August 26th, the Passionists remember one of their great missionaries, Blessed Dominic Barberi, born in Viterbo, Italy, in 1792. Early on, God inspired him to be a missionary to England.
The desire to work for Christian unity grew after Dominic entered the Passionist community, where he taught theology and was a spiritual director. In 1842 he went to England hoping to bring the English church and the Roman Catholic church together as one. Initially, he tried to engage the leading religious scholars at Oxford in dialogue.
The Industrial Revolution was changing that country, however, and thousands of poor Catholic immigrants from Ireland were flocking to the great English factory towns, fleeing famine and looking for work. Priests were needed and Dominic, though he never spoke English well, tirelessly preached and ministered to them.
Dominic never got his wish to engage the learned scholars of England as a lecturer at Oxford, but he was noticed by them all the same. One of England’s greatest intellectuals, John Henry Newman, was attracted to Dominic, not by the religious tracts he sent to him, but by his zeal and humility. Newman was looking for those qualities in the Roman church at the time.
“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.”
Dominic, humble, zealous and faithful, used “the proper arms of the Church.” When Newman decided to enter the Catholic Church, he asked for Father Dominic Barberi to 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.”
Philip Neri, whose feast is celebrated today, helped to rejuvenate the Catholic church in the city of Rome following the Protestant reformation in the 16th century. He’s an important example of the way reform can take place in the church.
Philip came to Rome as a young man, became a priest, and fell in love with the city’s history, its churches and holy places. He roamed the catacombs of St. Sebastian where early Christians were buried and was a regular guide for pilgrims searching for their roots. He promoted pilgrimages to the great churches of St.Peter’s, St.Paul outside the Walls, St. Lawrence, St. Sebastian, Holy Cross, St. John Lateran and St. Mary Major, which are still the major pilgrim churches of the city.
Philip was also a familiar figure on the Roman streets where he engaged ordinary people, especially the young, with cheerfulness and simple conversation. People listened to him and he listened to them. He made people aware of the beauty and joy of an ancient faith.
Philip inspired saints like Ignatius Loyola, Charles Borromeo and Pius V.
In his day Protestants were turning to history to back up their claims against the Catholic Church. At the same time Philip encouraged Catholic scholars and historians like Caesar Baronius to look into the history of their church with fairness and accuracy. Baronius said of him: “I love the man especially because he wants the truth and doesn’t permit falsehood of any kind.” He supported Galileo: “The bible teaches the way to go to heaven, not the way the heavens go.”
In promoting an honest study of church history and archeology Philip was influential in helping the Catholic Church then to examine its traditions and roots. At a time when fierce controversy between Protestants and Catholics was the norm, Philip brought gentleness, cheerfulness and friendship and a search for truth to Christian reform. He believed reform would best come about by showing the beauty of faith in art, music and tradition. He was an unassuming man. A biographer said “ his aim was to do much without appearing to do anything.”
He died in Rome on May 26, 1595, at eighty years of age.
The great Christian scholar John Henry Newman, attracted to Philip Neri, entered the religious society he founded, the Oratorians.
Here’s one of his prayers I like: ” Let me get through today, and I won’t worry about tomorrow.”
I attended a beautiful Methodist funeral this week at a funeral home in Ocean Grove, New Jersey. I prayed and sang with the members of the family and their friends. Some years ago, before the Second Vatican Council, I would have been told “In no way is it permitted for the faithful to take part in any way in non-Catholic services.” (Canon 1258)
We have come a long way in our relations with other Christian churches and other religions. In the days of St. Francis de Sales in the 16th century, Christian churches were fighting each other over religion. Francis de Sales as the bishop of Geneva, Switzerland, chose to approach religious differences through dialogue and not arms. His approach anticipated the Vatican Council decrees on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratia) and Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate) which told Catholics to respect the religious beliefs of others and dialogue with them.
