Son of Encouragement

On this date the Church celebrates the feast of St. Barnabas, whose exploits are described in the Acts of the Apostles.

This feast is significant to my family, as we named a child whom we miscarried nine years ago Barnabas, and every year on this date we especially remember the gift of this precious child, even though we never got to hold him in this life.

It’s also an interesting feast from the standpoint of the Church’s sanctoral calendar–the cycle of feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary and other saints that are dispersed throughout the year. St. Barnabas, the companion of St. Paul, is honored as an “apostle,” even though he was not one of the Twelve (nor an official “substitute,” like Matthias, after whom he is mentioned in the Roman canon). Surely as a first-generation Christian leader who was sent on missionary journeys to Cyprus, Perga, Iconium, and Lystria, and possibly even to Rome and Alexandria, among other places, his title is well-deserved.

But our Wednesday posts are devoted to catechetical themes, and here St. Barnabas doesn’t disappoint, either. In Acts 4:36 we learn that he was given his name by the apostles, and that it means “son of encouragement.” Later, in the portion of Acts chosen for today’s Mass, we read that when St. Barnabas arrived in Antioch and found the faith alive among the people, he rejoiced and then he “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.”

We who are catechists, who strive to be good men and women, filled with the Holy Spirit and faith, do well to imitate St. Barnabas as we encourage our students and families to “remain faithful to the Lord in firmness of heart.” 

We then hear that St. Barnabas went and tracked down Saul (St. Paul) and the two of them “for a whole year” devoted themselves to teaching “a large number of people”–presumably those who had already been “added to the Lord.” In other words, they devoted themselves to the noble work of catechesis. And their work bore great fruit: In Antioch the disciples were called “Christians” for the first time!

St. Barnabas, pray for us! 

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