“A Vacuum He May Not Abhor”

RS Thomas Obituary

R.S. Thomas in a typical pose. One does wonder if he ever smiled. (Source)

R.S. Thomas (1913-2000), the Welsh nationalist, Anglican minister, and consummate poet belief and doubt has recently become a favorite. Here is a poem of his that, I think, is worth pondering in Lent.

The Absence

It is this great absence
that is like a presence, that compels
me to address it without hope
of a reply. It is a room I enter

from which someone has just
gone, the vestibule for the arrival
of one who has not yet come.
I modernise the anachronism

of my language, but he is no more here
than before. Genes and molecules
have no more power to call
him up than the incense of the Hebrews

at their altars. My equations fail
as my words do. What resources have I
other than the emptiness without him of my whole
being, a vacuum he may not abhor?

Fénelon on the Return to God

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François de Salignac de la Mothe-Fénelon, Archbishop of Cambrai in the age of Louis XIV (Source)

Continuing my Lenten series of Wednesday spiritual masters, I present to you here a letter by Archbishop Fénelon to an officer, often identified as the Chevalier Colbert. The translation I am using comes from 1877, but I would also recommend to you the version by fellow Wahoo Chad Helms in the 2006 Paulist Press edition of Fénelon‘s Selected Writings. It struck me by its beauty and force of feeling, as well as its Lenten spirit. 

You have forgotten me, sir, but it is impossible for me to forget you. Something in my heart continually recalls you, and makes me want to hear of you, as I have more especially felt during the campaign and its perils. Your forgetfulness only makes me feel the more. The friendship you showed me once is of a kind never to be forgotten; and when I recall some of our conversations, my eyes are filled with tears. I trust that you remember how pleasant and hearty they were. Have you found anything since then more acceptable than God? Have the truths which then satisfied you failed? Is the pure light of the kingdom of God quenched? Has the world’s nothingness acquired some fresh value? Is that which was but a wretched dream not still the same? Is the God to Whom you poured out your soul, and Who filled you then with a peace beyond all earthly ken, no longer to be loved? Has the eternal beauty, ever so fresh to pure eyes, no longer charms for you? Is that source of heavenly joy, of unmarred happiness, which springs from the Father of Mercies and God of Consolation, dried up? No, for He has filled me with an urgent desire to recall you to Him. I cannot resist it: for long I have hesitated, and said to myself that I should only worry you. Even as I began this letter, I laid down a limit of discretion to myself; but after the first few words, my heart burst its bounds. Even should you not answer, or should think me absurd, I should not cease to speak sorrowfully to God of you, when unable to speak to you yourself any more. Once more, sir, forgive me if I exceed all due limits. I know it as well as you, but I feel irresistibly urged: God has not forgotten you, since He stirs up so eager a desire for your salvation in me.

What does He ask of you, save to be happy? Have you not realised that one is happy in loving Him? Have you not felt that there is no other real happiness, whatever excitement may be found in sensual pleasures, apart from Him? Since, then, you know where to find the Fountain of Life, and have of old drunk thereof, why would you seek foul, earthly cisterns? Bright, happy days, lighted up by the soft rays of loving mercy, when will ye return? When will it be given me to see this child of God reclaimed by His powerful Hand, filled with His favour, and the blessings of His holy Feast; causing joy in Heaven, despising earth, and acquiring an inexhaustible fund of humility and fervour from his experience of human frailty?

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The Return of the Prodigal Son, Rembrandt van Rijn, c. 1661-69. (Source)

I am not dictating what you should do. God will Himself make that plain to you according to your needs, so long as you hearken inwardly to Him, and despise boldly that which is despicable. Do whatever you will, only love God, and let His Love, revived in your heart, be your guide. I have often thanked Him for having shielded you amid the perils of this campaign, in which your soul was even more exposed to risk than your body. Many a time I have trembled for you: put an end to my fears, and fill my heart with gladness. None can possibly be greater than to find myself once more with you in the house of God, united in heart and soul, looking together to one glorious hope, and the Coming of our Great God, Who will fill us with the flood of His pure delights. Your ears are not yet closed to the sublime language of truth, your heart is made to feel its charms. “Taste and see” the pleasant bread daily spread for us at our Father’s table. Why have you forsaken it? With such support, who can fear that anything else will be lacking? Even if you do not feel strong enough to regain the happy position where you were, at least answer me, at least do not shun me. I know what it is to be weak; I am a thousand times weaker than you. It is very profitable to have realised what one is; but do not add to that weakness, which is inseparable from human nature, an estrangement from the means of strength. You shall regulate our intercourse; I will only speak to you of such things as you are willing to hear. I will keep God’s secret in my heart, and shall be always, with unchanging affection and regard, etc.

