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On Stability in the Oratory

Selections from Blessed John Henry Newman’s Oratory Papers,

(Chapter Address, January/February 1856)

The Congregation is to be the home of the Oratorian. The Italians, I believe, have no word for home – nor is it an idea which readily enters in the mind of a foreigner, at least not so readily as into the mind of an Englishman, It is remarkable then that the Oratorian Fathers should have gone out of their way to express the idea by the metaphorical word nido or nest… The Congregation, according to St. Philip’s institution, is never to be so large that the members do not know each other. They are to be “bound together by that body of love, which daily intercourse creates, and thereby all are to know the ways of each, and feel a reverence for ‘countenances of familiar friends.’” Familiar faces, exciting reverence, daily intercourse,knowledge of each other’s ways, mutual love, what is this but a description of home?

St. Philip himself affords us an instance of that attachment to his home or nest, which was a characteristic of his Congregation after him.For thirty years and more he lived in one small room at St. Girolamo, and he did not quit Rome for more than sixty years… We know how unwilling he was to leave his old familiar abode, when the Congregation was placed in the Chiesa Nuova; the command of the Pope was necessary to move him, and when he moved, he seemed by his way of moving to take a good humoured vengeance on his spiritual children who had brought the Pope upon him.

Another remark may be made. As the Oratory is the home of the individual Father, so the town in which it is placed is the home of theOratory. A Congregation is a sort of native body in a town. It is not a body of foreign priests but at least in great measure, it is, as it were, the growth and fruit of a place…. The Oratory is thus emphatically a local institution; it acts on and is influenced by the town in which it is found, it is the representative of no distant of foreign interest, but lives among and is contented with its own people.

(Remarks on the Oratorian Vocation, 18 August 1856)

Our perfection is not wrought out either by the sacrifice of human affection or personal attachments. On the contrary, a love for each other, a love of the Oratory as a home, is one of the chief characteristics,bonds, and duties of its Fathers.

First of all, their vocation is to a fixed place, and, I may say, to a particular body. Regulars may consider themselves wanderers upon the face of the earth; such is not a Father of the Oratory. In spite of that detachment, which St. Philip esteemed so highly, he bids us, in his rule, “bind ourselves more closely to each other in love,” by “daily intercourse,” and “daily knowledge of one another’s way,” and even by the very look of “familiar countenances.” Accordingly, each house is said to be a “family,” and the Superior is “the Father.”

This is the reason, says the Rule, why the community must not be large; for then this distinct knowledge and loving intimacy of one with another cannot be. Brockie enlarges on this point. “The type of the Italian Oratory,” he says, “according to the mind of St. Philip, was a sort of holy family, having its own private house, and made up of just so many brothers as might be able to know and love each other well. The custom of years, known faces, similarity of character, all that creates human love, becomes that bond of union and perseverance which the founders of Orders and Religions place in the vow of absolute and perpetual obedience. Accordingly, it is a local, nay a domestic institution.”

Residence has inconsequence ever been enforced as a cardinal point in the Oratory…. And this residence, I say, is treated, not simply as a duty, but as a necessary bond of the community in the absence of vows, promoting as it does, a triple attachment, to the place and neighborhood,to the Fathers, and to one’s own room.… St. Philip himself was a remarkable instance of this attachment [to one’s own room]. St. Girolamo wash is old long-possessed nido or nest,in which he had experienced summers heat and winter’s cold, the jealousy and spite of enemies, and the throng and affection of generations of happy penitents. An attachment like this became a tradition of the Oratory; and the word nido is the term expressing it.

(Letter to the Oratorian Fathers, 31 August 1856)

One of the sure signs of the presence of the Spirit of God is peace. The Saints have gone through many fierce trials; I do not read that they were restless; or if they were ever so, I do not find that it came into the idea or definition of their saintliness. No two saints can be so different from each other as St. Philip and St. Ignatius – one so unassuming, the other so imperial. They are both indifferent ways inexpressibly calm – the calmness of St. Philip too the form of cheerfulness, that of St. Ignatius the form of majesty. What we do calmly, has weight.… The first element in St. Philip’s spirit is rest and peace.