Dialogue means listening to the other and offering what you know in return. It’s an on-going process that ultimately, I think, has its roots in the created world we live in, which we know little by little. The word “respect”is a beautiful word, meaning “looking again,” Francis de Sales based his spirituality on respect for the variety of creation. We’re “living plants” in the garden of the world. We need to keep “looking again.”
And while we respect others, we need to “look again” at our own tradition to appreciate it and see it “ever ancient, ever new.”
We’re ending the Church Unity Octave on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, the Apostle, January 25th. St Francis de Sales, St. Paul the Apostle, St. Paul of the Cross, pray for us.
To listen to today’s homily please select the audio file below:
“Lord, will only a few people be saved?” someone asks Jesus on his journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, described in Luke’s gospel, our Mass reading today. He doesn’t answer the question, but instead tells his listeners to respond immediately to God’s call when they hear it.
Why was the question asked anyway, you wonder? Was it because the response wasn’t great when Jesus made his way to Jerusalem? In our first reading Isaiah predicts people from all nations will flock to Jerusalem when the Messiah comes. Were those who followed Jesus few in number then?
Will the response to Jesus sometimes be the same?
The journey of Jesus to Jerusalem never ends, we believe. It goes on through time as Christian missionaries go through other towns, places, even continents. It took place when European explorers, settlers and missionaries brought faith in Jesus Christ to peoples in North America who never knew him.
“Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Early Christian missionaries may have asked that as they reviewed their attempts to evangelize the native peoples of North America. Historians estimate about 50 million Indians lived in North America before the arrival of Europeans. A hundred years later, only 10 percent survived, mainly because of diseases brought by the newcomers. In a hundred or so years, as European settlers increased in number, most of the native tribes in eastern North America were forced westward or destroyed by war or small pox brought by the Europeans.
Coming to the new world, Catholic missionaries like the Jesuits and Franciscans hoped, not only to convert the native peoples to Christianity, but some thought they might create a fresh, vibrant Christian civilization, without the ancient antagonisms and rivalries of Europe. They looked for new Pentecost, but it did not seem to come.
Their harvest wasn’t great. The two civilizations were very different. The sense of superiority the Europeans brought, colonialism, and the diseases that decimated the native population made the native peoples question Christianity. It seemed to be a faith that brought death not life.
I hope to visit soon the National Museum of the American Indian, located in the old customs house across from Battery Park near the ferry in New York City, a good place to remember the native peoples in the story of America. They were the first the Europeans traded with; they were their guides into an unknown land. The native peoples provided new foods for growing populations in Africa, Europe and America. They had a greater respect for the land than those who came after them. Their story is now largely forgotten.
At the museum I’ll remember St. Kateri Tekakwitha, a native American who lived along the Mohawk River past Albany, New York. She offers an insight into the culture and social world of the native peoples. Smallpox brought by the Europeans disfigured and partially blinded her. Other diseases like tuberculosis, measles and malaria brought death to large numbers of native peoples, who were diminished further by wars and greed for Indian lands.
She came to believe in Jesus Christ.
At the museum I’ll also remember Father Isaac Jogues, the fearless Jesuit missionary, who was eventually killed by the Mohawks at Ossernonon (Auriesville), past Albany on the Mohawk River. A strong faith in Christ brought him to the New World where he experienced the clash of cultures as Christianity entered a native American world. Fleeing from Indian captivity, he came here to New Amsterdam (New York) in 1643 and was put on a ship for France by a kindly Dutch minister. A few years later, he returned still eager to bring the Christian faith to the native peoples, but was killed in 1646.
He wanted them to know Jesus Christ.
What do these old examples say about our mission today as disciples of Jesus to make him known? “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age,” Jesus says. (Matthew 28,16-20) What does that mean today?
Some today tell us to think more positively of cultures like that of the American native peoples. Some say Christians should simply be present in these cultures and silently profess their faith and work for the common good. Some even say we should not evangelize at all.
