If we want converts, we must be as uncompromising as Blessed Dominic Barberi

Blessed Dominic Barberi

On Saturday the Catholic Church in England celebrated the memorial of the Blessed Dominic of the Mother of God, the Passionist beatus better known as Dominic Barberi, whose major claim to fame is that he received the Blessed John Henry Newman into the Church. He is not yet a saint, which means that his cult is only celebrated in this country where he spent a significant part of his pastoral labours; but even in England he remains too little known. Wikipedia has a good article on him, and the Archdiocese of Birmingham also has this useful biographical sketch of him.

Every saint has something to teach us, and Blessed Dominic is no exception. Newman had this to say about him:

Father Dominic was a marvellous missioner and a preacher filled with zeal. He had a great part in my own conversion and in that of others. His very look had about it something holy. When his form came within sight, I was moved to the depths in the strangest way. The gaiety and affability of his manner in the midst of all his sanctity was in itself a holy sermon. No wonder that I became his convert and his penitent. He had a great love for England.

Blessed Dominic was known for his kindness and his sense of humour. He even cracked the odd joke. But it was zeal that was his chief characteristic, which drew souls to God. He actually believed with all his heart what he wanted other people to come to believe as well, and his converts knew it. That was why there were so many of them.

Blessed Dominic’s life in England was remarkably short, less than a decade, and he was not a young man when he ministered here, but his efforts certainly bore fruit. Most of his energies went into preaching retreats and holding missions. The retreats were important for the clergy, religious and seminarians, who would, in their turn, pass on what they had heard. They would be pretty full on “total immersion” experiences with sermons, periods of silence, prayers and devotions lasting all day, from very early in the morning until late at night. As for the missions, which would usually take place in industrial urban centres, these were pretty exhausting and exhaustive too, consisting of series of sermons early in the morning and late at night, for workers, and various devotions during the day, as well as numerous opportunities to go to confession. They certainly drew in the crowds, and in this they probably got a free helping hand from the Protestant clergy who would do all they could to try and dissuade people from going.

Blessed Dominic was frequently assaulted in the street, verbally and physically, and had stones and mud thrown at him, as he walked along in his Passionist habit, wearing his biretta. He did not mind at all, and perhaps knew that attracting any attention at all was always good for the Gospel.

Catholics today know that we should concentrate on mission not maintenance. There can be no debate about that, but the truth remains that we have very little clue about how to go about mission. The model used in the nineteenth century has faded from view, and we still don’t know with what to replace it. Many of the models we have tried since have shown very poor results. (You may remember this report on the matter from the Daily Telegraph.)

So what then can be done? One thing is clear: without courage and zeal, of the type Blessed Dominic had, nothing at all can be done. So the first thing to do is to pray for these virtues. We won’t become heralds of the Gospel until we are given the grace by God to be such; and we won’t be given that grace until we want it. So let us start wanting it.

The other pre-requisite, before we can even get started, is to get into the mindset of proclamation. There is only one Truth, that of Jesus Christ and His Church, and we should not allow ourselves to be infected with the heresy of indifferentism, the idea that every “truth” is somehow valuable. We have to be forthright, and we must not give an inch when it comes to the truth of the faith.

Talking of which, I just love this story about Blessed Dominic:  “[When a Protestant minister] followed Barberi along a street shouting out various arguments against transubstantiation, Barberi was silent, but as the man was about to turn off, Barberi retorted: ‘Jesus Christ said over the consecrated elements, ‘This is my body.’ You say ‘No. It is not his body!’ Who then am I to believe? I prefer to believe Jesus Christ.’” Like Blessed Dominic, we have to tell it like it is, without cowardice and without apology.

Something similar is happening today in certain quarters, as readers of the Catholic Herald will have noticed. Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth, for example, has met challenges to the Catholic faith head on. This cannot have been easy at all times for His Lordship, and he has had the equivalent on the stones and mud that Blessed Dominic endured thrown at him, but he has stuck to his guns. As a result (and yes, I do think there is a direct connection between the two) the diocese of Portsmouth now has 14 young men entering seminaries this year, the highest in living memory.