The Oratory and Evangelization

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On September 19, 2014, Fr Jonathan Robinson, the Provost, made the following chapter address to the community.

My dear Fathers and Brothers:

I want, this morning, to return to some of the things I said at the clothing of Brother Francis. Some of you might remember that I was concerned with what is, I am afraid the well-worn Oratorian theme, that our road to holiness is by means of the community, and that, at least the effort, to become a worthy son of St Philip, is essential for any sort of effective evangelization: whether old or new.

I reminded you of Aristotle’s saying that only a beast or a God could live alone, and said that this is profoundly true. Without other people to interact with, there are whole areas of our nature which lie unused and undeveloped, and perhaps most importantly of all, unknown; unknown even to ourselves. It is only in learning to live in a Christian way with other people that we begin to recognize ourselves, and then go on both to extinguish the vices that impede our progress towards union with God, as well as to develop the virtues that are necessary for perseverance in the spiritual life. The thought that everything would be much easier if it were not for the tiresome presence of other people is a temptation and should be recognized as such. It is a temptation, which if unchecked and given way to, will destroy not only the individual’s vocation, but poison the atmosphere of the house in which he lives.

The desire for solitude, and an interest in the contemplative life may, therefore, be based on an unwillingness to comes to terms with ourselves, and to undertake the difficult job of trying to become more Christian in our behaviour towards other people, and towards ourselves. Union with God cannot be achieved by trying to bye-pass the demands of ordinary Christian living. And, ordinary Christian living is learned by actually living with other people. What follows from all that? What follows from all that, practically, speaking, is that there will be no effective evangelization – either old or new – without a serious effort, on our part, to strive after sanctity; to try to live holy lives. Without at least the attempt to follow the example of the saints, the modern world is not going to be interested in anything we have to say.

Now, I think that we get at least passing marks on most of this, even if we could do better. The Excellences remind us that there are some in a House who are more geared to outside activities, others who are more stay at home. I think we are fair enough to, and about, each other to understand and appreciate that some jobs that are not particularly high-profile, are important; and most of us appreciate that a lot of essential work is done, essential, that is, for the maintenance of our life, of which most of us are hardly conscious. Again, I think that on the whole, we are courteous and well-mannered – most of the time,. anyway – towards each other. Furthermore, there is real generosity about work that needs to be done – like the new Masses to be said at De La Salle – and for that we should be grateful.

This state of affairs should be cause for thanksgiving, as I am sure it is. There is, however, something about which we should all examine our conscience. This is the matter of vocations to the House. We work hard, we work together, and we work willingly – but no one is getting any younger. Everyone should ask himself what has done in the past to attract new vocations, what he is doing in the present, what he is going to do in the future. I am not asking about success any one of us may have had – I know about the disappointments many of you have had about men you have attracted to the House, and who have not stayed. On the other hand, I think most of us could do more. We have to go on trying – it’s no good saying Deus providebit: that has been the curse of Oratories – a curse, that is, if you hope your House is going to survive.

Cardinal Leger used to say that you could always tell a happy priest by the fact that he attracted vocations. I know that times have changed – but surely he was right. So, I think you should examine yourself to see if you love your vocation enough to try a bit harder to find, and attract, others to share what God has been good enough to give to you. If you leave it up to the others, then you are in for a lonely old age.