Some thoughts from a homily I preached on Friday, the Dedication of the Chapel at Oscott. Interestingly, though the chapel was consecrated on 29 May 1838, it was not dedicated, to Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom, until two days later.
Dedication of the Church – 29 May 2009
A braver man than I would have stayed in the pulpit and preached, but I am no Fr Newman, who sat almost exactly there in 1852, in this chapel; but I am no Fr Newman, and this is no Second Spring. According to James Doyle’s unfinished oil painting, on the landing, Newman was sat next to Fr Manning at the Synod of Westminster, the newly restored hierarchy of our lands. Sitting where I am now in front of the altar like so many bishops who grace our presence these days, Cardinal Wiseman, the first Archbishop of Westminster. Just behind him, was one Fr John Wheble, he of the stained glass window fame, and MC to the first Synod of Westminster, over there was Provost Weedall and just to my left was Bishop Ullathorne who is wearing his beloved and stunning pectoral cross now adorning the current Archbishop of Westminster. With the religious (Benedictine and Jesuit) sat by the clavinova, truly the great and the good of the Church, seemingly dead now and yet very much alive in these hallowed stones.
Here stood the new triumphant Church! But these men were not triumphant in and of themselves. Oh no, they were triumphant because of what they were about, or rather who they were about. St John teaches us in the book of the Apocalypse “You see this city? Here God lives among men. He will make his home among them.” It is tempting to imagine a place in which men gathered in His name when suddenly there came a great whoosh and the Spirit entered their lives to carry them on to the mission. They waited for the Paraclete, promised so long ago. Do you think the Spirit soared that fateful day in 1852 and drove a young and vital Fr Wheble out from this chapel to the Crimea and to face almost certain death in the most appalling conditions, to be with the dying catholic soldiers as he ministered to them?
I tell you, it was ever thus. The Spirit is here now and driving you onward to mission. You are not merely engaged in being examined this week to demonstrate your youthful pride remembering theories and doctrines and philosophies. NO. You are being prepared for mission! You sit in this chapel today, the living Church. What you have come to is Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to God himself.
God does not ask what percentage you achieve in your exam or what classification of degree you get, nor even if you passed or failed. God asks only one question: my son, did you give a good account of yourself? Did you use all of the gifts and talents and wonder of your being to show your love for me? Did you, my son?
Our gospel today teaches one thing, if nothing else, and it is this: this chapel is not the Church, the body of Christ; it is not the temple of old. Today we celebrate the dedication of this chapel in 1838, but it is not the grandeur of the seven hour liturgy, or the staggering costs incurred by Pugin, who MC’d the event, nor even that Oscott on this day was the first in the country to dispense with the fiddleback chasuble and go for the full Gothic!
Today is a living memory of those who have gone before us and who teach us so much for today. One such luminary is John Wheble. Nicolas Wiseman, when returning to Oscott for the third synod of Westminster in 1855 said of his beloved MC: “Who amongst us that saw him conducting the ceremonies of our fist synod with so much grace, accuracy and cheerfulness, did not feel how earnest and holy a duty he considered his to be, and how deeply he reverenced and prized the rubrics of the Church, and all her ceremonial enactments? And seeing him still so young, and so fitted for his office, did we not naturally expect to find him here today directing our functions, instead of our being seated beneath his monument, or rather receiving light through his memorial, as we do through his example.” Those who inspire us to march on to battle, no matter the cost, inspire us to victory for Christ. We know the hallowed ground upon which we walk and we remember. We are proud to be Oscotians, we are proud to be the Church, and together we will succeed.
Please pray for the men of Oscott, currently immersed in the examination schedule!