A House of Prayer; Clothing of Shawn Murphy

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After a month’s postulancy, a candidate enters the novitiate by receiving the habit of St Philip before the assembled community. This we call his clothing. The Provost usually addresses us on these occasions, offering reflections on the beginning of an Oratorian vocation.

Br Shawn Murphy is a young Australian who hopes to be a member of an Oratorian community being formed in Brisbane. We are delighted that the Brisbane Community-in-Formation have entrusted us with Shawn’s formation as an Oratorian novice and with his academic studies in philosophy.

September 1st, 2013

I was glad when they said unto me, let us go to the House of the Lord. [Psalm 122].

In September 1975, we sent Fr David Roche off to London for three years, to live at the London Oratory, and to study theology.  Those years were, for him, and for our nascent Oratory, of the greatest importance. Fr David was given the opportunity to share the life of an established Oratory – and to come into contact with a living tradition. This experience could never have been imparted to him only by reading and studying about the idea of the Oratory. As Newman might have put it, what Fr David encountered was not a paper theory, but a fact. I have always been immensely grateful for this help London gave us in bringing St Philip’s Oratory to Canada.

Today, by taking Shawn into our Community for his novitiate and philosophical studies, we are, in a way, repaying that debt. We are doing this so that he, like Fr David, can learn, first hand, about the Oratory from a living tradition.; that same living tradition Fr Newman and Fr Faber brought to England from Rome and Naples.  So, with one heart and mind we say with the Psalmist: I was glad when they said unto me, let us go to the House of the Lord.

It is into the House of the Lord that Shawn is coming. If you ask what is the House of the Lord, that is, what is it other than the Church, and Shawn already belongs to that; if you ask what is the special mark of the House of the Lord into which he is coming, then we reply in our Lord’s words – my House shall be called a House of prayer. Domus mea, domus orationis vocabitur; we are reminded of those words every time we go into our Church.

We are not a political movement, nor a pressure group dedicated to bringing about certain specific reforms, we are not a religious order in the technical sense with clearly determinate purposes. The Oratory takes its name from a place dedicated to prayer, as the Constitutions put it. Prayer has many different aspects; and there are many kinds of prayer; and it is all too easy to mistake theories about praying for the activity itself. Pray as you can, don’t pray as you can’t, says Abbot Chapman in the Spiritual Letters. He meant: do what you can in the way best suited to you, but get on with it, and actually do some praying. We will do our best to help you, but in the long run, no one is able to do your praying for you.

In one of the little prayers St Philip gave to Fr Francis Zazzara there is one that goes like this: I seek you and I do not find you, come to me, Lord Jesus. Remember, that is, to paraphrase St John of the Cross, that if the soul is seeking God it should also be aware that God is seeking the soul even more. Do what you can and leave yourself open for God; you want Him because he already wants you a lot more than you want Him. Leave yourself open, leave yourself open, and then the Holy Spirit will lead you into the heart of Christ; so long, that is, as you do not put up road-blocks to his coming.

And that, of course, is what we are all constantly doing; putting up road blocks. After a certain point, left to ourselves, there seems little we can do to remove them. But, if we persevere, and don’t turn back, then God will begin to do most of the work. But let us all remind ourselves that God’s chosen instrument for removing the road-blocks and accomplishing our sanctification is suffering, suffering that forces us onto our knees, suffering that  gradually conforms our hearts and stubborn wills to the obedience of Christ. For in his will is our peace; and only in his will is our peace. Serious prayer is not a hobby or a pastime; and most people, as St John of the Cross says, turn back when the going gets tough.

For an Oratorian, there is a particular sort of suffering that must be faced and accepted; and this is suffering that comes from living in the Community. I don’t mean suffering for the Community in respect to those outside it, but rather the painful business of our motives and actions being at times misunderstood, perhaps even worse, of actually being understood, by those closest to us and having to persevere when we are tired and fed up. You will be tempted to say in the future with Zechariah, These are the wounds I received in the house of my friends. But learn to see all suffering, even when it seems, and maybe is, humanly speaking unjust and terribly hurtful, as God’s way of making you over into what he wants you to be.

For iron, says St John of the Cross, cannot adapt itself and be subservient to the intelligence of the artificer, unless he use fire and a hammer, like the fire which Jeremiah says that God put into his understanding, saying: “He sent fire into my bones and taught me”. And Jeremiah says of the hammer: “Thou hast chastised me, Lord, and I was instructed.” Even so says the preacher: “He that is not tried, what can he know?  And he that has no experience knoweth little”. [Living Flame of Love, p 138]

But it will not be all darkness and shadows, and the man of prayer is always looking for the things that are yet to be. In Philippians there is a text, a text that, St Gregory of Nyssa tells us, sums up the attitude a Christian ought to have towards the things of this life and our need for God: one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on to the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. [4:13-14] Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead. No matter how high the hills we may have climbed so far, the summit shows us another range even higher and more beautiful – and more challenging – than the country we have already passed through. Sin, darkness, and temptations to despair are all very real, but they do not have the last word; sin, darkness and temptations to despair are not the dominant note of a life given over to Christ in St Philip. So, we must try to forget what lies behind and press forward in hope and joy to what lies ahead, for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

So let us all start again this afternoon with a prayer of thanksgiving; each in his own way and according to the circumstances of his life: Shawn for the grace of his vocation to follow St Philip, and to help with founding a new Oratory For those of us who are of the Toronto House, let us thank God for this chance to repay something of what has been given to us. Let us all, forgetting what lies behind, strain forward to what lies ahead.