Becoming Sons and Daughters of Encouragement, Feast of St. Barnabas, June 11, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Feast of St. Barnabas
June 11, 2016
Acts 11:21-26. 13:1-3, Ps 98, Mt 5:33-37

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily:

  • St. Paul would write to the Corinthians, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all encouragement who encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God” (2 Cor 1:3). We receive God’s strength within and then we are able with God and the strength he gives to inspire and help others to become stronger. This was a lesson that St. Paul seems to have learned from the Saint we celebrate today.
  • St. Barnabas is one of the most important figures in the history of the early Church and, I think, among the least appreciated. Early in the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke tells us that his real name was Joseph, but the apostles nicknamed him Barnabas, which means “son of encouragement.” Why did they give him that moniker? It could have been because he had sold a field he owned and laid the proceeds at the apostles’ feet, an obvious sign of his total commitment to Christ and total trust in the apostles Christ had chosen to lead the early Church. Such a gesture, common among the first disciples, would have certainly inspired the other members of the burgeoning Church courageously to do the same. But the nickname was an excellent summary of his entire personality, for he was someone who gave others courage, who believed in them, who filled them to respond to God with enthusiasm. In today’s first reading, St. Luke tells us that when he arrived in Antioch, “he rejoiced and encouraged them all to remain faithful to the Lord in firmness of heart.”
  • But we see his encouragement especially in his interaction with St. Paul. Today in the Gospel, the Holy Spirit speaks to the first members of the Church in Antioch and says, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” It was the Holy Spirit’s plans for them to go on the first great missionary journey in the Church, but there was a huge pre-history to that commissioning, one in which Barnabas, inspired by the Gift of Courage, was able to encourage Paul and the entire Church to recognize Paul’s gifts. Without Barnabas’ intervention, Paul likely would have remained, lived and died a tent-maker in Tarsus. Instead, because of Barnabas’ courageous and encouraging interventions, Paul was able to become the greatest missionary in the history of the Church. It was Barnabas who was the catalyst for bringing Paul out of obscurity, making him his collaborator, vouching for him with the leaders and members of the Church who didn’t trust him because of his murderous past, and launching him on the trajectory that led to his founding so many Churches across the ancient world.
  • As we know from the Acts of the Apostles, after his conversion, Paul immediately began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, announcing that he was the Messiah and Son of God. As he began to annihilate the Damascene Jews in debates, several of the vanquished conspired to have him assassinated, watching out for him at the city gates to murder him. Paul and the other disciples heard about the plot, however, and lowered him outside the city walls in a basket to escape. So Paul went to Jerusalem where he tried to join the disciples, live the Christian life and help wherever he could. St. Luke tells us, however, that sadly “they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple.” The disciples didn’t want to have anything to do with him. They were all terrified of him because of the way he used to terrorize their community, presiding over the stoning of St. Stephen, ripping the believers out of their homes and bringing them before the religious courts, and even getting an order to go to Damascus and bring back the Christians in chains. They likely thought that his celebrated conversion was a ruse just so that Paul could infiltrate the Christians, get to know them and where they live, and finish the job of wiping them out that he had previously worked so hard to achieve The members of the Church in Jerusalem, apostles and disciples, didn’t believe yet in the power of God’s amazing grace that could save a sinner like Paul. They didn’t believe that God could convert a murderer of Christians into a maker of Christians. They didn’t believe that God could change someone who used to rip Christians from their homes to one who would help form Christian homes. They couldn’t see how someone who had presided over the stoning of St. Stephen would eventually become someone who himself would be stoned because of his building his life on the stone rejected by the builders who had become the cornerstone of his life.
  • That’s the first time Barnabas, the son of encouragement, intervened. It’s not hard to imagine how abandoned Paul must have felt after the Jerusalem Church’s rejection: the vast majority of his own people likely looked on him as a traitor, some of his former teammates in the extirpation of Christians were now coming after him, and the Christians, whom he had hoped to fill with joy at the news of his conversion, wanted no part of him. Seeing the situation of Paul the Pariah, Barnabas acted, for Paul and for the Church. He wasn’t going to let what the Lord had done on the road to Damascus go to waste. So he went to find Paul and then, St. Luke tells us, “took him by the hand and brought him to the apostles, declaring to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus.” Barnabas told Paul’s conversion story to the other members of the Church of Jerusalem — which shows that obviously he had heard it step-by-step from Paul before. He also passed on how Paul after his conversion was doing more to spread the faith than many of those who were timidly hovering in Jerusalem. Because of Barnabas’ action, encouragement, and personal recommendation, the Church of Jerusalem welcomed him. From that moment, Paul started to do in Jerusalem the same things he had done in Damascus, and “speak out boldly in the name of the Lord.” He debated both Jews and Greeks. Once again, however, the Jewish leaders plotted to kill him for persuading people to Christianity — just as the Sanhedrin had done to Jesus and Saul himself had tried done to Stephen and other members of the early Church. So the disciples took him down to Caesarea by the Sea and sent him home to Tarsus. Fearing for Paul’s life, the Church in Jerusalem decided to rush him down to Caesarea and send him home to Tarsus. It’s possible that Paul was rashly looking for a quick martyrdom in expiation for all the lives he had taken previously, but the Church, especially Barnabas, didn’t want the one chosen by the Lord to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles to have his mission as a Christian evangelist cut short prematurely. It’s probable that Barnabas accompanied Paul down to the sea to send Paul home and he likely encouraged him to get ready for what would come later.
  • Later came rather soon. After the Church in Jerusalem had heard of how many converts were entering the Church in Antioch, they sent Barnabas to encourage them “to remain faithful to the Lord in firmness of heart” and guide them into a deeper grasp of the Gospel. St. Luke tells us today that his preaching and exhortation only served to make more converts. They all regarded him as a “good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.” Barnabas did not have the time to guide them all and needed other expert help. Rather than assuming the arduous task of training others to be teachers or going back to Jerusalem to find help, he traveled to Tarsus to find Paul and bring him back to Antioch. Barnabas knew Paul was ready. And so he encouraged him to leave his tent-making behind and come with him to make temples of the Holy Spirit. Paul agreed. And they headed to Antioch where “for a whole year they met with the Church and taught a large number of people,” forming them in the love of the Lord in such a way that it the disciples for the first time were called “little Christs,” or “Christians.” It was after that year’s worth of hard work tilling the soil of souls in Syria that the Holy Spirit spoke while the Church was worshipping the Lord and fasting and asked for Barnabas and Saul to be set apart for the work to which he was calling them. And that’s when the two of them began the first of the great missionary journeys in Church history, implanting the Gospel across Asia Minor. The rest is, in a sense, history.
  • Little did Barnabas know that when he put his own reputation on the line for Paul before the Apostles in Jerusalem, when he went to Tarsus to ask for help, what the Holy Spirit would later do. All he did was encourage and invite. The Lord did the rest. There’s a great lesson for all of here. Are we men and women of similar encouragement, enthusiastically trying to inspire others to grow in faith, to come more deeply into their friendship with Christ, inviting them and facilitating for them to use the gifts God has given them to share in the work of spreading the faith? Do we live our faith with a boldness that inspires others to live their faith with courage? The Church today needs many more Barnabases, men and women who aren’t afraid to encourage others to share their work, to stick up for others when others don’t think they’re capable or qualified, to invite them to collaborate in the joyful duty of passing on the Good News to others. In an age of so much depression and sadness, we need Barnabases who can inspire with Christian hope. In an age in which people are haunted by the mistakes and sins of the past, we need Barnabases who can point out that they’ve changed and that we should not waste out of fear the talents God has given. At a time when so many have wandered away from the Church, we need Barnabases who can encourage them to come home and to use the gifts God has given them for the building up of his kingdom. Just as in ancient Antioch, so today, there aren’t enough laborers in the Lord’s vineyard to attend to the ripe fruit on the vine. There are so many sheep in the Lord’s fold who need good shepherds to care for them, not to mention so many sheep who have wandered from the fold who need those acting in the person of the Good Shepherd to leave the 99 behind and go out in search for them. It’s something that Pope Francis can’t do all by himself. It’s something that the bishops united with him can’t do by themselves. It’s something that all the priests of the world can’t do together. It’s something that all the religious, the missionaries and consecrated people can’t do. It’s something for which even all the catechists together with clergy and religious can’t do. It’s something for which we’re all needed. Today Barnabas, that “good man filled with the Holy Spirit and with faith,” on behalf of God comes to us as he did to Saul in Tarsus to encourage us to get involved.
  • In today’s Gospel, taken from Saturday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time, Jesus tells us to have our yes mean yes and our no mean no. Let us ask God to strengthen our yes, our fiat, our amen in faith to him, so that we might through that fidelity encourage others with the same encouragement we’ve received from Barnabas, Paul, the Blessed Mother and all the saints.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 ACTS 11:21B-26; 13:1-3