 

A Benedictine Prayer to St. Philip Neri in Lenten Time

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Ven. Dom Prosper Guéranger. (Source)

Many of my readers will know the Venerable Dom Prosper Guéranger (1805-1875) for his monumental work of sacramentology and liturgical exegesis, The Liturgical Year. I happened to be perusing a 1908 French edition of the text and came upon Dom Guéranger’s homage to St. Philip Neri in Volume 3 of his Easter writings. Naturally, this discovery was of great interest to me, as I have written before on the similarities between the Oratorian and Benedictine vocations. I thus present to you my own translation of the prayer, found on pages 548-50 in the edition I was using. I hope it may be thought a fair translation of the great monk’s words. At any rate, I have tried to render his prayer in an elevated style worthy to the subject.

Thou didst love the Lord Jesus, O Philip, and thy whole life was nothing but a continuous act of love; but thou didst not wish to enjoy the highest good alone. All thine efforts tended to make Him known by all men, such that all might love Him with thee and thus reach their supreme end. For forty years, thou wast the indefatigable apostle of the holy city, and nothing could subtract from the action of the divine fire that burned in thee. We who are the posterity of those who heard thy words and admired the celestial gifts in thee, we dare to beg of thee to cast thy gaze upon us as well. Teach us to love our Jesus resurrected. It does not suffice for us to adore Him and to rejoice in His triumph; we must love Him: for the train of His mysteries from His Incarnation to His Resurrection have no other aim but revealing to us, in an ever growing light, His divine kindness. It is by loving him ever more that we shall succeed in elevating ourselves to the mystery of His Resurrection, which fulfills in us the revelation of all the riches of His heart. The more He lifts Himself into the new life that He won in leaving His tomb, the more He appears full of love for us, and the more He desires that our hearts should be joined with His. Pray, O Philip, and beg that “our heart and our flesh might quake for the living God” [Ps. 83:2]. After the mystery of Easter, introduce us to that of the Ascension; dispose our hearts to receive the divine Spirit of Pentecost; and when the august mystery of the Eucharist shines before our eyes with all its fires in the solemnity that approaches, thou, O Philip, who didst celebrate it one last time here below, who didst rise at the end of the day to that eternal rest where Jesus shows Himself unveiled, do thou prepare our souls to receive and to taste “the living bread which giveth life to the world” [John 6:33].

The sanctity that shone in thee, O Philip, had as its character the momentum of thy soul towards God, and all those who approached thee soon participated in this disposition that alone could respond to the call of the divine Redeemer. Thou didst know that thou took hold of souls, and thou drovest them to perfection by the way of trust and generosity of heart. In this great work thy method was never to have any method at all, imitating the Apostles and the ancient Fathers, and thou didst trust in the virtue proper to the word of God. By thee the fervent frequenting of the sacraments reappeared as the surest sign of the Christian life. Pray for the faithful, and come to the aid of so many souls who grow restless and exhaust themselves in the paths that the hand of man hast traced, and that too often retard or prevent the intimate union of Creator and creature.

Thou didst most ardently love the Church, O Philip; and this love of the Church is the indispensable sign of sanctity. Thine elevated contemplation did not distract thee from the dolorous lot of this holy Bride of Christ, so tested in the century when thou wast born and died. The efforts of triumphant heresy in so many countries enkindled zeal in thy heart: obtain for us from the Holy Ghost this living sympathy for Catholic Truth that renders us sensible to its defeats and victories. It does not suffice for us to save our souls; we must desire with ardor and aid with all our means the advancement of the Reign of God on earth, the extirpation of heresy, and the exaltation of our mother the holy Church: it is in this condition that we are children of God. By thine examples, O Philip, inspire in us this ardor by which we must totally associate ourselves with the sacred interests of our common mother. Pray as well for the Church Militant which counted thee in her ranks as one of her best soldiers. Serve valiantly the cause of Rome, which holds as an honor the debt owed to thee for so many of thy services. You sanctified her during thy mortal life; hallow her again and defend her from heaven on high.

