Monday, 23 August 2010

He had a great love for England

The keen-eyed amongst you will have noticed that today we celebrate the feast of Blessed Dominic Barberi of the Mother of God. Blessed is the title given to those holy women and men whose process towards canonization (sainthood) has begun and is, for example, what John Henry Cardinal Newman will be known as after 19th September's celebration in Birmingham. Other beati include Blessed Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa - whose 100th birthday it would have been today), and Blessed John of Fiesole (the artist Fra'Angelico).

Blessed Dominic was beatified by Pope Paul VI in 1963, in the midst of the second Vatican Council. He was an Italian priest and member of the Passionist Congregation, founded by S. Paul of the Cross. In September 1840 he was asked by Bishop Wisemann (later Archbishop of Westminster) to set-up a Passionist community in England at Aston Hall. The following year he arrived in Folkestone in order to do just that.

After establishing the community in Staffordshire, Blessed Dominic's distinctive Passionist habit and strong Italian accent did nothing to help him settle into the local surroundings. He was regularly attacked with stones and even laughed at by his own congregation. Local Anglican and Protestant clergy organized rallies and protests but his congregation grew and grew, and many converts from Anglicanism came to Blessed Dominic for instruction in the Faith.

Dominic was one of the first Catholics to really try to understand the High Church (later known as Anglo-Catholic) position. Whilst working in Belgium, and later in response to a Oxford don, John Dalgairns, he wrote at length arguing the Anglo-Catholic position pointed towards something more universal. He was particularly vocal in his opposition to the claim that the 39 articles can be understood in a Catholic light, a position which was exposed by Fr Colin Stephenson, sometime Administrator of the Anglican Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham when he said, and I paraphrase:

"I believe in the 39 articles as I believe in the Oxford Gas Works. They exist, I am currently not engaged in their destruction, but that does not mean I like them".

Dalgairns was received into the Catholic Church by Blessed Dominic in 1845 and in October that year the Anglican clergyman, John Henry Newman, went to Littlemore in Oxfordshire to do the same. That is why, this year especially, Blessed Dominic's prayers are needed more than ever.

Dominic's legacy is twofold. Firstly, he was a great proponent of the Catholic Faith in our land and a great apologist for the Faith against Protestantism. Secondly, in his life and actions he was unafraid of making those claims. Come what may, even in the face of abuse and ridicule, he kept his eyes firmly fixed on Christ and proclaimed his gospel in a foreign land.

May Blessed Dominic pray for us, and may his intercession aid us in our endeavours towards Christian Unity and the proclamation of the Catholic Faith. In conclusion ,here are some words of Pope Paul VI from the beatification ceremony. They are given as today's second reading in the Office of Readings:

The fact which makes us remember Father Dominic is well known and was his principal claim to fame. It is the fact of Newman’s conversion. At Littlemore on the evening of 8 October, 1845, it was Father Dominic who received from that most remarkable spirit his decisive profession of the Catholic Faith.

Newman later wrote: ‘Father Dominic was a marvellous missioner and a preacher filled with zeal. He had a great part in my own conversion and in that of others. His very look had about it something holy. When his form came within sight, I was moved to the depths in the strangest way. The gaiety and affability of his manner in the midst of all his sanctity was in itself a holy sermon. No wonder that I became his convert and his penitent. He had a great love for England.’

'He had a great love for England.' This phrase would seem to define this humble but great follower of the gospel of Christ; it seems to sum up the historical current of the sentiments of the Church of Rome, towards that island of high destiny; it seems to give expression to this present spiritual moment of the Apostolic See, which now raises to the glory of the Blessed this generous missionary, whose arms are open wide towards all that is most venerable and most significant in that blessed country’s present portion of its magnificent Christian heritage; and it seems today to rise up from the heart of the Ecumenical Council, being celebrated in this basilica, like a sign of still suffering, but always confident, Catholic brotherhood.

'He had a great love for England.' Newman’s phrase, if properly meditated upon, means that the love of the pious religious, the Roman missionary, was directed to Newman himself, the promoter and representative of the Oxford movement, which raised so many religious questions, and excited such great spiritual energies; to him who, in full consciousness of his mission — ‘I have a work to do’ — and guided solely by love of the truth and fidelity to Christ, traced an itinerary, the most toilsome, but also the greatest, the most meaningful, the most conclusive, that human thought ever travelled during the last century, indeed one might say during the modern era, to arrive at the fulness of wisdom and of peace.

And if that phrase was true and salutary for so distinguished a representative of a great people, so high an authority of a time like ours, will it not be still true and salutary today, in heaven, in the hearts of this beloved Beatus, and here below, in the hearts of all those who celebrate his glory, and wish to imitate his example?

1 comment:

Alan Harrison said...

I remember Fr Colin with affection, Father. Passers-by in Oxford must have been astonished when the gales of laughter coming from S. Mary Mag's were were followed by the emergence of his coffin. The most memorable Christian funeral I've ever attended.

What he said was that he "assented to" the articles as he "assented to" the gasworks. He was actually quoting the conductor of his ordination retreat, who was seeking to quiet the conscience of ordinands from Chichester worried by the requirement to "assent to" the document.

Saluti da Desenzano del Garda. Qui non ci sono trentanove articoli!