grace renewed.” And of course, it’s not really about me. It’s about God, and what He has mercifully done for me through Blessed John Henry Newman.

Saints come to us at many stages of our life. They are always timely, making their appointments according to Heaven’s clock. The mysterious intervention of the saints provides us with one of the many beautiful aspects under which we might consider the manifold glories of providence. They are, as they were in life, God’s instruments; only now, in beatitude, they are eternally and perfectly so. By their intercession, they fill their afterlife with comings and goings, always about God’s business.

Like so many Catholics, I have known the prayers of a saint. Blessed John Henry Newman entered my life when I was still very young in the faith. Of course, I had heard of him before. His name looms large in the history of conversion, and as a convert myself, I found his story interesting if not overly compelling. All that was to change in the spring of my second year, when, in a class entitled, “The University, God, and Reason,” I had the chance to read the first half of his famous educational treatise, The Idea of a University. His magnificent prose and bold defense of knowledge for its own sake thrilled me. I made him my Lenten companion that spring. And in May, I tried (not entirely successfully) to go through all of his Marian meditations for the entire month. A few weeks later, I left for my study abroad.

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Newman in later years. (Source)

This venture is, I think, one of the great privileges and turning-points of my life. The more I reflect on it, and where I have been since, the more I thank God for allowing me that study which was more a pilgrimage than anything else. On my very first day away from home, I had the chance to visit the Brompton Oratory. Leaving the hustle and bustle of Kensington in the late afternoon, stepping into that dark and immense well of stillness, I immediately thought, “This is God’s house.” I had never had that reaction in any other church before, and never yet have since. It was unbidden, unlooked-for, unimagined. Yet there, in the vast twilight of Fr. Faber’s church, I felt the unmistakable presence of God. And whose altar should I find, off in a niche, under a low-hanging balcony? Whose but Cardinal Newman’s? And from Cardinal Newman’s altar I walked up to the transeptsand found the effigy-altar of St. Philip Neri. To this day, it is still my firm conviction that I was led to befriend St. Philip by Blessed John Henry, his son.

That was my first introduction to the Oratory. While I had heard of it and understood some of its distinctives, these were merely academic realities to me until that long journey. Throughout the rest of my travels that summer, my mind turned constantly to Blessed John Henry and St. Philip. In Rome, the presence of the latter seeped from the very walls. I had the grace of visiting the Chiesa Nuova twice, and San Giovanni dei Fiorentini once (though at the time I did not know its history). And when I returned to England to complete the course I had signed up for, I started to find Cardinal Newman everywhere. Across the street from my college in Oxford was the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, where Newman was vicar. I visited Oriel and passed by Trinity, his two colleges. I worshiped weekly at the Oratoryyet another house of St. Philipwhere Newman had preached in his own life. I bought a small portrait of the man himself in the little church shop there. And while on a brief retreat with the monks of Silverstream, I providentially purchased a short biography of St. Philip Neri. It was the first I ever read, and I devoured it in a few days.

I have little to say of the time since my return to the United States in August of 2015. The year that followed was very bad, and my faith suffered greatly. But when I came back after so long a spiritual exile, I once again felt the prayers of Cardinal Newman moving me in the right direction. Slowly but surely, my sense of the presence of God healed. By this point, I was writing a thesis on Newman. I was also seriously pondering my future. I knew I wanted to continue my studies, but the question of where to do so was subject to a number of considerations. So I offered up the issue in prayer to a number of saints, including Our Lady of Walsingham and Bl. Cardinal Newman.

And now I am at Oxford, Newman’s beloved university. Indeed, I am at a college guided by the spirituality of the Anglican movement he began. Cardinal Newman has not failed me by his prayers. I have read so many works by and about him, yet still I feel I have so much more to learn from his life and teaching. He is for me many things at once: intellectual mentor, friend in Heaven, father in God. For someone training for the scholarly life, Newman is a model Catholic academic. He pursued Truth until he found it, and, not resting therein, never ceased following it until his death. I pray that I, too, may follow him out of shadows and images and into the “kindly light” of Truth.

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, Pray for Us.