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Madonna and Child Appearing to St. Philip Neri, Giovanni Battista Piazzetti, c. 1725. (Source)

 

A Prayer of Union with the Will of God

Crucifixion from the Isenheim Altarpiece, detail of Christ's right hand, c.1512-16 (oil on panel)

From the Isenheim Altarpiece of Matthias Grünewald. (Source)

Let me be Thy glove, O Lord,
that, acting not but by Thy hand,
I may be kept from the ways and works of evil.
Gather up all my five senses
unto Thee
as so many Providential fingers.
Let my heart be pierced with the wound
of Thy priestly palm.
So bound to Thee, I will fear not
for my salvation and everlasting bliss.
Through Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Amen.

Maurice Zundel on Prayer

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Maurice Zundel in old age. (Source)

Fr. Maurice Zundel was one of the great, if often-forgotten, theologians of the last century. Sometime student of Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, he wrote various works of Catholic philosophy in conversation with existentialism, Protestantism, and personalism. This wide-ranging and erudite scholarship led soon-to-be-Saint Paul VI to call him “a mystical genius.” However, he is best known in the Anglophone world for his writing on the liturgy. This extract is taken from his great work, The Splendour of the Liturgy (1943), translated by Edward Watkin for Sheed & Ward. It comes from his chapter on “The Collect” (pg. 61-67). I was struck by this passage’s profound depths of wisdom as well as its light,  imaginative style.

Prayer is the soul’s breath, the creature’s fiat in response to the Creator’s in that mysterious exchange which makes us God’s fellow-workers. Its purpose is not to inform God of needs which He knows infinitely better than we do ourselves, nor to move His will to satisfy them, for His will is the eternal gift of infinite Love. Its sole object is to make us more capable of receiving such a gift, to open our eyes to the light, to throw open the portals of our heart too narrow to give access to the King of glory. There is no need to importune God for our happiness, for He never ceases to will it. It is we who place the obstacle in its way and keep his love at arm’s length.

Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thy children, as a hen gathers her chickens beneath her wings, and thou wouldst not.

This surely is the most poignant expression of the Divine Tragedy: ‘I would, I, thy Lord and thy Godbut thou, thou wouldst not.’ If we place this complaint side by side with the text already quoted from the Apocalypse, ‘I stand at the door and knock,’ we must conclude that God always hears man’s prayer, that He is the eternal answer to prayer, and that it is man who too often refuses to hear God’s prayer.

And prayer is precisely the response to Love’s eternal invitation, which is made with an infinite regard for our freedom. It is, therefore, superfluous to ask whether every prayer is heard. It is heard if and in so far as it is a genuine prayer. For genuine prayer is the opening of the soul to the mysterious invasion of the Divine Presence, and it is completely summed up in the final appeal of the Apocalypse: ‘Come, Lord Jesus.’ (61-62)

Throughout the chapter, Zundel strikes what we might call a sophiological note. He approaches the most basic substance of the Christian lifeprayerand carries on to the Eschaton, to spiritual nuptials, and to illumination from on high.

It remains true that there is no conversation without answers, no marriage of love without mutual consent. And it is a marriage of love that is to be concluded between God and ourselves. In this marriage whose intimate union must continually grow until its flower unfolds in eternity, prayer is our assent. There is no need to put it into words. It may be confined to a silent adherence, a simple look in which we give our entire being a calm silence in which, without adding anything of her own, the soul listens to Him who utters Himself within her by His single Word. And all prayer tends towards this transparent passivity which exposes the diamond of our free will to the rays of the eternal light. We can pray without asking for anything and without saying anything, that God may express Himself the more freely…

It is ultimately for the sake of God that the soul desires her own Beatitude, that no obstacle may thwart His love, that the world may realise its spiritual vocation, and that throughout creation all may be yea, as all is yea in God. (62-64)

Zundel notes that the peculiar genius of the Liturgy is the way it uses human spiritual needs as launchpads for a “flight” into the eternal. The Collects crystallize this function in that they often speak of our human wants. Zundel writes:

But their very sobriety forbids us to stop at their verbal surface. The soul has but to let herself go and she is launched on the open sea voyaging over abysses of light and darkness, of sorrow and peace. They are more than prayers, they are sacraments of prayer, formulas that induce the essential prayer which we have attempted to describe. (64-65)

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Would that we might be ever mindful of what is really taking place at every Mass! (Source)

Among Prayer-Book Anglicans, there used to be a very old custom of memorizing collects. I do wonder how many still keep it upcertainly, I don’t know of any Catholics who memorize collects. Imagine what would happen to our own spiritual lives, to say nothing of the Church militant, if we committed to learning a few by heart. If you’re looking for a beautiful English translation of the traditional collects, might I recommend a little volume published by W. Knott & Son. Otherwise, there’s another good alternative that came out around the same time. 