(Chapter Address, 27 September 1856)

It is the saying of holy men that, if we wish to be perfect,we have nothing more to do than to perform the ordinary duties of the day well.I think this is an instruction which may be of great practical use to persons like ourselves who make a profession of aiming at perfection. It is easy to have vague ideas what perfection is, which serve well enough to talk about it,when we do not intend to aim at it – but as soon as a person really desires and sets about seeking it himself, he is dissatisfied with an thing but what is tangible and clear, and constitutes some sort of direction towards the practice of it.

He then is perfect who does the work of the day perfectly –and we need not go beyond this to seek for perfection. We are perfect, if we do perfectly our duties as members of the Oratory. I insist on this, because I think it will simplify our views, and fix our exertions on a definite aim. If you ask me what you are to do in order to be perfect, I say – first – Do not lie in bed beyond the due time of rising – give your first thoughts to God –make a good meditation – say or hear Mass and communicate with devotion – made a good thanksgiving – say carefully all the prayers which you are bound to say– say the Office attentively, do the work of the day, whatever it is,diligently and for God – make a good visit to the Blessed Sacrament. Say theAngelus devoutly – eat and drink to God’s glory – say the Rosary well, be recollected – keep out bad thoughts. Make your evening meditation well –examine yourself duly. Go do bed in due time, and you are already perfect.

Prayer to St. PhilipNeri

Look down from heaven, Holy Father, from the loftiness of that mountain to the lowliness of this valley; from that harbor of quietness and tranquility to this calamitous sea. And now that the darkness of this world hinders no more those kindly eyes of thine from looking clearly into all things, look down and visit, O most diligent keeper, this vineyard which thy right hand planted with so much labor, anxiety and peril. To thee then we fly;from thee we seek for aid; to thee we give our whole selves unreservedly. Thee we adopt as our patron and defender; undertake the cause of our salvation,protect thy clients. To thee we appeal as our leader; rule thine army fighting against the assaults of the devil. To thee, kindest of pilots, we give up the rudder of our lives; steer this little ship of thine, and, placed as thou art on high, keep us off all the rocks of evil desires, that with thee for our pilot and guide, we may safely come to the port of eternal bliss. Amen.

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From The School of St. Philip Neri, “Of Tribulations, Persecutions, Adversities, and the Passions of the Soul”

The present Lesson on Tribulations being exceedingly important, it is necessary that we should attentively lend our heart, rather than our ear, to the advice and maxims given by our holy Master on the subject. He supplies a noble introduction to this Lesson by saying, “Nothing can be more glorious for a Christian than to suffer for Christ. There cannot be a greater distress to one who truly loves God than the not having opportunities to suffer for Him. The greatness of a man’s love for God may be known by the greatness of his desire to suffer for the love of Him. Nor is there a more clear and certain proof of the love of God than adversity.” Tarugi justly said that the hand of the Lord is most lavish in granting gifts and abundant spirituality when heavy tribulations approach and are impending over us.

But to return to the holy Master. He says that nothing more easily produces contempt of the world, and more unites the soul to God than the being troubled and afflicted; and, to induce us to seek this union, he says, “We must seek Christ where Christ is not, that is, in crosses and tribulations, in which He is not now, for He is in glory.”

This truth was well known and practiced in the holy School of Saint Philip. The great disciple Fr. Giovenale greatly valued tribulations, and looked at them with a very different eye from that of the world. He esteemed them so much, that, recognizing in them a certain sign of predestination, he said that tribulations are a pledge that a man is in the grace of God. And, for this reason, he used to recommend himself with particular confidence to the prayers of the afflicted, as the persons most beloved and favored by God.

If, to the eyes of the worldly, afflicted persons seem to wear a sad and distressed countenance, those who look upon them with the eyes of Saint Philip, will see their faces shining like those of angels. We learn this by the following example, given by Cardinal Frederick Borromeo.