In those days a great number who believed turned to the Lord.
The news about them reached the ears of the Church in Jerusalem,
and they sent Barnabas to go to Antioch.
When he arrived and saw the grace of God,
he rejoiced and encouraged them all
to remain faithful to the Lord in firmness of heart,
for he was a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and faith.
And a large number of people was added to the Lord.
Then he went to Tarsus to look for Saul,
and when he had found him he brought him to Antioch.
For a whole year they met with the Church
and taught a large number of people,
and it was in Antioch that the disciples
were first called Christians.

Now there were in the Church at Antioch prophets and teachers:
Barnabas, Symeon who was called Niger,
Lucius of Cyrene,
Manaen who was a close friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.
While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said,
“Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul
for the work to which I have called them.”
Then, completing their fasting and prayer,
they laid hands on them and sent them off.

Responsorial Psalm PS 98:1, 2-3AB, 3CD-4, 5-6

R. (see 2b) The Lord has revealed to the nations his saving power.
Sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done wondrous deeds;
His right hand has won victory for him,
his holy arm.
R. The Lord has revealed to the nations his saving power.
The LORD has made his salvation known:
in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice.
He has remembered his kindness and his faithfulness
toward the house of Israel.
R. The Lord has revealed to the nations his saving power.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation by our God.
Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
break into song; sing praise.
R. The Lord has revealed to the nations his saving power.
Sing praise to the LORD with the harp,
with the harp and melodious song.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
sing joyfully before the King, the LORD.
R. The Lord has revealed to the nations his saving power.

Alleluia PS 119:36A, 29B

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Incline my heart, O God, to your decrees;
and favor me with your law.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MT 5:33-37

Jesus said to his disciples:
“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors,
Do not take a false oath,
but make good to the Lord all that you vow.

But I say to you, do not swear at all;
not by heaven, for it is God’s throne;
nor by the earth, for it is his footstool;
nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.
Do not swear by your head,
for you cannot make a single hair white or black.
Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’
Anything more is from the Evil One.”

st_barnabas-sm