News Archive

Wednesday 25 November 2020

Who are you?

What is the most important characteristic for a person to have? That’s one of the questions we thought about in Young Oratory this week. And having considered the merits and pitfalls of cheerfulness and wisdom, of patience and fortitude, of love and kindness, in the end, we settled on the answer ‘being a good person’. Which is by no means a bad one. Especially once it was expanded to ‘being a virtuous person.’ It just turns out that choosing a particular virtue to prize above all others is not an easy thing to do.

It’s not essential to know the names of all the virtues and have a complete understanding of how they work in order to be a good person. But it is a good thing to think from time to time about the characteristics in a person that we really value, and to ask ourselves if we have them. Our particular virtues and vices, our strengths and weaknesses, give us the genetic make up of our moral character. And they’re an essential part of the answer to the question, ‘Who am I?’

When we go to confession, it can be tempting to approach the process with a checklist mentality. We look at an examination of conscience and think: no, no, sometimes, no, yes, no, once… Viewed like this, sin becomes the infringement of arbitrary and meaningless rules. God and the Church tell us not to do certain things, and while we may really be trying our best to obey, it will be a struggle if we can’t see how these actions are related to who we are.

When we go to confession, we should imagine that our Father is asking us a series of questions, the first of which is, ‘What kind of person are you?’ And to begin answering that, we confess our sins. And then God asks us, ‘Is that really who you are? Is that who you want to be?’

If you met someone for the first time and were trying to tell them about yourself, the list of sins from your last confession would probably not be your starting point. Our sins capture a very tiny snapshot of our character. They are not who we are. But they do describe who we are in danger of becoming.

God sets before us a choice: to be the person defined by what we have just described, or to be better than that. We don’t like it when people notice our moral failings. And that’s the right kind of instinct to have — to know that we are meant to be better than that. But rather than just trying to conceal our weaknesses, we should be trying to overcome them. We don’t avoid sin because it’s against the rules, but because it makes us into someone we don’t want to be.

And when God forgives us, he confirms that he made us for more than this. He brings us that one step closer to being the saint we’re meant to be, and the good person that we actually want to be.

Confession is the one sacrament we are able to make easily available at the moment. That is no small help. The Church encourages us to make a special effort to go to confession during Advent, but why wait a week? Now is the perfect time to make sure that you are really becoming who God wants you to be.


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Sunday 22 November 2020

Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament this afternoon (until 4:30) for the feast of Christ the King. #oxfordoratory

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Saturday 21 November 2020

A message from the Archbishop on the final IICSA report

The final report from IICSA was recently published. A message from Archbishop Bernard can be read on the diocesan website, together with a statement from Cardinal Nichols, the whole Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, and the report itself.

Thursday 19 November 2020

“In passing from a bad state to a good one there is no need of counsel, but in passing from a good one to a better, time, counsel, and prayer must go to the decision.” St Philip’s advice has been put into practice in cleaning up this corner of the church. Restoring the more colourful decoration will take a bit longer... #oxfordoratory

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Wednesday 18 November 2020

Bringing to God what is

Last time I posted the weekly reflection, I wrote about how some of us had found prayer either difficult or well-nigh impossible during the first period of lockdown. I wonder if it has it been any easier for you this second time round? Have you grown through the trying situation or have your ideas about the purpose and practice of prayer changed at all? It is to be hoped.

Someone once said that you should never go into a meeting unless you know (and perhaps are sure of getting) what you want to bring away from it. It’s a thought, and could even have a bearing on how we approach prayer. Certainly we could begin with the end in mind. And the end is what? Is it merely to get out of God what we want? That way lies disappointment and we know it.

‘Prayer is simply bringing to God what is.’ By this, I mean that we must be totally honest when we come to prayer, both with Lord and with ourselves. There’s really no point in pretending or playing a part, which does no good at all and is simply a waste of time. Our life should be our prayer, since all we have to offer God is what we are. This is the point of it.

St John Climacus said that ‘Prayer is a pious way of forcing God’. I copied that into my common-place book some years ago and am now not so sure about it at all. Perhaps he had greater faith than I do? It just seems rather mercenary and, besides, God is surely not taken in by our blandishments nor is he deflected from His own vision or plan by our games. That He loves to be asked, I have no doubt, but do we always ask such things as accord with His Will?

Prayer doesn’t seem to me to be an easy way of getting what we want but a difficult way of becoming what God wants us to be. I’ve always loved Mother Cornelia Connolly’s most often quoted line: ‘Be yourself, but make that self what God wants it to be.’ That’s what we’re praying for. It’s certainly what we should be wanting to happen in our lives, that we become the men and women the Lord wants us to be, the saints He sees we can be. In this case, prayer seems to be more — or at least as much — about offering as it is about receiving. The spiritual writer, Fr Robert Llewelyn, makes a very encouraging point about this, which is well worth quoting in full:

If we are able to see prayer in this way [as offering]…we shall be relieved of all desire to make prayer successful. All sorts of thoughts may steal into our minds during prayer. Does this prayer help? Is it strengthening? Is it of any value for the person I am holding up before God? If we can see prayer as an offering we can ignore all these thoughts. A child doesn’t make an offering to his mother that he may be helped or strengthened. The offering is simply to be offered as a token of love.

How liberating is that! So often we spend our prayer time thinking or worrying about our prayer, going over it and remaking it, as though it had to be perfect. This is not ‘paying loving attention to God’, it’s paying too much attention to ourselves and what we are doing. Just remember St Catherine of Siena’s comment: ‘the art of prayer is that there is no art.’ Another useful piece of advice comes from the great Irish Jesuit Fr John Sullivan: ‘In prayer, don’t mind the scaffolding, get at God,’ which is the purpose of all prayer.

So shall we continue to try to pray, to offer and to love.


These reflections are sent out each Wednesday to all those on our mailing list. Enter your e-mail address below to receive our Sunday E-newsletter and these reflections straight to your inbox.

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Tuesday 17 November 2020

Work in progress. A particularly run down corner of the church is receiving some much needed attention this week. #oxfordoratory

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Monday 16 November 2020

St Gertrude (whose feast day also falls today) and St Ambrose had nothing to do with each other in life, so why are they the only two saints on our reredos looking at each other? They were given in memory of a husband and wife, Ambrose and Gertrude. He was clearly very devoted to her, because when she died he also commissioned the stained glass window of St Gertrude in the Lady Chapel. #oxfordoratory

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Sunday 15 November 2020

60 children who would otherwise have received nothing will now have something to look forward to on Christmas Day. Thanks to Oratory Outreach and all who brought in a box! #oxfordoratory

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