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The Millais portrait of Cardinal Newman. (Source)

Crashaw on Our Lady of Sorrows

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Yesterday, we celebrated the Feast of the Holy Cross. Today, naturally, we follow that sorrowful glory of Jesus with the sorrowful glory of Mary. And Crashaw remains our companion. Here is his “Sancta Maria Dolorum; or The Mothers of Sorrows, A Pathetical Descant upon the Devout Plainsong of Stabat Mater Dolorosa.” You can also find the text over here.

1.

In shade of Deaths sad Tree
Stood doleful she,
Ah she! now by no other
Name to be known, alas, but Sorrow’s Mother.

Before her Eyes
Her’s and the whole World’s joyes,
Hanging all torn she sees; and in his woes
And Pains, her pangs and throes.
Each wound of his, from every part,
All, more at home in her own heart.

2.

What kind of Marble than
Is that cold man
Who can look on and see,
Nor keep such Noble sorrows company?
Sure even from you
(My Flints) some drops are due
To see so many unkind swords contest
So fast for one soft Brest.
While with a faithful, mutual, floud
Her Eyes bleed Tears, his wounds weep blood.

3.

O costly intercourse
Of deaths, and worse
Divided Loves: while Son and Mother
Discourse alternate wounds to one another;
Quick Deaths that grow
And gather, as they come and go:
His Nails write swords in her; which soon her heart
Pays back, with more then their own smart;
Her swords, still growing with his pain,
Turn Spears, and straight come home again;

4.

She sees her Son, her God,
Bow with a load
Of borrow’d sins; and swim
In woes that were not made for him.
Ah hard Command
Of Love! Here must she stand
Charg’d to look on, and with a stedfast Eye
See her life dye:
Leaving her only so much Breath
As serves to keep alive her death.

5.

O Mother Turtle-dove!
Soft sourse of Love,
That these dry Lids might borrow
Somthing from thy full seas of Sorrow!
O in that Brest
Of thine (the noblest Nest
Both of Love’s Fires and Flouds) might I recline
This hard, cold, Heart of mine!
The chil lump would relent, and prove
Soft Subject for the siege of Love.

6.

O teach those wounds to bleed
In me; me, so to read
This Book of Loves, thus writ
In lines of death, my life may copy it

With Loyal cares.
O let me here claim shares;
Yield something in thy sad prerogative
(Great Queen of griefs) and give
Me to my Tears; who, though all stone,
Think much that thou shouldst mourn alone.

7.

Yea let my life and me
Fix here with thee,
And at the Humble Foot
Of this fair Tree take our Eternal Root.
That so we may
At least be in Loves way;
And in these chaste wars while the wing’d wounds flee
So fast ‘twixt him and thee,
My Brest may catch the kiss of some kind Dart,
Though as at second hand, from either Heart.

8.

O you, your own best Darts,
Dear doleful hearts!
Hail; and strike home and make me see
That wounded bosomes their own weapons be.
Come Wounds! come Darts!
Nail’d hands! and pierced hearts!
Come your whole selves, Sorrow’s great Son and Mo∣ther.
Nor grudge a younger Brother
Of grief’s his portion, who (had all their due)
One single wound should not have left for you.

9.

Shall I set there
So deep a share
(Dear wounds) and onely now
In sorrows draw no dividend with you!
O be more wife,
If not more soft, mine Eyes!
Flow, tardy Founts! and into decent showrs
Dissolve my Days and Hours.
And if thou yet (faint soul!) defer
To bleed with him, fail not to weep with her.

10.

Rich Queen, lend some relief;
At least an alms of Grief
To’ a heart who by sad right of sin
Could prove the whole sum (too sure) due to him.
By all those stings
Of Love, sweet bitter things,
Which these torn hands transcrib’d on thy true Heart;
O teach mine too, the Art
To study him so, till we mix
Wounds, and become one Crucifix.

11.

O let me suck the Wine
So long of this chaste Vine,
Till, drunk of the dear wounds, I be
A lost thing to the World, as it to me.
O faithful friend
Of me and of my end!
Fold up my life in Love; and lay’t beneath
My dear Lord’s vital death.
Lo, heart, thy hopes whole Plea! her precious breath
Powr’d out in Prayers for thee; thy Lord’s in death.