Certainly, the Spirit of God has been active in humanity from the beginning and we have missed God’s gifts in cultures and religions not our own. The church today recognizes the good in other religions “The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions” (Nostra Aetate, 2) . Still, it regards them as a “preparation for the gospel.” (Lumen gentium 16)
“The church is missionary by her very nature.” (Ad gentes 2) She is called to both dialogue respectfully, work for the common good and proclaim her belief.
We’re not only speaking of other cultures and religions, of course. What about our own culture, which is becoming increasingly resistant to Christian belief? How do we dialogue respectfully and proclaim our belief to our own, our young people, those who are drifting away?
A group of 8 Catholics and Protestants leave on Monday from JFK to explore the land where Jesus lived. We’re staying with the Passionists in Bethany for five days and then five days with the Franciscans at the Mount of the Beatitudes on the Sea of Galilee.
Bethany, on the lower eastern slopes of the Mount of Olives is considered part of East Jerusalem; the Mount of Beatitudes on the Sea of Galilee puts us within walking distance of Capernaum, so we’re close to two places with important links to Jesus.
Some of us have media experience and one of our goals is to produce some short videos (5 minutes or so) on the various holy places that may help Protestants and Catholics alike to deepen their knowledge of Jesus and his mission.
I’ll publish blogs of our trip for the next ten days, depending on internet access and what energy I can draw on. We’ll use Jerome Murphy-O’Connor’s fine guidebook, The Holy Land: An Oxford Archeological Guide…2008, along with the gospels to help us find our way.
Pilgrimage is always an adventure. So, here we go, pray for us.
In today’s reading at Mass from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians the apostle tells them to remember those who brought them to faith. The gospel came to them, not in words alone, but through holy people.
Today, the Passionists remember one of their holy people, Blessed Dominic Barberi, born in Viterbo, Italy, in 1792. He was devoted to the cause of Christian unity and in 1842 went to England with a dream of bringing the English church and the Catholic church together as one.
He received John Henry Newman, the great Oxford scholar, into the Catholic church. Newman admired the zeal and humility of this holy man.
Though he never mastered the English language, Dominic preached tirelessly throughout England, especially to poor immigrants coming into the country to work in factories built during the Industrial Revolution.
Before coming to England, Dominic wrote to the scholars of Oxford about his dream of a united church:
“The time will surely come when we shall all with one voice glorify God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. That time is not far distant. We shall see it with our own eyes. I feel this hope in the depths of my soul. In the meantime, let us do penance in sackcloth and ashes, as we await the blessed hope. Not only the French, but also the Italians, Spaniards, Germans and all other Catholics join you in this. With you they hope, with you they long for the day when it will be possible to embrace one another as brothers and sisters and to be gathered into one fold under one shepherd. Let there be one fold and one shepherd soon! Amen. Amen.”
We celebrate a Week of Prayer for Christian Unity every year from the 18th to the 25th of January. Pope Benedict recently said that one of the gravest sins “that disfigure the Church’s face” is the sin “against her visible unity”, and, in particular, “the historical divisions which separated Christians and which have not yet been surmounted”.
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is “an event much appreciated by believers and communities which reawakens in all the desire for and spiritual commitment to full communion,” the pope added.
The pope mentioned in this regard a prayer vigil in St. Peter’s Square on December 19th in which thousands of young people from all over the world gathered with the ecumenical community of Taize to pray. He called it “a moment of grace in which we experienced the beauty of unity in Christ.”
“The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principal concerns of the Second Vatican Council.” (Decree on Ecumenism n.1). Cardinal Kurt Koch, head of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity said recently that ecumenical efforts affect the mission of the church, because the division of Christians prevents the preaching of the gospel and “deprives many people of access to the faith” (Ad Gentes, n. 6). Divisions among Christian cause a confusion that hinders people from accepting the gospel today. He added that we are in a “profoundly changed ecumenical situation.”
Passionist Father Ignatius Spencer, an early pioneer in ecumenical activity, strongly urged more prayer together. Might be a good idea to consider . How can we do it?