On Two Kinds of Oratorian

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On November 24, 2014, Fr Jonathan Robinson, the Provost, made the following chapter address to the community.

My dear Fathers and Brothers:

In the Excellences there is a passage contrasting two sort of Oratorians. One is the more stay at home sort, who is occupied with prayer and study, and the other seems to have the focus of his attention on people and activities outside the House. Both sorts are necessary for a well-functioning Oratory, so we are told, so long as they respect the need for, and the contribution of, the other sort of Oratorian to the good of the House.

Reading the Excellences is not always a shot in the arm – there are plenty of pretty dreary, and [seemingly] overly pious passages to wade through. On the other hand, Fr Agnelli’s descriptions of different sorts of Oratorians, and the way they lead their lives still seems accurate enough – at times uncomfortably accurate. From this perspective of types – types, that is, of Oratorians, and their behaviour – things don’t seem to have changed all that much.

I don’t want to develop, or dwell on, Fr Agnelli’s analysis of Oratorian life in any detail. What I would like to take away from it, are a couple of reflections on our own Oratory, as it is, in November 2014.

First of all, I think that we should realize that differences, in attitude and emphasis, as to how we are to lead our lives, seems to be part of the hand we have been dealt as Oratorians. I mean by this, only the familiar theme that the Constitutions do not add up either to a model of one specific mind-set on Oratorian life, or a particularly explicit code of behaviour. The mind-set, and the explicit code of behaviour is based, I suppose, on our way of doing things.

I have talked about this before, and I’ve said that to live our lives under this phrase requires respect for a tradition – dare I call it that? – a tradition which is in large measure not codified. In spite, of the fact that it is easy to mock, or perhaps just to forget, this idea of the spirit of a House, or a tradition, or our way of doing things, nonetheless, it is vital for an Oratory that is living, and is going to be able to go on living.

When we begin to die as a House, we turn in on ourselves, concentrate on one another’s defects, and complain and whine about what a hard deal life we lead, how unfairly we are treated, how badly other people do their jobs, and give up really trying to make things work.

One antidote against this sort of malaise is to try to get on with what we have to do – and do it when it has to be done. That is, we have to try to practice the sacrament of the present moment, and so to combat sloth.

Another antidote against a selfish sort of death wish is to think about the future. Not so much our own particular future, but the future of the House. I don’t mean mooning around about how things are going to be next year, but, I do mean, doing our jobs as well as we can so that there will be a House next year. But most importantly, it means never allowing to question fo new vocation be too long absent from our minds. We have not only to pray for, and think how to obtain new vocations We have also, in addition, actually take some practical steps to get them. I’ve told you before that Cardinal Leger used to say that you could always tell a priest who was happy in his vocation by the fact that he tried to attract new vocations to the priesthood. That is a test which both the stay-at-homers, and the out of house types can and should apply to themselves. This is your House – well, if we want it to go on, then we should be trying to interest suitable young men in the Toronto Oratory.