Saturday, October 11, 2008

Blessed Dominic Barberi

I got back on Friday night from a very good retreat. The preacher asked us at the beginning to spend some time discerning our 'predominant fault' - a salutary exercise. Where does one begin?! We weren't a great number - only six retreatants - but since it was silent that didn't matter. During meal times we listened to tapes of Geroge Weigel's biography of Pope John Paul II. I'd heard it before and have read the book but I was very pleased to have the chance to listen again. I was able to spend some time in prayer every day for the men I know considering a vocation to the priesthood, asking that the be given the grace to become dedicated and holy priests.

Knowing that there would be time to read as well as pray I took with me Alfred Wilson's biography of Bl.Dominic Barberi. I was very glad I did. Until then I just knew of Blessed Dominic as the Italian Passionist who had a burning desire to evangelise the English, was mocked for his poor grasp of the language, and ended up receiving Newman into the Church. I didn't realise that he was also a clear-thinking and perspicacious theologian and philosopher who was able to see through false ideas at a time they were being embraced by all round him. His confreres even accused him of unorthodoxy for daring to disagree with the prevalent opinions. Dominic responded with total humility, not compromising on the truth but also never attacking his accusers. He patiently waited for the judgement of the Church which inevitably went in his favour. There is a lesson there for us all.

The other thing I didn't know about Blessed Dominic was that, having grown up as an oprhaned and unlettered farm boy, he struggled with his vocation - particularly once he discovered the fairer sex! Dominic was, on the one hand, convinced of his vocation to become a Passionist and, on the other, easily smitten by a number of girls of his acquaintance. He would vacillate between a desire to serve God and a natural desire to be one with the object of his affections. In his autobiography he writes of one girl: "I had become so bemused that, if I had been given the choice between giving her up or losing God eternally, without any hesitation I would have chosen to lose God. I was firmly convinced that in her company I could have been happy, even in hell".

Although he had developed habits of prayer, Dominic found that he easily gave up mental prayer once he struck up a relationship. This should have been sufficient warning to him - if the relationship were of God he would have wanted to pray more! However, he never abandoned his practice of praying the Holy Rosary every day. In the end, of course, he realised that he had to embrace God's will. He attributed it to the maternal intercession of Our Lady and to the fact that he had always been faithful to the Rosary.

When Newman was thinking of becoming a Catholic he had already been convinced intellectually. What he looked for was the mark of holiness. In this poor Passionist he found that mark and so was received in the little chapel at Littlemore, having spent two days making his confession. It reminds me of something Pope John Paul said about Mother Theresa: the world today needs not simply the arguments of reason and logic. It needs above all the example of holiness.

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