Icons

In my last blog I told you about the exciting developments surrounding the move of the St Barnabas Society headquarters from Wolvercote to the outskirts of Littlemore – the scene of Blessed John Henry Newman’s conversion. Over the past few weeks the Argentinian artist, Marcelo Lavallen, has been working on three icons depicting scenes from the life of St Barnabas. They now grace the base of the new altar in our chapel. As expected the icons are very beautiful. I had seen previous examples of Marcelo’s work which is why I invited him to take on this project for us.

Some of those who have already seen and admired the icons encouraged Marcelo to provide an explanation of the symbolism he has employed. What follows is a description of the images he has painted. All our supporters are welcome to visit the chapel and see the icons for themselves. We are already grateful to those who have sent gifts to help with its decoration (including one from the U.S.A.) and Mass will be offered for your intentions this week. Thank you for your kindness and generosity.

LEFT PANEL

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This depicts St Barnabas laying the proceeds from the sale of his land “ante pedes Apostolorum” – “before the feet of the Apostles. (Acts 4:37).

“There was a Levite of Cypriot origin called Joseph whom the Apostles surnamed Barnabas (which means Son of Consolation).  He owned a piece of land and sold it and brought the money and presented it to the Apostles.” (Acts 4:36-7).

To the right of St Barnabas is St Peter who is blessing his gift.  To his left is Our Lady with some of the other women. Behind the figures are the walls and city of Jerusalem. The red drape is used in iconography to depict the fact that the scene takes place in doors.






CENTRAL PANEL

This depicts St Barnabas presenting the recently converted St Paul to the Apostles in Jerusalem.

“Barnabas…took charge of him, introduced him to the Apostles and explained how the Lord had appeared to him and spoken to him on his journey and how he had preached fearlessly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.” (Acts 9:27).

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The centre figures are St Paul and St Barnabas surrounded on each side by St Peter and a group of sceptical disciples.

“When he (Paul) got to Jerusalem he tried to join the disciples but they were afraid of him: they could not believe that he was really a disciple.” (Acts 9:26).

Behind the figures is a Latin inscription from the Vulgate” “Barnabas narravit illis quomodo in via vidisset Dominum” – “Barnabas told them how he (Paul) had seen the Lord on the road.”

 

RIGHT PANEL

The right panel depicts the martyrdom of St Barnabas in Cyprus.

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Tradition suggests that certain Jews came to Salamis where they knew Barnabas had been proclaiming the Gospel. Infuriated by his success and the number of conversions they fell upon him as he was disputing in the synagogue in Salamis, dragged him outside, tortured him and finally stoned him to death. His kinsman John Mark and some of the other disciples recovered his body (which was said to have been thrown into the sea) and buried it in the nearby necropolis.

The icon depicts St Barnabas holding the Gospel of St Mark with its classic symbol of a winged lion. Barnabas was reputed to carry the Gospel with him and lay it upon the sick who would then recover. It was placed upon his breast when his body was buried.

Although it is believed that Barnabas suffered death by stoning the Apocryphal Acts of Barnabas states that a rope was placed around his neck and he was then dragged to a place where he was burned alive. Both traditions are represented in the icon.

In AD 478 St Barnabas appeared in a dream to Anthemios, Archbishop of Constantia (Salamis) and revealed to him the place of his burial beneath a carob tree. The following day the tomb was discovered with the Gospel laid upon his body.

The water behind the figures indicates the island of Cyprus where the martyrdom took place.

 

Bishop William Kenney C.P., auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Birmingham with pastoral responsibility for Oxfordshire, has kindly agreed to bless the new chapel and offices at a date which has yet to be determined. He will celebrate Mass for the first time in the new chapel.

Marcelo will return at Christmas to paint a crucifix and an icon depicting Blessed John Henry Newman and Blessed Dominic Barberi which will both be placed in the chapel. Archbishop Bernard Longley hopes to visit our new headquarters early next year when he too will celebrate Mass and bless the new images.

The departure of Cyprian Blamires and William Johnstone means that the Society is now without area organisers. Their principal role was to travel the length and breadth of the country making appeals on our behalf in parishes. Appeals are not just about raising money. Appeals are about presenting a human face and engaging with parish priests and their parishioners. The importance of appeals cannot be underestimated. They are our principal point of contact with the wider Church.

For the time being I have taken responsibility for all the appeals myself and it has been an exciting experience to suddenly find myself on the road each weekend, often making long journeys as the Society’s ambassador. Recently I have visited Blackpool, Skegness, Leeds, Plymouth, Manchester and Leicester. In each place I have been received with great kindness. I am deeply grateful to the priests who have offered me a bed for the night and allowed me to celebrate Mass and preach in their churches. And I am equally grateful to their parishioners who have listened so patiently and responded so generously to my request for their support. Often at the door of the church after Mass someone will come up to me and say “I was really interested to hear what you had to say because I am a convert myself” and I am always fascinated to hear the story of their own conversion journey. I have spoken about our forthcoming move to the edge of Littlemore and asked for their prayers as it happens. Many of them have immediately recognised the value of the special connection we shall now have with Blessed John Henry Newman, Blessed Dominic Barberi and the most important conversion story of modern times. These visits have helped to recruit many more friends for the St Barnabas Society and as such expand the nationwide network of support for us which already exists. And as I visit these parishes and meet people I am all too aware that I am now building upon the work which has been faithfully done by the Society’s organisers in the past. They are still remembered and fondly spoken of. Not only is that touching but it is hugely important. What they have achieved through their own visits has provided firm foundations for the work that now lies ahead.

