Memorial of St. Barnabas, Apostle
Acts 11:21b-26; 13:1-3
Today, we celebrate the Memorial of St. Barnabas. His name was actually Joseph, but Barnabas - the Son of Encouragement - is the nickname the Apostles gave him. It's a great nickname. His warmth and way of bringing out the best in others was infectious. That's why he was tagged with that name. But I think I might have given Barnabas a different nickname - The Body-Builder. I don't mean the kind you find in gyms and exercise workout rooms. I mean a Church Body-Builder.
The Apostles saw this virtue in him. Antioch, 200 miles from Jerusalem, was a fledgling community. They may have felt forgotten. They needed help. So the Apostles sent Barnabas. What happened next was this:
"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,
for he was a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and faith.
And a large number of people was added to the Lord."
Soon after, Barnabas went to Tarsus "to look for Saul." This is the Saul whom the disciples feared because of his fierce persecution of them. But Barnabas, unlike the others, discerned something special in Saul, discerned his deep conversion. It was Barnabas who introduced Paul, to the Church and to the world. That's body-building.
A young man, John Mark, later accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their missionary journey, but his fears got the better of him. He cut short his journey and returned home. Paul rejected Mark for the next missionary journey, but not Barnabas. Where Paul saw only temerity in Mark, Barnabas saw great potential. He took the young man and together they embarked on their own missionary journey, one that would be life-changing for Mark. That's body-building.
But soon after, Barnabas would recede into the background. At first, Acts referred to "Barnabas and Paul." But later, it became "Paul and Barnabas." And unlike Mark, his more famous protégé, Barnabas wrote no Gospel. This is typical of Body-Builders. They see great potential in others and accept them, even though it may involve risk. They rejoice in the success of others. They don't mind working behind the scenes. In today's Gospel, Jesus challenges us with the Beatitudes. Many may say they're impossible to fulfill. Not Barnabas, not the Body-Builders.
We each need a Body-Builder to help us develop our spiritual muscles, especially when we feel forgotten, rejected and fearful. But having been built up, we too are then called to be Body-Builders for others, to encourage, speak a kind word and lift up spirits. That's what it means to be Church. That's Body-Building.
Deacon Manuel Valencia is on the staff at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.