The Kings’ Novena

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Frontispiece of the Eikon Basilike (1649) – (Source)

It occurred to me today that one could pray a novena between the day of Louis XVI’s death and that of Charles I, which I pointed out to my friend, Connor McNeill. He kindly whipped this little service up, drawing upon the offertory antiphons and collects for the service of Charles I in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. It has been suitably altered to accommodate both kings, and indeed, all Christian rulers.

TheKingsNovena

“Awake and Sing and Be All Wing”

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The Most Holy Name of Jesus at the High Altar of the Gesu, Rome. (Source)

To the Name above every Name, the Name of Jesus

By Richard Crashaw

A HYMN

 

I SING the Name which None can say

But touch’t with An interiour Ray:

The Name of our New Peace; our Good:

Our Blisse: and Supernaturall Blood:

The Name of All our Lives and Loves.

Hearken, And Help, ye holy Doves!

The high-born Brood of Day; you bright

Candidates of blissefull Light,

The Heirs Elect of Love; whose Names belong

Unto The everlasting life of Song;

All ye wise Soules, who in the wealthy Brest

Of This unbounded Name build your warm Nest.

Awake, My glory. Soul, (if such thou be,

And That fair Word at all referr to Thee)

Awake and sing

And be All Wing;

Bring hither thy whole Self; and let me see

What of thy Parent Heaven yet speakes in thee,

O thou art Poore

Of noble Powres, I see,

And full of nothing else but empty Me,

Narrow, and low, and infinitely lesse

Then this Great mornings mighty Busynes.

One little World or two

(Alas) will never doe.

We must have store.

Goe, Soul, out of thy Self, and seek for More.

Goe and request

Great Nature for the Key of her huge Chest

Of Heavns, the self involving Sett of Sphears

(Which dull mortality more Feeles then heares)

Then rouse the nest

Of nimble, Art, and traverse round

The Aiery Shop of soul-appeasing Sound:

And beat a summons in the Same

All-soveraign Name

To warn each severall kind

And shape of sweetnes, Be they such

As sigh with supple wind

Or answer Artfull Touch,

That they convene and come away

To wait at the love-crowned Doores of

This Illustrious Day.

Shall we dare This, my Soul? we’l doe’t and bring

No Other note for’t, but the Name we sing.

Wake Lute and Harp

And every sweet-lipp’t Thing

That talkes with tunefull string;

Start into life, And leap with me

Into a hasty Fitt-tun’d Harmony.

Nor must you think it much

T’obey my bolder touch;

I have Authority in Love’s name to take you

And to the worke of Love this morning wake you;

Wake; In the Name

Of Him who never sleeps, All Things that Are,

Or, what’s the same,

Are Musicall;

Answer my Call

And come along;

Help me to meditate mine Immortall Song.

Come, ye soft ministers of sweet sad mirth,

Bring All your houshold stuffe of Heavn on earth;

O you, my Soul’s most certain Wings,

Complaining Pipes, and prattling Strings,

Bring All the store

Of Sweets you have; And murmur that you have no more.

Come, né to part,

Nature and Art!

Come; and come strong,

To the conspiracy of our Spatious song.

Bring All the Powres of Praise

Your Provinces of well-united Worlds can raise;

Bring All your Lutes and Harps of Heaven and Earth;

What ére cooperates to The common mirthe

Vessells of vocall Ioyes,

Or You, more noble Architects of Intellectuall Noise,

Cymballs of Heav’n, or Humane sphears,

Solliciters of Soules or Eares;

And when you’are come, with All

That you can bring or we can call;

O may you fix

For ever here, and mix

Your selves into the long

And everlasting series of a deathlesse Song;

Mix All your many Worlds, Above,

And loose them into One of Love.

