Diffusa est gratia in labiis tuis, propterea benedixit te Deus in aeternum.
Grace is poured out upon thy lips, wherefore God hath blessed thee eternally. Psalm 45:2
In a well-known prayer, Blessed John Henry Newman asks, ‘Dear Jesus, help me to spread Your fragrance wherever I go…shine through me, and be so in me that my life may be only a radiance of Yours.’ Many people are talking nowadays of ‘intentional discipleship’: making an effort of express reflection on how we can spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and putting those reflections into action. But Bl. John Henry’s prayer asks that God make of us unintentional disciples, men and women who draw others to Christ not by any special deed or word, but simply by ‘the catching force and sympathetic influence’ of our daily conduct and ‘the evident fullness’ of the love our hearts bear to the Lord. This can only be the fruit of a silent maturation, but a maturation which takes place with special intensity during one’s university years.
These years are the culmination of one’s youth, yet sit upon the cusp of adulthood: life has not yet taken too constrained, too definite a course – possibilities of all sorts are still very much open – and yet, often for the first time, one is able to direct one’s life out of the influence of parents and schoolmasters. It is, then, a time and an opportunity to take the faith into one’s own keeping, or to cast it aside. For one like me who held it fast, Oxford made a specially fertile growing-ground. Religion, in a word, is more available in Oxford: there is a strong liturgical, sacramental, devotional and intellectual culture that simply does not exist in most other parts of the United Kingdom; that is to say, there are a great many more opportunities of putting oneself in God’s way so that His grace should begin to overflow and pour out over us. Challenges are also more available, and this too is a grace, to the extent that it forces us to appropriate the Faith with renewed understanding and tested conviction.
Perhaps most important, however, are the opportunities for friendship that university offers. Providence works through those means that are closest to us, and at university those closest to us most often are our friends. These are the people who will, in some way, allow us to glimpse the loving face of Jesus, who will lend us a whiff of His sweet fragrance; or they are the people to whom we must afford such a glimpse and such a whiff. It is these who will mould, correct, delight and comfort us; it is these whom we have the opportunity of moulding, correcting, delighting and comforting. If we are thinking of grace poured out upon our lips, then the Italian custom of kissing one’s friends offers a vivid image of the transfers of grace that Providence works through our friendships.
‘Wherefore God hath blessed thee eternally.’ The move into adulthood is the closure of possibilities and the formation of a definite character. I do not mean to deny that great, radical changes can be undergone in adulthood – but it is harder, and it is less natural than for a young person. The formation we receive at university, then, in the closing and most intense stage of our youth, is the basic formation with which we embark upon the rest of our lives; and the graces received here will leave their imprint, their savour about us until our deaths. And at the last, when we are brought before the Seat of Judgement, and face to face with Him Whose providence has arranged all these things, these graces shall be clear to us for what they are: and we pray He shall admit us among the diverse other fragrances in His garden.
Daniel Mullens, BA Classics