Among the Faithful

I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it. I want an intelligent, well-instructed laity – I wish [them] to enlarge [their] knowledge, to cultivate [their] reason, to get an insight into the relation of truth to truth, to learn to view things as they are, to understand how faith and reason stand to each other, what are the bases and principles of Catholicism. (Bl John Henry Newman Lectures on the Present Condition of Catholics 1851)

The body of the faithful is one of the witnesses to the fact of the tradition of revealed doctrine, . . . their consensus through Christendom is the voice of the Infallible Church (Bl John Henry Newman On Consulting the Faithful 1859)

The pastoral work of the community centres on our two parishes: Holy Family (of which we have had care since 1979) and, adjacent to it, St Vincent de Paul (under our care since 1995). Economically, socially, and culturally they are very different parishes. Together they ensure that our pastoral vocation (preaching, hearing confessions, the celebration of the sacraments and spiritual direction) is exercised amidst all the human diversity and complexity that can characterize contemporary metropolitan living.

The way of St Philip engenders a particular style of pastoral care. “There are Saints,” Newman wrote, “whose mission lies … in separating off from each other the world and the Truth; that of other Saints lies in bringing them together. Philip’s was the latter … Nothing was too high for him, nothing too low,” Newman continued, “since it was [Philip’s] mission to save men, not from, but in, the world … [He] carried out the Church into the world, and aimed to bring under her light yoke as many men as [he] could possibly reach.” Quoting an early Life of the saint, Newman emphasized how Philip “could not endure harsh rebukes, or anything like rigour. He allured men to the service of God so dextrously, and with such a holy, winning, art, that those who saw it cried out, astonished: ‘Father Philip draws souls as a magnet draws iron’.”

Part of that holy, winning art, which was identified from the beginning as an important element in St Philip’s mission, consists in exploring and communicating the theological, spiritual and cultural richness of the liturgy, and especially of the Mass. It is obvious that this cannot be everything; but it is certainly a great deal. At the Toronto Oratory, whether in the newer or older forms of the Roman rite (which together constitute the ordinary pattern taken by our celebrations of Mass, publicly and privately, day by day) we strive to let the richness of the liturgy speak, in the context of the characteristically Oratorian spirituality that Newman describes: “interior religion, a jealousy of ceremonies [i.e., a special care for the liturgy] … obedience … mental discipline rather than fasting or hair-shirt … that illumination and freedom of spirit which comes of love … a mild and tender rule for the Confessional; frequent confessions, frequent communions [and] special devotion to the Blessed Sacrament.”

In addition to pastoral work in schools (there is one in each of our parishes), as well as in hospitals and nursing homes, the Toronto Oratory has always placed singular emphasis on the importance of both confession and spiritual direction, not just in our own lives but for all the faithful. St Philip’s special tone, his most characteristic handling of Christian truth, is perhaps especially manifest in these patient and secluded, persevering and personally-centred ways of learning and communicating the paths of grace in human lives.

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