Chear thee my Heart!

For Thou too hast thy Part

And Place in the Great Throng

Of This unbounded All-imbracing Song.

Powres of my Soul, be Proud!

And speake lowd

To All the dear-bought Nations This Redeeming Name,

And in the wealth of one Rich Word proclaim

New Similes to Nature.

May it be no wrong

Blest Heavns, to you, and your Superiour song,

That we, dark Sons of Dust and Sorrow,

A while Dare borrow

The Name of Your Dilights and our Desires,

And fitt it to so farr inferior Lyres.

Our Murmurs have their Musick too,

Ye mighty Orbes, as well as you,

Nor yields the noblest Nest

Of warbling Seraphim to the eares of Love,

A choicer Lesson then the joyfull Brest

Of a poor panting Turtle-Dove.

And we, low Wormes have leave to doe

The Same bright Busynes (ye Third Heavens) with you.

Gentle Spirits, doe not complain.

We will have care

To keep it fair,

And send it back to you again.

Come, lovely Name! Appeare from forth the Bright

Regions of peacefull Light,

Look from thine own Illustrious Home,

Fair King of Names, and come.

Leave All thy native Glories in their Georgeous Nest,

And give thy Self a while The gracious Guest

Of humble Soules, that seek to find

The hidden Sweets

Which man’s heart meets

When Thou art Master of the Mind.

Come, lovely Name; life of our hope!

Lo we hold our Hearts wide ope!

Unlock thy Cabinet of Day

Dearest Sweet, and come away.

Lo how the thirsty Lands

Gasp for thy Golden Showres! with longstretch’t Hands.

Lo how the laboring Earth

That hopes to be

All Heaven by Thee,

Leapes at thy Birth.

The’ attending World, to wait thy Rise,

First turn’d to eyes;

And then, not knowing what to doe;

Turn’d Them to Teares, and spent Them too.

Come Royall Name, and pay the expence

Of all this Pretious Patience.

O come away

And kill the Death of This Delay.

O see, so many Worlds of barren yeares

Melted and measur’d out is Seas of Teares.

O see, The Weary liddes of wakefull Hope

(Love’s Eastern windowes) All wide ope

With Curtains drawn,

To catch The Day-break of Thy Dawn.

O dawn, at last, long look’t for Day!

Take thine own wings, and come away.

Lo, where Aloft it comes! It comes, Among

The Conduct of Adoring Spirits, that throng

Like diligent Bees, And swarm about it.

O they are wise;

And know what Sweetes are suck’t from out it.

It is the Hive,

By which they thrive,

Where All their Hoard of Hony lyes.

Lo where it comes, upon The snowy Dove’s

Soft Back; And brings a Bosom big with Loves.

Welcome to our dark world, Thou

Womb of Day!

Unfold thy fair Conceptions; And display

The Birth of our Bright Ioyes.

O thou compacted

Body of Blessings: spirit of Soules extracted!

O dissipate thy spicy Powres

(Clowd of condensed sweets) and break upon us

In balmy showrs;

O fill our senses, And take from us

All force of so Prophane a Fallacy

To think ought sweet but that which smells of Thee.

Fair, flowry Name; In none but Thee

And Thy Nectareall Fragrancy,

Hourly there meetes

An universall Synod of All sweets;

By whom it is defined Thus

That no Perfume

For ever shall presume

To passe for Odoriferous,

But such alone whose sacred Pedigree

Can prove it Self some kin (sweet name) to Thee.

Sweet Name, in Thy each Syllable

A Thousand Blest Arabias dwell;

A Thousand Hills of Frankincense;

Mountains of myrrh, and Beds of species,

And ten Thousand Paradises,

The soul that tasts thee takes from thence.

How many unknown Worlds there are

Of Comforts, which Thou hast in keeping!

How many Thousand Mercyes there

In Pitty’s soft lap ly a sleeping!

Happy he who has the art

To awake them,

And to take them

Home, and lodge them in his Heart.

O that it were as it was wont to be!

When thy old Freinds of Fire, All full of Thee,

Fought against Frowns with smiles; gave Glorious chase

To Persecutions; And against the Face

Of Death and feircest Dangers, durst with Brave

And sober pace march on to meet A Grave.

