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St. Bartholomew and the Leaf of Hope

by Joel V. Ocampo

photos by Angelo Mangahas and Joel V. Ocampo

Every year, on August 24, the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of Saint Bartholomew, one of the Twelve Apostles of Christ. In the Synoptic Gospels, St. Bartholomew is always listed in the sixth position, preceding Philip (Mk. 3:18; Mt. 10:3; Lk. 6:14) who introduced him to Jesus (Jn. 1:45-46). Many Bible scholars believe that St. Bartholomew is the same “Nathanael” mentioned in the Gospel written by St. John, since the name “Bartholomew” is not a proper noun but an alias that mean “Son of Talmai.” The name “Nathanael” (Greek: Ναθαναὴλ) came from the Hebrew name נְתַנְאֵל (Netan'el) meaning “God has given” or “Gift of God.”

In our Gospel today, we were told that the Lord Jesus saw Nathanael under the fig tree, even before Philip had called him (Jn. 1:48). Amazed of what happened, Nathanael or St. Bartholomew was the first to confess that Jesus is “the Son of God, the King of Israel” (John 1:49). Then, Jesus answered and said to him, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this” (Jn. 1:50).

The Leaf of Hope

Because of Nathanael or St. Bartholomew’s encounter with the Lord under the fig tree, he is sometimes associated with a leaf. According to the saint’s devotees, a leaf (any kind of leaf) is the sign of his presence. If St. Thérèse of Lisieux gives rose as a sign of her presence or an answered prayer, St. Bartholomew sends leaf to those who asks for his intercession.

I myself experienced this many times. Some of these were the following:

  • On July 7, 2019, I was on my way to work. Suddenly, as I drive my mountain bike, an aratiles leaf appeared. It stayed on my hand for more than 20 seconds before the wind carried it away. I easily recognized that it was St. Bartholomew. I wonder what is his message. Puzzled about what's happening, I continued biking. When I went home, I realized that it was during that same time when my wife was on her way to her regular check-up. It is like St. Bartholomew is saying, “She will be okay.”

  • On August 11, 2022, I was rushed to the emergency room. When we went back home, a small leaf appeared in a paper bag where my medicines were placed.

  • Another incident was just last month. On July 15, 2023, I had a very challenging experience. Suddenly, leaf suddenly appeared in my office, while the doors were locked. It is like St. Bartholomew came to the rescue.

In addition, since the color of a leaf is green, some associated it with hope. If we looked back on the limited information available in the gospels, we can see that St. Bartholomew indeed saw greater things and hopeful situation during the three years he was with Jesus. He witnessed how the Lord saw the good in the sinners and forgave them (Lk. 7:47; 19:10; Mt. 9:9; Mk. 2:5). He witnessed how Jesus turned water into wine (Jn. 2:1-12), multiplied the five loaves and two fishes (Jn. 6:1-15), healed the blind man from birth (Jn. 9:1-7), and many more.

I would like to believe also that in the story of the healing of the blind beggar Bartimeus in Jericho, St. Bartholomew was one of those sent by the Lord to bring the blind man to Him. I can imagine St. Bartholomew approached Bartimeus and said, “Get up! He is calling you” (cf. Luke 18:35-43).

Green, the color of hope and leaves also became one of the colors of St. Bartholomew. In most parishes in the Philippines under the patronage of St. Bartholomew, the image of the saint often wears green and red colored vestment, such as in San Bartolome Parish, Magalang, Pampanga; in St. Bartholomew Parish, Meycauayan, Bulacan; the Parokya ni San Bartolome Apostol, Nagcarlan, Laguna; the St. Bartholomew Parish, Catbalogan City, San Bartolome de Novaliches Parish, and many more.

A Leaf that Gives Life

As for the Apostol San Bartolome de Malabon, the color theme of the saint is yellow/gold and red. The color gold symbolizes heaven, our final destination. It prefigures our first reading today (Rev. 21:9b-14) where we were told that the new city, the Kingdom of God, “had twelve courses of stones as its foundation, on which were inscribed the twelve names of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb” and one of these is St. Bartholomew.

Just like the yellow-colored leaf who became dry, fell to the ground, and died after giving its life so that other may live, St. Bartholomew also lived his life serving others until he died for the Lord Jesus Christ. His blood, along with the blood of all the martyrs of the Church, and the Most Precious Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ is now symbolized in our Church by the liturgical color red.

St. Bartholomew and the Devil

Finally, the Church’s Sacred Tradition also tells us that St. Bartholomew is a hope for those possessed by the devil. Our traditions tell us that St. Bartholomew, went into India and drove away the demons named Astaroth and Berith who infested the residents with various sickness. St. Bartholomew’s prayer bound these demons with chains of fire. One day, a person possessed by a devil cried and said, “Apostle of God, Bartholomew, your prayers burn me.” The saint then freed the person from the power of the devil. When the king of that region heard this, he sent to the apostle, praying that he would come to him and heal his lunatic daughter. When the apostle came, he saw that the possessed girl was bound with chains. The saint commanded to unbind her saying, “I hold the devil fast bound that was in her, and therefore be not afraid.” Then, the girl was unbound and delivered. After some time, St. Bartholomew went to a pagan temple that was infested by demons and drove them all away, and all the sick people were cured and healed. Then, the apostle sanctified and dedicated that temple, and commanded the devil to go into the desert.

This story teaches us that with the power of God, there will be always hope. Not even the power of the devil who brings hatred, jealousy, pride, anger, envy, and all sorts of evil can extinguish the hope that comes from the love of God, proclaimed by the apostles. This lesson is what the image of St. Bartholomew in Malabon Church wants to convey. In the image, St. Bartholomew tramples on the devil, as if the saint is telling us, “With God there is aways hope. Never listen to the devil who sows hopelessness and despair.”

In addition to these, the Sacred Traditions tells us that St. Bartholomew’s skin was flayed from his body during his martyrdom, thereby exposing his nervous system, he is the patron saint against nervous and neurological diseases and ailments. When we feel hopelessness and despair, we ask St. Bartholomew’s intercession that he may lead us to the Lord Jesus his Master, the source of all hope.

Let us pray.

O Glorious Saint Bartholomew, Jesus called you a person without guile and you saw in this word a sign that he was the Son of God and King of Israel. Obtain for us the grace to be ever guileless and innocent as doves. At the same time, help us to have your gift of faith to see the Divine hand in the events of daily life. May we discern the signs of the times that lead to Jesus on earth and will eventually unite us to him forever in heaven. Amen.

St. Bartholomew, Apostle of the Lord, pray for us!

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