We continue reading at Mass today from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians. This letter is not a theological treatise like his Letter to the Romans, nor can you find a list of corrections in it as in his letters to the Corinthians.
This is Paul’s first letter, written shortly after the year 50 AD, and it’s mostly Paul’s way of telling the Thessalonians how thankful he is for the faith he sees in them.
He’s just come with his companions from Philippi where he narrowly escaped death. He would be shaken, for sure. The apostle seems surprised at the faith he finds in them. He’s delighted by it all. Paul reminds them he didn’t come with nice words or looking for affirmation for himself or for what he could get from them. He describes himself as a nursing mother: “We wanted to share with you the Gospel of God and our very selves as well.”
Today the Passionists remember one of their own great missionaries, Blessed Dominic Barberi, who had Paul’s qualities of zeal and humility. Dominic was born in Viterbo, Italy, in 1792. Early on, God gave him a desire to be a missionary, especially to England.
As a Passionist priest he dedicated himself to work for Christian unity and in 1842 he went to England with the desire to bring the English church and the Catholic church together as one.
Dominic had a good mind and wanted to engage the leading religious scholars in England, but the Industrial Revolution was changing the face of that country; thousands of poor Catholic immigrants from Ireland were flocking to the great English factory towns looking for work.
They needed priests and Dominic, though he never mastered the English language, tirelessly preached and ministered to them. He shared with them the Gospel of God and his very self as well.
Dominic never got his wish to engage the learned scholars of England as a lecturer at Oxford, for example, but he was noticed by them all the same.
One of the greatest of England’s intellectuals, John Henry Newman, was attracted to Dominic, not by the tracts he sent to him, but by his zeal and humility. Newman needed to see those qualities in the Roman church.
“If they want to convert England,” Newman wrote earlier, “let them go barefoot into our manufacturing towns, let them preach to the people like St Francis Xavier–let them be pelted and trampled on, and I will own they do what we cannot…Let them use the proper arms of the Church and they will prove they are the Church.”
Humble, zealous and faithful, Dominic used “the proper arms of the Church.” When Newman decided to enter the Catholic Church, he asked for Father Dominic Barberi receive him.
“All that I have suffered since I left Italy has been well compensated by this event,” Dominic wrote later, “ I hope the effects of such a conversion may be great.”