Wednesday, 12 June 2013

A lesson in effective ministry: Feast day of St Barnabas.

 A late entry for yesterday's rather important Saint and Martyr
Feast: June 11

Feast Day:June 11
Died:61 AD, Salamis, Cyprus
Major Shrine:Monastery of St Barnabas in Famagusta, Cyprus
Patron of:Cyprus, Antioch, against hailstorms, invoked as peacemaker
Barnabas (originally Joseph) born in the Island of Cyprus about the beginning of the Christian Era. A Levite, he naturally spent much time in Jerusalem, probably even before the Crucifixion of Our Lord.  Acts (4:36-37) favours the opinion that he was converted to Christianity shortly after Pentecost (about A.D. 29 or 30). Due to his success as a preacher,the Apostles... surnamed him Barnabas, a name then interpreted as possibly meaning "son of exhortation" or "consolation". (Etymology not certain).It was Barnabas who stood sponsor for St Paul as he came to the fledgling community as a convert, after having dedicated his life to persecuting it (Acts 9:27).
 In the dispersion that followed Stephen's death (by stoning),  Barnabas was sent among the Gentiles to investigate the great work of his fellow Christians among the locals. He saw in the conversions effected the fruit of God's grace and, though a Jew, heartily welcomed these first Gentile converts. His mind was opened at once to the possibility of this immense field of converts, so  he brought in St Paul immediately. He asked him to come to Antioch with him to begin preaching where they would  together teach a great multitude.
   By 45 ad,  the Church of Antioch send out missionaries to the Gentile world and designated for the work Barnabas and Paul. They accordingly departed to Cyprus, the native land of Barnabas.  At every step  of their journey, they were met with opposition and even violent persecution, but also with much success.
 many other stories emerge around him, which suggests that  with the exception of St. Paul and certain of the Twelve, Barnabas appears to have been the most esteemed man of the first Christian generation. 


 There's a lot that needs to be said about St Barnabas, because he's almost like a...Garfunkle to St Paul -whom I'll to refrain from calling Simon!-. In other words, he's often forgotten for all the great work he's done for the faith. After all, Paul is the Chuck Norris of the New testament!!! He willingly puts himself through one tumultuous trial after another, almost gladly ready to sacrifice his life at every turn to ensure that the word is Proclaimed. But Barnabas is no slouch either. It is he who brought Paul into the game, and his own zeal to bring the faith to new lands seemed incredible!

  It sounds obvious that they would want the word to spread, especially considering Jesus' last commission to them as reported in Matthew 28 18-20 ( "go make disciples out of every nation"). At the same time, as we've seen in our post Easter journey through the book of Acts, the challenge of bringing the word to non Jews was not an easy, or an obvious  one. Firstly because of the language and cultural barrier. Secondly, because for a while, the teachings of Jesus were kept only by Jews in the Diaspora -in Greece, Rome and other parts of the Empire-. There were no 'foreigners' who had embraced the faith and there were no incentives to risk their lives by travelling to foreign land and bringing the word there..Even after the Pentecost, although many languages are given to the disciples, the Gospels are mostly heard by other Jews. It is with Paul that other nations would be preached to -especially once he realized that 'Christsians' didn't need to be circumcised or to practice any Jewish ritual- but this process began with Barnabas who was the first to recognize the work of the spirit in Antioch.(the first city where people would be called Christians according to Acts 11:26 (not mentioned in today's readings for some reason)).  As is mentioned in today's reading,  his virtue was not that he was committed to spreading the faith, but that full of the Spirit and with faith, he was able to recognize the continuation of their work in a foreign city. He was able to see the Grace of God working in new places,..something we to this day are challenged to do as well as we start breaking down old barriers in our world, and start working with groups who may not be Catholic, but may have strong desires to participate in building God's kingdom on earth in their own way.

What stands out the most from St Barnabas is the simplicity and freedom with which he proceeded. The freedom is expressed in his ability to just dive into one voyage after another without hesitation, to help proclaim the world everywhere he could. As for the simplicity, Pope Francis addressed it in his homily  yesterday morning. He said the Lord wants us to proclaim the Gospel with a simplicity "that gives way to the power of the Word of God," Something we could see in St Barnabas' ability to see Grace working in new places, and to be joyful over the work of this grace. 

 But that simplicity has another dimension as well, as expressed in the gospel "Freely you have received, freely give." This, Pope Francis also reminds us, is a reflection of the profound simplicity required for this missison. "The first Christians were not rich, nor were they dependent on any wealthy benefactors. They lived in poverty and simplicity, but they did so as community, because they were wealthy in the grace God has granted....St. Peter did not have a bank account, and when he had to pay taxes, the Lord sent him to the sea to catch fish and find the money in the fish, to pay. Philip, when he met Queen Candace’s finance minister, did not think, 'Ah, good, let’s set up an organization to support the Gospel ...' No! He did not strike a ‘deal’ with him: he preached, baptized and left".

 It's an important theme in Francis' talks,because many of us have lost that simplicity, as the millennia have passed by. In the 2000 years of our Church's history, there have many examples of simplicity that we still admire today. But Francis has reminded us time and time again that we face a danger nowadays of becoming an NGO. NGO's do great works and we should not be ashamed of doing the same work as they do, but we're not an NGO. We're a religious community on fire with love with God and the world whose charity and love is not financed by the richest of the rich, but by a the wealth of the Gospel. So this call to bring no money, no staffs, no extra change of clothes for the journey that Jesus invites us on is radical even today (probably more so today!). But we must pray over such radicality, and understand what it means for us as we face the challenges of a new century, and a new millenium in the life of our Church. 

Acts 11: 21 - 26

21And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number that believed turned to the Lord.
22News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.
23When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad; and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose;
24for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a large company was added to the Lord.
25So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul;
26and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church, and taught a large company of people; and in Antioch the disciples were for the first time called Christians.
13: 1 - 3

1Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyre'ne, Man'a-en a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.
2While 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."
3Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

Psalms 98: 1 - 6

1O sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things! His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory.2The LORD has made known his victory, he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.3He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.4Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!5Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody!6With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD!

Matthew 10: 7 - 13

7And preach as you go, saying, `The kingdom of heaven is at hand.'8Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying, give without pay.9Take no gold, nor silver, nor copper in your belts,10no bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor a staff; for the laborer deserves his food.11And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it, and stay with him until you depart.12As you enter the house, salute it.13And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.

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