A person fell into such a heavy affliction that few could be worse. It lasted long, and at the end of seven or eight days, Father Philip said that he saw his face completely changed, so that it seemed to be that of another person, and he said to him, “See, you have never before had that face: thank God very much for the tribulation; and I will thank Him too, for I see your face shining like that of an angel.”

The holy Master so much desired to impress this truth on the hearts of his people, that even after his death he wished to teach it, for when, on his flight to heaven, he appeared to a nun in the monastery of Saint Martha, he showed her a field full of thorns, saying to her, “If you would come where I am, you must pass through this;” meaning through tribulations.

If, then, tribulations are such necessary and ineffable blessings to the soul, how can we ever bare to complain of them? We should be most careful not to say that we cannot bear the adversity, for the holy Father reproves this, telling us to say, in such cases, that we are unworthy that the Lord should visit us with such blessings.

One tribulation alone ought to trouble us, and that is what the holy Master thus expresses: “The greatest tribulation which a servant of God can have is the being without tribulation, and they may justly be called unhappy who are not admitted into this school.”

The holy Master taught these doctrines not only in word, but in practice, for whatever has been related of his suffering falls far short of the truth, since they were for the most part concealed, as the Saint himself confessed to Domenico Migliacci, to whom, when speaking of his persecutions in San Girolamo, he said, “O Domenico, if you did but know wat I have suffered in that place.”

Since, then, according to the holy instructions and example of our Saint, we are disposed to bear afflictions with patience, let us know that patience is acquired by suffering tribulation, for when Saint Philip was imploring patience before the Crucified One, he heard an interior voice say to him, “Ask me not for patience, for know that I have given it to thee; but I would have thee acquire it by these means.”

In times of persecution, insult, unkindness, and other tribulations, the person should humble himself, imitating the holy Father, who on such occasions used to say, “Was I humble, God would not send me this. This tribulation is sent me, as God is willing to make me humble and patient; and when I have derived the fruit which God intends, and have been well mortified, the persecution will cease, When God sees that I am humble, He will remove this Cross from me.”

The holy Father, to exhort us to bear adversity with patience, tells us not to lose courage, for God is wont to weave human life of alternate sorrows and consolations, at least interior ones. We should never seek to fly from a cross, for we shall surely find a greater, and there cannot be a better thing than to make a virtue out of necessity; whereas men, for the most part, make their own crosses. Saint Philip also confirmed this instruction by his example, for when entreated by his people to leave the church of San Girolamo, where he had received affronts and insults, he relied that he could not do so on any account, that he might not fly from the cross which God had sent him in that place.

Fr. Giovanni Matteo Ancina says of those crosses which we suffer without fault, “The cross which we endure without fault is most precious, and the arms of Christ are a red cross on a white field, that is the cross accompanied by innocence.”

But though the holy Father teaches us that the great advantage that we may derive from tribulations, which make the Christian happy, are the most certain indication of the love of God, he nevertheless counsels us not to ask tribulations from God in the presumption that we shall be able to bear them, but desires us to use great caution in this, adding that man does no small thing who bears what God daily sends him.

Prayer to St. Philip Neri

Look down from heaven, Holy Father, from the loftiness of that mountain to the lowliness of this valley; from that harbor of quietness and tranquility to this calamitous sea. And now that the darkness of this world hinders no more those kindly eyes of thine from looking clearly into all things, look down and visit, O most diligent keeper, this vineyard which thy right hand planted with so much labor, anxiety and peril. To thee then we fly; from thee we seek for aid; to thee we give our whole selves unreservedly. Thee we adopt as our patron and defender; undertake the cause of our salvation, protect thy clients. To thee we appeal as our leader; rule thine army fighting against the assaults of the devil. To thee, kindest of pilots, we give up the rudder of our lives; steer this little ship of thine, and, placed as thou art on high, keep us off all the rocks of evil desires, that with thee for our pilot and guide, we may safely come to the port of eternal bliss. Amen.

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