Tag Archives: John Henry Newman

Saint John Henry Newman

October 13,  2019, John Henry Newman (1801-1890) was canonized a saint by Pope Francis in Rome. Newman, a member of the  Anglican Church. was received into the Catholic Church by the Italian Passionist, Blessed Dominic Barberi.

Newman admired Dominic, a Passionist missionary recently from Italy. More than a kindly Catholic priest and religious, Dominic represented something Newman treasured, the mystery of the Passion of Jesus. 

For Newman the mystery of the Cross interpreted everything. “ It is the death of the Eternal Word of God made flesh, which is our great lesson how to think and how to speak of this world. His Cross has put its due value upon everything which we see.” 

The mystery of the Cross distinguished Christianity from all other religions for Newman. Shortly after his conversion he reflected on the Word of God made flesh in “The Mystery of Divine Condescension.”  (Discourses to a Mixed Congregation” 14)

“The Eternal Word, the Only-begotten Son of the Father, put off his glory, and came down upon earth, to raise us to heaven. Though He was God, He became man; though He was Lord of all, He became as a servant; though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor, that we, through his poverty, might be rich.”

The first step to understand the mystery of Divine Condescension for Newman is to contemplate through reason and faith “the Almighty in Himself, then we should understand better what His incarnation is to us, and what it is in Him… when you have fixed your mind upon His infinity, then go on to view, in the light of that infinity, the meaning of His incarnation.” 

Through reason and faith, Newman reflects on “the Almighty in himself.”

“Reason teaches you there must be a God; else how was this all-wonderful universe made? It could not make itself; man could not make it, he is but a part of it; each man has a beginning, there must have been a first man, and who made him? 

To the thought of God then we are forced from the nature of the case; we must admit the idea of an Almighty Creator, and that Creator must have been from everlasting. He must have had no beginning, else how came He to be? 

The Creator of the world had no beginning;—and if so, He is self-existing; and if so, He can undergo no change. What is self-existing and everlasting has no growth or decay; It is what It ever was, and ever shall be the same. As It originated in nothing else, nothing else can interfere with It or affect It. Besides, everything that is has originated in It; everything therefore is dependent on It, and It is independently of everything. 

Contemplate then the Supreme Being, the Being of beings, even so far as I have yet described Him; fix the idea of Him in your minds. He is one; He has no rival; He has no equal; He is unlike anything else. He is sovereign; He can do what He will. He is unchangeable from first to last; He is all-perfect; He is infinite in His power and in His wisdom, or He could not have made this immense world which we see by day and by night…

He has lived in an eternity before He began to create anything. What a wonderful thought is this! there was a state of things in which God was by Himself, and nothing else but He. There was no earth, no sky, no sun, no stars, no space, no time, no beings of any kind; no men, no Angels, no Seraphim. His throne was without ministers; He was not waited on by any; all was silence, all was repose, there was nothing but God; and this state continued, not for a while only, but for a measureless duration; it was a state which had ever been; it was the rule of things, and creation has been an innovation upon it. 

Creation is, comparatively speaking, but of yesterday; it has lasted a poor six thousand years, say sixty thousand, if you will, or six million, or six million million; what is this to eternity? nothing at all; not so much as a drop compared to the whole ocean, or a grain of sand to the whole earth. I say, through a whole eternity God was by Himself with no other being but Himself; with nothing external to Himself, not working, but at rest, not speaking, not receiving homage from any, not glorified in creatures, but blessed in Himself and by Himself, and wanting nothing.” 

Like the psalmist who asks “What is man that you are mindful of him, mortal man that you keep him in mind?”Newman dwells on the distance between God and us, a distance that seems to separate us from God.

 “We can hardly understand other human beings, how can we know God so infinitely greater than us? If God has no need of us, why did he create the world, why did he create us?”

Our limited knowledge, our humanity, our human way of knowing things through our senses, makes our relationship to God so challenging, Newman observes. “And hence it is that I am drawn over to sinful man with an intenser affection than to my glorious Maker…and thus does my fellow-man engage and win me; but there is a gulf between me and my great God… It is a want in my nature to have one who can weep with me, and rejoice with me, and in a way minister to me; and this would be presumption in me, and worse, to hope to find in the Infinite and Eternal God.”

Our temptation, Newman says, is to abandon any relationship with God. 

“Perhaps you are tempted to complain that, instead of winning you to the All-glorious and All-good, I have but repelled you from Him. You are tempted to exclaim,—He is so far above us that the thought of Him does but frighten me; I cannot believe that He cares for me. I believe firmly that He is infinite perfection; and I love that perfection, not so much indeed as I could wish, still in my measure I love it for its own sake, and I wish to love it above all things, and I well understand that there is no creature but must love it in his measure, unless he has fallen from grace. 