On their Bold Brests about the world they bore thee

And to the Teeth of Hell stood up to teach thee,

In Center of their inmost Soules they wore thee,

Where Rackes and Torments striv’d, in vain, to reach thee.

Little, alas, thought They

Who tore the Fair Brests of thy Freinds,

Their Fury but made way

For Thee; And serv’d them in Thy glorious ends.

What did Their weapons but with wider pores

Inlarge thy flaming-brested Lovers

More freely to transpire

That impatient Fire

The Heart that hides Thee hardly covers.

What did their Weapons but sett wide the Doores

For Thee: Fair, purple Doores, of love’s devising;

The Ruby windowes which inrich’t the East

Of Thy so oft repeated Rising.

Each wound of Theirs was Thy new Morning;

And reinthron’d thee in thy Rosy Nest,

With blush of thine own Blood thy day adorning,

It was the witt of love óreflowd the Bounds

Of Wrath, and made thee way through All Those wounds.

Wellcome dear, All-Adored Name!

For sure there is no Knee

That knowes not Thee.

Or if there be such sonns of shame,

Alas what will they doe

When stubborn Rocks shall bow

And Hills hang down their Heavn-saluting Heads

To seek for humble Beds

Of Dust, where in the Bashfull shades of night

Next to their own low Nothing they may ly,

And couch before the dazeling light of thy dread majesty.

They that by Love’s mild Dictate now

Will not adore thee,

Shall Then with Just Confusion, bow

And break before thee.

Prayer Request: Retreat

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Maria Immaculata, Ora Pro Nobis. (Source)

I haven’t been as active on this blog as I had hoped for the last week or so, but I do have several good posts in store. In the meantime, please do pray for me. I’m off to Ireland for a retreat in honor of the Immaculate Conception, and I would appreciate your prayers as I spend this time unplugging and drawing near to Our Lord in His Blessed Infancy.

I noticed yesterday that I’ve accidentally timed the whole thing rather well. I leave England on the feast of St. Birinus, Bishop of Dorchester. He baptized Cynegils, King of the West Saxons, in what is now Dorchester on Thames, only a short bus ride from Oxford. I leave Ireland to return home to the United States on the feast of St. Juan Diego, the first indigenous saint of the Americas (and a deeply Marian one at that). And of course, the culmination of the retreat falls on the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, America’s patronal feast. Providence works through these kinds of coincidences.

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The Immaculate Conception, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, c.1767. I love Our Lady’s expression –  a mixture of humility before the Spirit above and regal contempt for the Devil at her feet. (Source)

Additionally, by a quirk of the academic calendar, this year is the first time in my life that I will have a genuine Advent. Since seventh grade, I’ve had exams deep into December. Since I became Catholic four and a half years ago, I haven’t had the chance to experience this season for what it is, a time of profound peace, penance, and prayer in preparation for the Nativity of Christ. All of which prompts me to beg for your prayers.

Our Lady, Immaculate, pray for us.
Our Lady, Theotokos, pray for us.
Our Lady, Queen of Heaven, pray for us.

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Immaculate Conception, José Claudio Antolinez, 17th century. (Source)

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)

A Word of Thanksgiving

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Our Lady of Walsingham, pray for us. (Source).

Today, on the double feast of Our Lady of Ransom and Our Lady of Walsingham, I was blessed to consecrate myself totally to the Mother of God at the Church of her Immaculate Heart, otherwise known as the Brompton Oratory. Thank you to everyone who prayed for me en route to this wonderful occasion. I look upon it as a momentous date, a renewal of my entrance into the Church four years ago,

The date and place are especially meaningful to me. I have long had a devotion to Our Lady of Walsingham, Patroness of England. During the stresses of my final year at Virginia, I entrusted all my major projects–in particular my thesis and my graduate school applications–to her. And over the course of the last few years, my love for St. Philip Neri and his sons has grown into a true devotion to the Oratorian way. Brompton was where that began for me, almost two and a half years ago. I date the start of my friendship with St. Philip to my first overawed trip to the Oratory in 2015. And I pronounced my vow of consecration at the altar of Our Lady of the Rosary, a grace that reminded me of all the wonderful Dominicans I have known over the short course of my life as a Catholic.

So thank you to all those who have prayed for me. And please pray still, that I might not forget my vow as the inevitable distractions, delights, and stresses of grad school set in.