by Joel V. Ocampo
On June 11, the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of Saint Barnabas. Although not one of the original Twelve, he is one of the post-resurrection Apostles, along with St. Paul.
The Generous One
Saint Barnabas was mentioned at least twenty-seven times in the Bible. His first appearance was in Acts chapter 4, when the life in the Christian Community was recorded. The Bible (Acts 4:34-37) tells us that Barnabas’ real name was “Joseph”. He was a Levite, a Cypriot by birth.
He sold a piece of property that he owned then brought the money and put it at the feet of the apostles. Then the apostles distributed the money to the members of the community according to need. Because of this action of Joseph, the apostles named him “Barnabas” which translates to “son of encouragement”.
The Son of Encouragement
Here are some instances mentioned in Scripture wherein St. Barnabas exemplified being a 'Son of Encouragement':
A significant role played by Saint Barnabas, recorded in Scriptures, is encouraging individuals, groups, and communities. In most of his appearances, Saint Barnabas proves to be the “son of encouragement”. For example, after Saul’s conversion, “he arrived in Jerusalem and he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. Then Barnabas took charge of him and brought him to the apostles, and he reported to them how on the way he had seen the Lord and that he had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus” (Acts 9:26-27).
On another occasion, when the news about the Christian Community in Antioch (in Syria) reached the ears of the Church in Jerusalem, 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 (cf. Acts 11:22-23). He was further described as “a good man, filled with the holy Spirit and faith” and because of him, “a large number of people were added to the Lord” (Acts 11:24).
When Agabus predicted, by the Spirit, that there would be a severe famine all over the world, the Christian community sent relief to the brothers who lived in Judea, and it was Saints Barnabas and Saul who brought this contribution and encouraged the community (cf. Acts 11:27-30).
Following the will of the Holy Spirit, Barnabas and Paul, after completing their fasting and prayers with members of the Church in Antioch, set out and went down to Seleucia and from there sailed to Cyprus. They encouraged the faithful and preached the Word of God in Pagan territories (cf. Acts 13:2ff).
The First Synodal Assembly
Another significant instance was when, after the Council of Jerusalem, considered the earliest example of a synodal assembly, the apostles and presbyters, with one accord, decided to send Barnabas and Paul to Antioch and deliver the letter from the council. Upon their arrival in Antioch, they called the assembly together and delivered the letter. When the people read it, they were delighted with the exhortation. Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and proclaiming with many others the word of the Lord (cf. Acts 15:1-35).
Pay It Forward
In the Gospel for St. Barnabas' feast, we hear these words from the Lord Jesus:
“Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give” (Matthew 10:8b).
I would like to believe that Saint Barnabas viewed his treasures as gifts from the Lord. Thus, he gave these up for the good of the community. Similarly, the way he encouraged others was also a gift from God.
St. Paul, his mission partner, even wrote, “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 Corinthians 1:3-4).
Human like us, Saint Barnabas also committed mistakes, as mentioned in Galatians 2:12-13 and Acts 15:36-41. However, the Lord pays much attention not on our mistakes but on our humility to ask for forgiveness and determination to change for the better. Aware of his mistakes yet knowing the greatness of God’s mercy and forgiveness, Saint Barnabas paid it forward by being devoted to mission.
Like most of the apostles, evangelists and members of the first Christian communities, Saint Barnabas died a martyr, a witness to Christ. Tradition says that he was bitterly opposed by Greco-Roman pagans in Cyprus and they eventually killed him by stoning in Salamis, a seaport city, in 60 or 61 C.E.
Prayer to Saint Barnabas
St. Barnabas, you were eager to join the Apostles in their Christian Faith, as they began the work of preaching the Gospel throughout the world after Christ’s Ascension into Heaven. You willingly gave up worldly pursuits in order to serve God. Please bring my petitions before God Whom you served! You embraced your new Faith wholeheartedly. You not only strived to practice it well yourself, but also to preach the Good News to others. Pray for me, that I may be zealous and devout in my Faith, as you were. Pray that I may always seek to practice my Faith to the best of my ability. Amen.
St. Barnabas, pray for us!