But there are two feelings, which, alas, I have a difficulty in entertaining; I believe and I love, but without fervour, without keenness, because my heart is not kindled by hope, not subdued and melted with gratitude. Hope and gratitude I wish to have, and have not; I know that He is loving towards all His works, but how am I to believe that He gives to me personally a thought, and cares for me for my own sake? I am beneath His love; He looks on me as an atom in a vast universe. He acts by general laws, and if He is kind to me it is, not for my sake, but because it is according to His nature to be kind…

“Your complaint is answered in the great mystery of the Incarnation,” Newman continues.

“ Never suppose that you are left by God; never suppose that He does not know you, your minds and your powers, better than you do yourselves. Ought you not to trust Him, that, if your complaint be true, He has thought of it before you? “Before they call, I will attend,” says He, “and while they speak, I will hear.” Add this to your general notion of His incomprehensibility, viz., that though He is infinite, He can bow Himself to the finite; have faith in the mystery of His condescension; confess that, though He “inhabiteth eternity,” He “dwelleth with a contrite and humble spirit,” and “looketh down upon the lowly”. 

God discloses himself in nature, first of all, Newman says. The natural world is part of the mystery of Divine Condescension and we should embrace it because it  begins the disclosure of God that’s perfected by revelation:

“Lift up your eyes, I say, and look out even upon the material world, and there you will see one attribute above others on its very face which will reverse your sad meditations on Him who made it. He has traced out many of His attributes upon it, His immensity, His wisdom, His power, His loving-kindness, and His skill; but more than all, its very face is illuminated with the glory and beauty of His eternal excellence…mountains, cliffs, and sea rise up before you like a brilliant pageant, with outlines noble and graceful, and tints and shadows soft, clear, and harmonious, giving depth, and unity to the whole; and then go through the forest, or fruitful field, or along meadow and stream, and listen to the distant country sounds, and drink in the fragrant air which is poured around you in spring or summer; or go among the gardens, and delight your senses with the grace and splendour, and the various sweetness of the flowers you find there; then think of the almost mysterious influence upon the mind of particular scents, or the emotion which some gentle, peaceful strain excites in us, or how soul and body are rapt and carried away captive by the concord of musical sounds, when the ear is open to their power; and then, when you have ranged through sights, and sounds, and odours, and your heart kindles, and your voice is full of praise and worship, reflect— not that they tell you nothing of their Maker,—but that they are the poorest and dimmest glimmerings of His glory, and the very refuse of His exuberant riches, and but the dusky smoke which precedes the flame, compared with Him who made them. Such is the Creator in His Eternal Uncreated Beauty,”

The saints, the mystics have glimpses of God and yearn to see him, like Moses who asked to see God’s face after coming before the burning bush. “ What saints partake in fact, we enjoy in thought and imagination” Newman says, recognizing religious experience as part of the Condescension of God.

But the Condescension of God goes beyond nature, beyond human religious experience. In the mystery of the Word made flesh. The Creator humbles himself to the creature.”Your God has taken on Him your nature.”

What form do we humans expect God to take? “Doubtless, you will say, He will take a form such as “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard of” before. It will be a body framed in the heavens, and only committed to the custody of Mary; a form of light and glory, worthy of Him, who is “blessed for evermore,” and comes to bless us with His presence. 

Pomp and pride of men He may indeed despise; we do not look for Him in kings’ courts, or in the array of war, or in the philosophic school; but doubtless He will choose some calm and holy spot, and men will go out thither and find their Incarnate God. He will be tenant of some paradise, like Adam or Elias, or He will dwell in the mystic garden of the Canticles, where nature ministers its  best and purest to its Creator.”

But, “the Maker of man, the Wisdom of God, has come, not in strength, but in weakness. He has come, not to assert a claim, but to pay a debt. Instead of wealth, He has come poor; instead of honour, He has come in ignominy; instead of blessedness, He has come to suffer. He has been delivered over from His birth to pain and contempt; His delicate frame is worn down by cold and heat, by hunger and sleeplessness; His hands are rough and bruised with a mechanic’s toil; His eyes are dimmed with weeping; His Name is cast out as evil. 

He is flung amid the throng of men; He wanders from place to place; He is the companion of sinners. He is followed by a mixed multitude, who care more for meat and drink than for His teaching, or by a city’s populace which deserts Him in the day of trial. 

