June 10, 2016

June 11th: Memorial of Saint Barnabas, Apostle

St. Barnabas
All we know of Barnabas comes from the New Testament. A Jew from Cyprus, Barnabas was chosen by the Holy Spirit to share in the mission of the Apostles. So much so, that the Church honors him as one of them. He played an essential role in the spread of Christianity beyond the Jewish world. Barnabas was closely affiliated with St. Paul (he introduced Paul to Peter and the other apostles) and was a mediator between Paul and the still suspicious Jewish Christian community. He was Paul's traveling companion on the later’s first missionary journey. With Paul he brought Antioch's donation to the Jerusalem Christians during a famine, and returned to Antioch with John Mark, his cousin. The three went on to Cyprus, where they were violently persecuted.

Barnabas is mentioned as one of the most selfless members of the new, extremely poor Church in Jerusalem: "The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common... There was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need.” According to popular piety, Barnabas received the crown of martyrdom by being stoned to death around the year 61 AD.

The Life of St. Barnabas

Strictly speaking, Barnabas was not an apostle, but the title has been bestowed upon him since very early times. His first name was Joseph; Barnabas (etymology: "son of consolation") was a surname. He belonged to the tribe of Levi. He was a Hellenist, that is, a Jew who lived outside of Palestine and spoke the Greek tongue. Born in Cyprus, he embraced the faith soon after the death of Christ, becoming a member of the original Jerusalem community. His first noteworthy deed was to sell his belongings and place the money at the feet of the apostles.

It is to his lasting credit that he befriended the neo-convert Paul and introduced him to the apostles when everyone was still distrusting the former persecutor. More noteworthy still was his service to the universal Church by being the first to recognize Paul's potential for the cause of Christ; it was Barnabas who brought him from Tarsus to teach at Antioch. The first missionary journey (about 45-48 A.D.) the two made together, and Barnabas seems to have been the leader, at least at the beginning (Acts 13-14). Barnabas' appearance must have been dignified and impressive, otherwise the inhabitants of Lystra would not have regarded him as Jupiter.

He was present with Paul at the Council of Jerusalem (ca. 50). While they were preparing for the second missionary journey, there arose a difference of opinion regarding Mark; as a result each continued his labors separately. Barnabas went to Cyprus with Mark and thereafter is not referred to again in the Acts of the Apostles or in any other authentic source. From a remark in one of Paul's letters we know that he lived from the work of his own hands (1 Cor. 9:5-6). The time and place of his death have not been recorded. It is claimed that his body was found at Salamina in 488 A.D. His name is mentioned in the Canon of the Mass since ancient times.

Excerpted from The Church's Year of Grace, Pius Parsch

Patron: Antioch; Cyprus; against hailstorms; invoked as peacemaker.

Symbols: Dalmatic; three stones; book and staff; St. Matthew's Gospel; pilgrim's staff and wallet; burning pyre; cross; hatchet; ax; lance.

Often portrayed as: middle-aged bearded apostle, often bearing a book or olive branch; standing on or near a pile of stones while holding a book; stones; with Saint Paul.

Collect Prayer

O God, who decreed that Saint Barnabas, a man filled with faith and the Holy Spirit, should be set apart to convert the nations, grant that the Gospel of Christ, which he strenuously preached, may be faithfully proclaimed by word and by deed. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


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