News Archive

Wednesday 16 June 2021

‘The early morning is the most beautiful, the most agreeable, and the least distracted time of the day; the very birds do then invite us to awake and praise God: so that early rising is helpful both to health and to holiness.’ From the Introduction to the Devout Life by St Francis de Sales.

Our church is a particularly beautiful place to pray on early summer mornings.

#oxfordoratory

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Wednesday 16 June 2021

Making use of distractions

While we may all suffer from distractions in prayer and find them unhelpful, not all distractions in the spiritual life are bad.

When it comes to the moral life, we often feel that the way to deal with temptations — especially those that begin as a thought or feeling in our heads — is to pray about them. If we do find ourselves falling to temptation, giving in and allowing it to take over our thoughts or even our actions, so often we tell ourselves that if only we had prayed harder, or more, we would have found the strength to say ‘no’.

The trouble is that when it comes to the temptations that start in the mind, prayer is not always the answer. If we enter into prayer saying to God, ‘I will not think about X… I will not think about X… I will not think about X…’ It’s fairly obvious what we’re going to end up thinking about. It could be something that has upset us or someone who has made us angry, something we’re thinking about doing but know we shouldn’t, or doubts and anxieties that there’s just no point in revisiting.

St Philip used to say of such things, ‘Only cowards gain the victory; that is to say, those who fly.’ And while that advice was meant in the first place as literally avoiding bad company and the near occasions of sin, it applies just as much to all kinds of troublesome thoughts. When they occur, he says, ‘We ought immediately to make use of our minds, and fix them instantaneously upon something or other, no matter what.’ And it’s the ‘no matter what’ that is interesting. The solution is to distract ourselves — with almost anything.

When unhelpful thoughts occur, we should think about something else. We all of us have that topic we find completely absorbing — that specialist subject, that skill, that hobby, that TV show, book, or favourite film, that area of life that when someone mentions it around us, the people in the room who know us all roll their eyes because they know that once we get started, they won’t be able to stop us. Those are the things we should be thinking about. They’re not things that are, in themselves, holy or sacred, probably. But the wonderful thing with God is that he can use even the ordinary and everyday to sanctify us. Our hobbies and interests, which apparently have very little meaning in the grand scheme of our salvation, suddenly get elevated and turned into tools for our sanctification.

People used to complain to St Philip that he allowed his spiritual children too much freedom. They ran around playing games, they were allowed to do what they liked, they made too much noise while they were messing around, and they just weren’t serious enough. His response was: ‘Let them chop wood on my back, so long as they do not sin.’ Chopping wood, playing games, even watching TV — these can all become tools to make us holy, if we allow them to distract us at the right time.


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Sunday 13 June 2021

“Grant, O Lord, to thy Church assurance of freedom and immunity from harm; give peace and order to all nations, and make the earth resound from pole to pole with one cry: ‘Praise be to the divine Heart that wrought our salvation; to it be glory and honor for ever.’ Amen.”

A detail of the vestment for Benediction tonight. #oxfordoratory

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Sunday 13 June 2021

#oxfordoratory

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Sunday 13 June 2021

An Ordinary Sunday. #oxfordoratory

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Saturday 12 June 2021

Pastoral Letter

You can download Archbishop Bernard’s Pastoral Letter for this Sunday here.

Friday 11 June 2021

“My God, my Saviour, I adore Thy Sacred Heart, for that heart is the seat and source of all Thy tenderest human affections for us sinners. It is the instrument and organ of Thy love. It did beat for us. It yearned over us. It ached for us, and for our salvation. It was on fire through zeal, that the glory of God might be manifested in and by us. It is the channel through which has come to us all Thy overflowing human affection, all Thy Divine Charity towards us. All Thy incomprehensible compassion for us, as God and Man, as our Creator and our Redeemer and Judge, has come to us, and comes, in one inseparably mingled stream, through that Sacred Heart. O most Sacred symbol and Sacrament of Love, divine and human, in its fulness, Thou didst save me by Thy divine strength, and Thy human affection, and then at length by that wonder-working blood, wherewith Thou didst overflow.” From St John Henry Newman’s Meditations and Devotions. #oxfordoratory

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Wednesday 9 June 2021

Distractions in prayer

Have you ever been praying, or trying to pray, and found that your mind has been engaged on some other train of thought, without your wanting or intending it? Distractions can plague us at almost level; indeed, praying without distractions is, for most of us, impossible, and it worries us. When this happens, our business is to gently shepherd those wandering thoughts back the centre; no need for fuss or anxiety, just a word or phrase will do, a sentence held in the heart.

The Carmelite Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection in his Spiritual Maxims advises his readers to ‘formulate a few words interiorly, such as: “My God, I am completely yours,” or “God of love, I love you with my whole heart,” or “Lord fashion me according to your heart,” or any other words love spontaneously produces.’ Two centuries later, St Thérèse of Lisieux, also a Carmelite, echoed these words with the simple admission that when she found herself dry or distracted in her prayer, she simply told God she loved Him, adding, “It’s not much but it keeps the fire going.”

Distractions come in many guises and from different sources, some are from external events acting on the senses, such as a noisy child, an itchy nose, the smell of cooking or the décor of the place in which you might be praying (“However did I think those curtains could go with that carpet?”) But there are those distractions that come bubbling up from within us, and these can be even more troublesome, because we carry them wherever we go; things like jealousy, an unhealthy attachment to something or someone, or an unchecked passion or a fear. These ties have to be cut, and quite often, it is only God who can loose the tie. We come to pray and find we can’t in certain circumstances and that is because our prayer is not yet wholly centred on God, which it must always be. It must begin with God, not with ourselves, not even with our spiritual wants. Our first words must always be words of worship. We must seek to know God as God; to know that He is Love, Truth, Life and Holiness, the object and end of our adoration.

Simplicity is the key-note here. Words can be so tiresome, for one can spend too much time trying to find the ‘right’ words with which to speak to God, to impress Him or win Him round to our way of thinking, knowing all the while that this is rather silly and futile.

Yet distractions will persist, like flies busily pestering us and spoiling our enjoyment of the sun. Perhaps, we have to learn to live with them, knowing that they are unimportant, whatever they seem to do to try to claim our attention.

I’ve always found the story of two Zen monks helpful: these two young men were returning to their monastery and needed to cross a river in order to reach it. ‘When they reached the ford thy saw a beautiful young woman who feared to make the crossing lest the waters were too strong for her. Young Zen monks are not supposed to have dealings with young women but the elder one, seeing her plight, put her on his shoulders and carried her to the opposite bank. After he had set her down, the two monks continued on their journey. They walked in silence for a mile or two, after which the young one exclaimed, “Whatever made you carry that young woman across the river?” “Good gracious,” came the reply, “are you still carrying her?” The older man had a level of detachment which freed him to render a kindness and a useful service to another. He deposited the woman safely on the other side and passed on without a further thought. More often than not, we are more like the younger monk, carrying our burdens and worries from one situation to another, never laying them down, so that they will always be a distraction when we come to our next occupation, which might well be prayer. These internal distractions, which come welling up to the surface just when we don’t want them, may well be worrying, tiresome and unwelcome, but they are there nonetheless and will usually remain with us until we face them, challenge them and offer them to God, even though we may be heartily ashamed of them, that He might extend his loving hand over us and heal them.


These reflections are sent out each Wednesday to all those on our mailing list. Click here to sign up to our mailing list, and receive our Sunday E-newsletter and these reflections straight to your inbox.