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Something made me read again the beautiful homily Emeritus Pope Benedict gave at Cofton Park in Birmingham on 19th September 2010 for the beatification of Cardinal Newman. In it the Holy Father referred to one of Newman’s better-known meditations entitled “God has created me for some definite service.” Pope Benedict said:

“He (Newman) tells us that our divine Master has assigned a specific task to each one of us, a ‘definite service’, committed uniquely to every single person: ‘I have my mission’ he wrote, ‘I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do his work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place…if I do but keep his commandments and serve him in my calling.’” (Meditations and Devotions, 301-2)

May those words remind us of the “bond of connection” between the Society and our supporters which is so crucial to our work. As the Society’s Director I am all too aware that “I have my mission” but so do all the other people upon whom the Society depends – employees and friends. Each individual is “a link in a chain.” Thank you - all of you - for what you do for us and please keep up the good work!

  The chapel at Littlemore

The chapel at Littlemore

The July meeting of the Trustees of the St Barnabas Society took place within the beautiful setting of The College at Littlemore, on the south east side of Oxford. It is lovingly cared for by The Sisters of The Society of The Work and serves as the International Centre of Newman Friends. It was the home of Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman from 1842-1846 and the place where he was received into the full Communion of the Catholic Church by the Passionist priest, Blessed Dominic Barberi, on 9th October 1845.

Most of our Trustees had never visited The College before and some knew very little about the story of Newman’s conversion. It was a very moving experience to be able to celebrate Mass in the chapel of The College which had once been Newman’s oratory and is the place where Blessed Dominic received him. We were then able to move on to the place that had once been Newman’s library for the meeting itself. We were surrounded by Newman memorabilia as we discussed the support we give to our beneficiaries and the everyday work of the Society so that too was a very touching experience. It was a very happy and fruitful day and one which we hope will be repeated many times in the future.

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This meeting had a special significance because the Trustees have decided to move the Society Headquarters from its present location at Wolvercote to the outskirts of Littlemore. It will happen during August and The College will be within walking distance of our new home. More information about the move and our new location will follow shortly but in the meantime we need all our supporters and friends to keep the St Barnabas Society close to their hearts and to make a special point of praying for us each day. The move is a leap of faith but it will give us a wonderful opportunity to connect with Newman’s conversion story in a way that has not been previously possible and hopefully to play a part – albeit a small one – in the movement which is now pressing for his canonisation and that of Blessed Dominic.

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Newman wrote of Littlemore: “There it has been that I have both been taught my way and received an answer to my prayers.” May the same be true for the St Barnabas Society as we prepare for this new and exciting chapter. Through the intercession of St Barnabas and St Paul, Blessed John Henry Newman and Blessed Dominic Barberi, may the “Kindly Light” to whom Newman turned and who is God Himself lead the Society forward in faith and help us to embrace the many challenges and opportunities that this move will inevitably place in our way.

“Keep Thou my feet, I do not ask to see

The distant scene, one step enough for me.”

 

If it seems that this year’s London Event has come around rather more quickly than usual…it has! This year we are celebrating it on the actual feast day of St Barnabas the Apostle (June 11th) and I hope this will now become an annual tradition whenever it is possible.

The London Event reminds us that the St Barnabas Society is a family. There are those of us who work for the Society at its headquarters in Wolvercote. There are those who serve voluntarily as the Society’s trustees. There are those who are members of the Society and faithfully receive our literature and contribute to its work. There are many others who express an interest in our work and who then give generously to support it. And finally there are our beneficiaries – the principal reason why the Society exists – who, having made the courageous decision to embrace the Catholic faith, often at great personal cost to themselves, rely heavily upon the financial support we are able to offer to them, without which their lives would be an even greater uphill struggle than they are already. So it is important that there is at least one opportunity during the Church’s Year when we can gather together as a family to give thanks to God for the work of the St Barnabas Society, to forge new friendships simply by being together for a few hours, and to re-dedicate ourselves to the work that lies ahead.

The work that lies ahead will be both challenging and exciting as will become clear in time. So I do encourage all of you to make a special effort this year (if it is at all possible) to join us next Monday (June 11th) at 6.30pm at Our Lady of Victories Church, Kensington High Street, in London, for the Solemn Pontifical Mass at which Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham will preside, and the reception afterwards. We all live busy lives and it can be very difficult to make time for everything that is asked of us but your presence at this Mass is so important to the Society and for its work. If you are able to be there we shall be delighted to welcome you. Please try your very best.

In her contribution to the book “The Path to Rome”, which many of you will have read, Ann Widdecombe writes:

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“Each (person’s) path to Rome is different. Some paths are straight, others wind and occasionally disappear altogether. Some are lonely, some are crowded. Some are clear, some are brambly. Many are steep. Mine was, but there comes a time when the incline is downwards and the journey gains an almost precipitous momentum.

‘Quo vadis?’ one hears. There can only be one reply. To Rome.”

May we all find inspiration in the truth of those words as we prepare for the celebration of this year’s London Event and may we rejoice together that God has chosen to call us into the fold of His One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

 Our Lady of Victories, High St Kensington

Our Lady of Victories, High St Kensington