Tag Archives: John Henry Newman

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)

Dominic Barberi, CP

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.”

Still a dream to believe in and work for.