And at length “the Brightness of God’s Glory and the Image of His Substance” is fettered, haled to and fro, buffeted, spit upon, mocked, cursed, scourged, and tortured. “He hath no beauty nor comeliness; He is despised and the most abject of men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with infirmity;” nay, He is a “leper, and smitten of God, and afflicted”. And so His clothes are torn off, and He is lifted up upon the bitter Cross, and there He hangs, a spectacle for profane, impure, and savage eyes, and a mockery for the evil spirit whom He had cast down into hell.”

We also find this face of God hard to understand, Newman says:

“Oh, wayward man! discontented first that thy God is far from thee, discontented again when He has drawn near,—complaining first that He is high, complaining next that He is low!—unhumbled being, when wilt thou cease to make thyself thine own centre, and learn that God is infinite in all He does, infinite when He reigns in heaven, infinite when He serves on earth, exacting our homage in the midst of His Angels, and winning homage from us in the midst of sinners? Adorable He is in His eternal rest, adorable in the glory of His court, adorable in the beauty of His works, most adorable of all, most royal, most persuasive in His deformity. 

Think you not, my brethren, that to Mary, when she held Him in her maternal arms, when she gazed on the pale countenance and the dislocated limbs of her God, when she traced the wandering lines of blood, when she counted the weals, the bruises, and the wounds, which dishonoured that virginal flesh, think you not that to her eyes it was more beautiful than when she first worshipped it, pure, radiant, and fragrant, on the night of His nativity?”

So is it, O dear and gracious Lord, “the day of death is better than the day of birth, and better is the house of mourning than the house of feasting”. Better for me that Thou shouldst come thus abject and dishonourable, than hadst Thou put on a body fair as Adam’s when he came out of Thy Hand. 

Thy glory sullied, Thy beauty marred, those five wounds welling out blood, those temples torn and raw, that broken heart, that crushed and livid frame, they teach me more, than wert Thou Solomon.

The gentle and tender expression of that Countenance is no new beauty, or created grace; it is but the manifestation, in a human form, of Attributes which have been from everlasting. 

Thou canst not change, O Jesus; and, as Thou art still Mystery, so wast Thou always Love. I cannot comprehend Thee more than I did, before I saw Thee on the Cross; but I have gained my lesson. I have before me the proof that in spite of Thy awful nature, and the clouds and darkness which surround it, Thou canst think of me with a personal affection. Thou hast died, that I might live. 

“Let us love God,” says Thy Apostle, “because He first hath loved us.” I can love Thee now from first to last, though from first to last I cannot understand Thee. As I adore Thee, O Lover of souls, in Thy humiliation, so will I admire Thee and embrace Thee in Thy infinite and everlasting power.”

Blessed Dominic Barberi

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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.”

And they have been.

Longer biography here:

Writings of Blessed Dominic can be found here.

Blessed Dominic is buried here.

St. Philip Neri, (1515-1595)

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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.”

Is God at the Convention?

Our political conventions are beginning. A time, especially this year, when we wonder about our future. No perfect candidates, no perfect plans, no perfect solution. Should we pay any attention at all?

I’m thinking of John Henry Newman, the illustrious 19th century English theologian who converted from Anglicanism to Catholicism in 1845. An Italian Passionist priest, Fr. Dominic Barbari, received him into the church.

Newman’s conversion came through his efforts to bring the Church of England, then struggling against the rationalism of the Enlightenment, back to its orthodox Christian roots. He sought the answer in studying  early Christianity and its development to the present day. The Oxford Movement begun by Newman and other university friends strongly affected the Anglican church and other Christian churches of his time.

Originally convinced that the Catholic Church was corrupt and unfaithful to the gospel, Newman came to accept it as the Church founded by Jesus Christ. An important reason for his acceptance was his study of the Donatists, a 4th century Christian group that split from the larger church over who should be members of the church. The Donatists believed that the church should be a church of saints, not sinners.

Newman came to understand that the Church develops over time, and its development takes place in the real world, which is the world of saints and sinners. The spirituality he arrived at was anchored in this reality. We live in a world of weeds and wheat. “Nothing would be done at all if one waited until one could do it so well that no one could find fault with it.” We don’t live in a perfect world or a perfect church.

The world we live in is blessed by God with a purpose and a mission. No, it’s not perfect nor will it ever be perfect.We may cringe at the circus our political world can create these next few weeks. But that doesn’t mean we don’t try to make politics live up to its ideals. In all the hoopla God is at work.

