Homily from Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham, given at the Mass for Blessed Dominic Barberi at Sutton Shrine, 26th August 2019
This years’s annual Mass on the Feast of our mutual friend and patron, Blessed Dominic Barberi, has a special significance. As we gather at his shrine here in Sutton it is right that we remember the moment in Blessed Dominic’s priestly ministry for which he is most widely known – the reception of Blessed John Henry Newman into full communion with the Catholic Church. In less than two month’s time Blessed Cardinal Newman will be canonised in Rome by Pope Francis on 13 October.
This is a cause of great thanksgiving and celebration in my own diocese, where the precious sacramental moments that forever link Blessed Dominic and Blessed John Henry took place at Littlemore in Oxford. It is a cause of great thanksgiving across England and Wales, where Blessed Cardinal Newman will be the first English Pastor and Confessor to be canonised, other than for martyrdom, since the Reformation – and there is widespread international interest and devotion to the new saint.
And I would venture to say that, if such events are noted in the eternal Kingdom of the Blessed, then Blessed Dominic himself will be rejoicing that the man he helped to draw closer to Christ – because he showed him his own true pathway to salvation – is being raised to the altar and universally recognised for the holiness of his life.
And what then of Blessed Dominic himself? We can take a steer from Blessed Cardinal Newman who was among the first to recognise the humility, truth and holiness that shone from the teaching, pastoral ministry and personal example of Blessed Dominic. His life was shaped by the charism of St Paul of the Cross which he witnessed in action in the mission of the Passionists in his native Italy.
We should not allow the famous moments at Littlemore to overshadow the totality of Blessed Dominic’s life and witness as a Passionist. After all, it was the very witness of his life in its totality and integrity that first attracted the notice and came to deserve the confidence of Blessed John Henry and his friends. This is no mere cameo role in the story of another great saint. It is a compelling story in its own right, which deserves to be told and celebrated for its own significance for us today.
The first reading of today’s Mass introduces the work which lay at the heart of Blessed Dominic’s life – a work which has made such a difference to the story of the Catholic Church in England and Wales and in the lives of many thousands of people alongside Blessed Cardinal Newman. We heard St Paul, at the beginning of his letter to the Church at Thessaloniki, expressing his pastoral concern and his love for the people he had come to know and form in their Christian faith and way of life.
There is always a poignancy in St Paul’s letters to the Christian communities he had founded and where he had spent many months of his own life. Missionaries and priests who have to move from one community to another will recognise the abiding concern that St Paul feels for the people he once lived among. The generous and adventurous spirit that led St Paul on his many missionary journeys also inspired his namesake, St Paul of the Cross, as founder of the Passionists to look beyond the horizons of the world that was familiar to him.
The courage that drove St Paul of the Cross – part of the charism which his followers share – also drove Blessed Dominic. His natural curiosity about the wider world – and in particular his longing to come to England – are another expression of his faithfulness to Christ. We see in Blessed Dominic his obedience, under his Passionist superiors, to the command of our Lord to go out and proclaim the Good News. We see the fruits of that obedience in his ministry in Staffordshire and beyond.
Blessed Dominic was himself a great founder of communities which would share and develop the charism that he was charged to bring to England. The Passionist Fathers here could tell you much more than I can about the story of the communities founded by Blessed Dominic in London, in the West Country and of course here in Sutton. He could echo the words of St Paul to the Church at Thessaloniki: We always mention you in our prayers and thank God for you all.
The example of Blessed Dominic encourages us in our own Christian vocation – and the contemporary witness of the Passionists should be a valuable reminder – that we need to extend ourselves beyond what is familiar and comfortable, and be prepared to reach out into unfamiliar territory. With Blessed Dominic we can be confident that we will not do so alone. The pattern of ministry that we see in his life shows us that our Lord will always be at our side to guide and strengthen us – and that he will inevitably send us companions to share the work he has entrusted to us.
Now that Blessed Cardinal Newman is to be canonised there should be nothing to divert our energy and attention from the efforts we need to make for the cause of Blessed Dominic. We know from his writings that this is something Blessed John Henry Newman would welcome and he can invoke his prayers for this purpose. I want to invite the Oratory Fathers in England and Wales and all those who love Blessed Cardinal Newman to pray with us for the miracle that will lead towards the canonisation Blessed Dominic.
As we give thanks for the sanctity of his life and the fruitfulness of his work we are encouraged to keep on praying by the words of Blessed Dominic himself: I consider it should be held as a maxim that when God stirs the hearts of many to ask for any one thing it is an evident sign that He wishes to grant it.
Blessed Dominic Barberi… Pray for us.