Blessed Dominic, Faith and Good Humor
Blessed Dominic Barberi was Beatified in 1963. He could well be the patron saint of school classroom or workplace jokers everywhere. His humour, of course, made him a real handful for teachers, superiors, Bishops, priests, religious and parishioners!! He was always in trouble for breaking his vow of silence and admitted to being “addicted” to clowning.
Whilst, at times, Dominic doubtless irritated people because of his ready wit and penchant for practical jokes, the gift of his laughter also drew them to him and, ultimately, to Jesus. Dominic drew upon family origins as farmers, his photographic memory, amazing powers of concentration and ability as a story teller to get a church, lecture room or hall brimming with the joy of life. He lived ‘at a run and’ even wrote letters and sermons so quickly that the ends of his sentences could be found on his writing desk!
Dominic joined an order called the Passionists who were named after Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. He always wanted to come and work as a priest in England, with the long-term aim of uniting all Christians through his gentleness and peace-making disposition. He is famous for receiving St John Henry Newman into the Church.
Despite his broken English, Dominic had a charm-filled holiness that shone through and many people became Catholics because they were attracted to him and the Gospel he preached. Dominic worked “like a donkey” as he put it, giving missions and retreats. Sometimes in the Aston area of Staffordshire crowds of up to 500 people came to hear him. He also met with real opposition. At Stone he was rejected, ambushed and earth and stones were thrown at him. Witnesses who were the gang members who attacked him recalled how Dominic picked up the first stone and kissed it because it was the means by which he was able to bear the sufferings of Christ. As a result, one of the gang leaders eventually became a Catholic.
Dominic also worked tirelessly in Wolverhampton, Rugeley, Bilston, Princethorpe and Cotton. His reputation came to the attention of John Henry Newman and he asked Dominic to receive him into the Catholic Church at Littlemore in Oxfordshire on 9th October 1845. Even in this most poignant moment the Passionist’s God-inspired humour came surging through. Alfred Wilson, Dominic’s biographer, records that during his meeting with John Henry “he perpetrated one of his most atrocious puns… In his natural homely way, he remarked: “let us wait a little more and a little more will be done for the glory of God.” (Wilson, Supernaturalized Briton, p.299).
Newman would doubtless have appreciated the joke and enjoyed Barberi’s descriptions of the natural world, his bright mind, passion for the Bible and great devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Both had so much in common. They shared a huge capacity for pastoral work and were devoted to their students as lecturers. Dominic and John Henry, after a ‘heart to heart’, recognised in each other the divine flame of holiness lit from baptism’s paschal candle. They were united in their mutual quest for the virtues of personal humility, charity and good humor.
Fr Peter Conley