 

St. Gabriel Possenti and Theodore Foley, CP

St. Gabriel PossentiToday is the feastday of St. Gabriel Possenti, the young Italian Passionist who died in 1862 and was canonized in 1920. I’m interested in his connection with Fr. Theodore Foley (1913-1974), an American Passionist whose cause for canonization was recently introduced in Rome. As a young boy of 14, Theodore read about  St. Gabriel and decided to become a Passionist;  other young men joined the community in the early 1920s and 30s also influenced by the young Italian saint.

What was St. Gabriel’s appeal ?

Born into a prominent family at Assisi in Italy in 1838, Gabriel Possenti was a lively, intelligent young man given all the advantages his father, an official in the papal government, could give him. Then, surprisingly, he left the bright, social world he loved so much to enter the Passionists at 18. He died in 1862 and was canonized in 1920. He was 24 years old.

Gabriel was first honored by people in the mountainous region of the Abruzzi in east central Italy and from there devotion to him spread through Italy and other parts of the world. His rise to sainthood as World War 1 ended, coincided with a decade in America known as  “The Roaring Twenties.”

The 1920s gave birth to a new consumer society, spawned by the country’s giant new industries and mass media, which chased after material goods of all kind. Young people especially, intoxicated by dreams of pleasure and success, rebelled against traditional institutions and morality. The 1920s was a “green light to an orgiastic future,” the writer F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote. “America was going on the greatest, gaudiest spree in history.”

Catholic religious leaders in the 1920s, anxious about the young, saw Gabriel Possenti an answer to the rebellious ethos of the age.  He had flirted with a lifestyle like the “Roaring Twenties.” As a youth, glamorous parties, entertainments and dreams of success absorbed him. Then, hearing God’s call, he turned away and embraced a life without glamour or style.

In his preface to Saint Gabriel, Passionist, a popular biography by Fr. Camillus, CP published in 1926, the powerful archbishop of Boston ,William Cardinal O’Connell, denounced the “flood of putrid literature which, for the past ten years of more, has deluged the bookshelves and libraries of our great cities, fueling disappointment and emptiness in a false romanticism.” He urged young Catholics to reject this falseness and live in the real world, like St. Gabriel:

“To live a normal life dedicated to God’s glory, that is the lesson we need most in these days of spectacular posing and movie heroes. And that normal life, lived only for God, quite simply, quite undramatically, but very seriously, each little task done with a happy supernaturalism,-that such a life means sainthood, surely St. Gabriel teaches us; and it is a lesson well worth learning by all of us.”

Young Theodore Foley took Gabriel’s path. He followed the saint into the undramatic life of the Passionists.

Gabriel Possenti’s decision to enter the Passionists has always been something of a mystery, even to his biographers. Did he choose religious life because he got tired of the fast track of his day? And why didn’t he enter a religious community better known to him, like the Jesuits, who could use his considerable talents as a teacher or a scholar? Why the Passionists?

Gabriel–and Theodore Foley after him– was attracted to the Passionists because of  the mystery of the Passion of Christ. It was at the heart of God’s call.

The Passionists were founded in Italy a little more than a century before Gabriel’s death by St. Paul of the Cross, who was convinced that the world was “falling into a forgetfulness of the Passion of Jesus” and needed to be reminded of that mystery again. Paul chose the Tuscan Maremma, then the poorest part of Italy, as the place to preach this mystery, and there he established his first religious houses for those who followed him. He chose the Tuscan Maremma, not to turn his back on the world of his day, but because he found the mystery of the Passion more easily forgotten there.

When Gabriel became a Passionist, the community like others of the time, was recovering from the suppression of religious communities by Napoleon at the beginning of the century. In one sense, it had come back from the dead .  The congregation was now alive with new missionary enthusiasm. Not only were its preachers in demand in Italy, but it had begun new ventures in England (1842) and America (1852).

Paul of the Cross, the founder, was beatified in 1853. Ten years earlier, the cause of St. Vincent Strambi, a Passionist bishop, was introduced. Dominic Barbari, the founder of the congregation in England, would receive John Henry Newman into the church in 1865; the English nobleman, Ignatius Spencer, who became a Passionist in 1847, began a campaign through Europe in the cause of ecumenism. New communities of Passionist women were being formed.

Respected for their zeal and austerity, the Passionists were a growing Catholic community, and their growth in the western world continued up to the years when Theodore Foley became their superior general and then saw its sharp decline.

Success was not what drew Gabriel–and Theodore Foley after him–to the Passionists. Their charism–the mystery of the Passion of Christ– was at the heart of God’s call.

