For the average modern-day Catholic, one’s familiarity with St. Barnabas probably extends as far as knowing that he was a companion of St. Paul during Paul’s early missionary work. But when I delved deeper into the Acts of the Apostles to learn more about Barnabas, I was surprised to see just how influential he was in the early days of the Church.
He first appears in the Acts of the Apostles 4:36: “Joseph, also named by the apostles Barnabas” sells a piece of his property and donates the money for the Apostles to use. He next appears in Chapter 9, when he takes charge of the newly-converted Paul and introduces him to the twelve Apostles, and later, he brings Paul into the missionary work for the growing, Jewish-and-Gentile-based Christian community at Antioch (in modern-day Turkey). Chapters 13 and 14 could be appropriately nicknamed “The Adventures of Paul & Barnabas,” for they include: an encounter with a false prophet (Acts 13:6-12), having their teachings embraced by Gentiles and just as thoroughly rejected by Jews (Acts 13:44-52), one near-stoning and one nearly-fatal stoning (Acts 14:5-6 and 14:19-20, respectively), and performing a miracle only to be mistaken for incarnations of the Greek gods Zeus and Hermes (Acts 14:8-14). And yet, the Holy Spirit compelled them onward! The next chapters recount more of Sts. Paul and Barnabas’s evangelizing work together and then focus on St. Paul after he and Barnabas went separate ways.
Personally, I had never known that St. Barnabas—whom I had often envisioned as a sort of sidekick to St. Paul’s evangelizing heroics during his early years as a missionary—was actually the man indirectly responsible for Paul’s later renown. It can be difficult to believe that someone has truly changed, and even more difficult to advocate publicly for that person before he has had a chance to ‘prove himself’—and yet that is what Barnabas did. Would Paul ever have been accepted as a ‘true’ Christian if the well-regarded Barnabas had not been there to acknowledge Paul publicly and to put him in touch with the Apostles? How long might it have taken Paul to reach the path of the missionary if Barnabas had not sought him out specifically to assist the efforts in Antioch?
In our modern, post-Christian society, there are many opportunities for us to be the Barnabas to someone else’s Paul. Perhaps it might mean asking for help from someone with a task that could ignite their zeal for the Lord and nurture their God-given talents. Perhaps we can see the potential for someone else’s faith to deepen and for the great things they could accomplish. Or perhaps the opportunities we encounter are chances to be a witness to the truth—even if that witness brings persecution, falls on deaf ears, or we must move on to other places, as Paul and Barnabas did.
As we commemorate the feast of St. Barnabas, let us ask for his intercession in revealing to us how we can most effectively share the Gospel today and invite others into a life of meaningful discipleship.
Question for Reflection: Has anyone ever advocated for you or have you ever been an advocate on someone’s behalf? What was this experience like?
Editor's note: In honor of the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, a new blogger for the Catholic Apostolate Center writes about the nature of Christian brotherhood and friendship. Check out our post from last year on Peter and Paul for a little background on these great friends and evangelists.
To my fellow Christian brothers,
Nothing worth doing in life is easy, and the Christian ideal is certainly no exception. As the profound early 20th century apologist G.K. Chesterton said in his book What’s Wrong with the World, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” Those who recognize the Cross are called, now more than ever, to take it up. But do not try to bear the Cross alone: find other men who have accepted the weight of the Cross and have allowed God to write it on their hearts. Bear your burdens together. When you bear the Cross with your brother, you begin to form a real friendship with him – one based in vulnerability.
We don’t often bring up vulnerability when talking about manliness, but it is one of the most vital qualities to have in the effort towards holiness. When Christ became man, this was the ultimate act of vulnerability. It did not stop there, though. Christ exemplified perfect holiness through His ultimate sacrifice on the Cross. By getting to know the true nature of your brother, you enter into a state of vulnerability with him where you can then challenge him to make strides towards holiness. When I asked Brother Barnabas, a Benedictine monk at Saint Vincent College, to weigh in on the topic of manliness and male Christian friendship, he recalled a time when he lived in a house with some close friends.
“There certainly was a time for fellowship, especially when we had visitors,” said Brother Barnabas, “but when it was just us men around the table, we used to say, ‘alright guys, armor off.’ That’s when we would truly expose our hearts to each other and allow the Holy Spirit to strengthen us.”
The relationship Barnabas talks about is the sort of relationship that binds men together and transcends spending time with your “bros.” It’s the type of relationship that doesn’t necessarily seem intuitive for men. Our culture usually portrays women as the ones who are willing to be honest and open with one another. Men are supposed to be stoic and reserved – they’re supposed to bear their sufferings quietly. Yet, we need to have the courage to reveal our true selves with absolute honesty to other men. When needed, we must have the courage to make sacrifices for our brothers and allow them to make sacrifices for us too. The burden of the Cross becomes lighter when you have a brother bearing it beside you. In the daily effort of conversion to the will of God, having a true friend can sometimes make all the difference.
The Christian ideal is not easy to follow. We as men must come together, leave the armor at the door, and allow the Lord to work through our cooperation in becoming holy together. As the Lord leads us to holiness, let us ask him in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit to give us brothers for the journey. Amen.
Question for Reflection: Do you have friends with whom you can be vulnerable? In what ways can you help your friends bear their crosses?