As a boy growing up, Gabriel Possenti understood this mystery, even as he danced away the evening with his school friends. Twice he fell seriously ill and, aware that he might die, promised in prayer to serve God as a religious and take life more seriously. Both times he got better and forgot his promises. Then, in the spring of 1856, the city of Spoleto where he lived at the time was hit by an epidemic of cholera, which took many lives in the city. Few families escaped the scourge. Gabriel’s oldest sister died in the plague.

Overwhelmed by the tragedy, the people of Spoleto gathered for a solemn procession through the city streets carrying the ancient image of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, who stood by the Cross. They prayed that she intercede for them and stop the plague, and they also prayed that she stand by them as they bore the heavy suffering.

It was a transforming experience for Gabriel. Mysteriously, the young man felt drawn into the presence of the Sorrowing Woman whose image was carried in procession. Passing the familiar mansions where he partied many nights and the theater and opera that entertained him so often, he realized they had no wisdom to offer now. He took his place at Mary’s side. At her urging, he resolved to enter the Passionists.

Can we speculate, then, how the life of the Italian St. Gabriel drew the young American Theodore Foley to the Passionists? What similarity was there between them? What grace led him on?

Brought up in a good family and a strong religious environment , Theodore Foley still felt  “dangers and temptations” around him. No, he didn’t experience the social life that tempted Gabriel Possenti a century before. But he did experience the new mass media then sweeping the country.  By 1922 movies, and to a lesser extent the radio, became powerful influences in people’s lives, and Hollywood’s heroes preached a new gospel of fun and success. Through the new media, the “Roaring Twenties” came to Springfield as it did to other prosperous parts of America when Theodore Foley was growing up. Did it bring the  “the dangers and temptations” he feared?

Theodore Foley must have sensed the selfishness, the carelessness about others, the failure to appreciate suffering and weakness and sin in this new gospel. It promised life without the mystery of the Cross, but that was not real life at all. Only 14, he entered the Passionists.

Blessed Dominic Barberi, CP

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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.”

We’re Called: 2nd Sunday B

Audio below

We may think our relationship to God is something just between the two of us, but it isn’t. Others help us on our way to God. So, in this Sunday’s gospel John the Baptist tells some of his disciples to follow Jesus and in that same reading, Andrew brings his brother Simon to the Lord. More than we know, we’re led to God by others and we lead others to God too.

We go to God together. Another way of saying it is that we belong to one body, a church. We’re not lonely believers. We know and are called to God together.

Our first reading from the Book of Samuel is about the young boy Samuel whom God has chosen for a special mission among the Israelites. His mother is the first to sense this, and she sends him to the temple where she hopes the priests there will help him understand what his calling is. Parents are the first guides for their children; they know them and they’re their most important teachers.

Young Samuel hears God calling in the night but it’s a very indistinct call; he’s a young boy and he doesn’t know what to make of it. The old priest Eli doesn’t help much at first. He tells the young man there’ s no one calling, go back to sleep.

Finally, the old man recognizes that God’s calling the young boy. You wonder if this isn’t an early example of “the generation gap,’ someone from an older generation not understanding someone from a younger generation? The story is not just about a young boy finding what God wants him to do; it’s also about someone from an older generation helping him find out. What was the old priest thinking? Was he too concerned with himself perhaps and couldn’t be bothered with this young boy? Or had he lost hope in the youth of his day?

After awhile, the old priest gives Samuel the right advice: “Go to sleep, and if you are called say ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.’”

Very wise advice. The old priest is telling him, first of all, believe that God speaks to you. Believe, even in the night. Listen humbly like a servant. Don’t let your own ideas intrude. Be a listener; hear what God wants to tell you. Pray.

We published a little prayer some years ago “Be With Me Today, O Lord” asking for God’s guidance each day. There’s an elderly man from California who calls me every few months asking for copies of the prayer which he distributes in schools and churches in his area. I’m reminded of him and the prayer as we listen to the story of Samuel.

Be with me today, O Lord,

May all I do today begin with you, O Lord.

Plant dreams and hopes within my soul, revive my tired spirit, be with me today.

May all I do today continue with your help, O Lord.

Be at my side and walk with me. Be my support today.

May all I do today reach far and wide, O Lord.

My thoughts, my work, my life: Make them blessings for your kingdom;

Let them go beyond today.

Today is new, unlike any other day, for God makes each day different.

Today God’s everyday grace falls on my soul like abundant seed,

Though I may hardly see it.

Today is one of those days Jesus promised to be with me, a companion on my journey.

And my life today, if I trust him, has consequences.

My life has a purpose…

“ I have a mission…I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. God has not created me for naught…Therefore I will trust him. What ever, where ever I am, I can never be thrown away. God does nothing in vain. He knows what he is about.” (John Henry Newman)