Tag Archives: Antioch

St. Barnabas, June 11

Barnabas was closely associated with Paul the Apostle, the Acts of the Apostles says. In fact, he was Paul’s sponsor. After his dramatic conversion, Paul preached in Damascus, but he was forced out of the city and went to Jerusalem. There the disciples of Jesus received him warily. They “were all afraid of Paul” because he persecuted the followers of Jesus. But Barnabas believed in him and “took charge of him and brought him to the apostles.” (Acts 9, 26-30)

Later, as great numbers came to believe in Antioch, the Jerusalem church sent Barnabas there and, convinced the Spirit was at work, he went to Tarsus to get Paul. Together they spent a whole year and taught a large number of people. (Act 11, 26)

Then, Barnabas and Paul were commissioned by the church of Antioch to bring the gospel to other places. Their  missionary journey took them to Cyprus (Barnabas’ birthplace) and a number of cities in Asia Minor. They preached in Jewish synagogues with mixed results, but increasing numbers of gentile hearers accepted their message. The Acts of the Apostles highlights Paul’s preaching, but the ministry involved the two of them. “They appointed presbyters … in each church” and returned to Antioch. (Acts 14, 21-23)

A dispute arose between them: “After some time, Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Come, let us make a return visit to see how the brothers are getting on in all the cities where we proclaimed the word of the Lord.’ Barnabas wanted to take along John Mark,, who w but Paul refused to take him, because he deserted them at Pamphylia. So sharp was their disagreement that they separated. Barnabas took John Mark and sailed to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and traveled through Syria and Cilicia “bringing strength to the churches.” Acts 15, 36-41

Why the “sharp disagreement?” Two strong personalities at odds? Paul’s vision against Barnabas’ vision? A clash like this reminds us that God’s plan advances even as humans disagree.

I find it strange, though, that Paul never mentions Barnabas in his later descriptions of his work. Barnabas, humanly speaking, got him his start.

Is Christianity Dying? Acts 11,19-26

The past  helps us understand the present.  Acts 11, 19-26, our reading at Mass today,  describes emissaries of the church of Jerusalem arriving at Antioch in Syria, where the followers of Jesus were first called “Christians.” The emissaries were from Jerusalem, the center of Christian power after the resurrection of Jesus, where the Holy Spirit came upon crowds in tongues of fire.

Now, the Jerusalem church blessed  a new church, which in turn brought the faith to other places through apostles like Paul and Barnabas.

Who would have predicted what would happen to these powerful churches in future years? Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. Antioch continued to be a flourishing Christian stronghold for a few hundred years until Moslem invaders in the 7th century gradually made it a Moslem city.

Visit Antioch today, now part of modern Turkey, and you will see few signs of its Christian past. Paul and Barnabas once walked its streets; St. John Chrysostom and teachers like him were famous  throughout the world. Now, only scattered Christian relics remain, largely in the city’s museums.

As Christian churches and other religious institutions close in our part of the world now, as religious communities decline, we wonder: Are we Jerusalem and Antioch today?

The church shares the mystery of Jesus Christ, it dies and rises again, but it grows through it all.

 

The Feast of St. Barnabas

We believe in the communion of saints. One way of sharing life with the saints in heaven and on earth is by recognizing their gifts. That’s what St. Barnabas did. He recognized the gift of Saul of Tarsus.

After his dramatic conversion on the way to Damascus, Paul preached the gospel in Damascus and then in Jerusalem, according to the Acts of the Apostles, but because of his past as a persecutor of Christians, they were suspicious of him. “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, 25-27) Barnabas recognized the grace of God in Saul.

As gentiles became increasingly interested in the gospel, especially in Antioch, the leaders of the Jerusalem church sent Barnabas there to see what to do. “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. Then he went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a large number of people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians.” (Acts 11,23-26)

Once again, Barnabas recognized Saul, who would become Paul, and sought him out to bring the gospel to the gentiles. Previously, in the Acts of the Apostles the Apostle Peter encountered the gentile Cornelius in Ceasaria Maritima, whom he baptized with his household. But Barnabas knew Paul was better able to preach to the gentiles than Peter, so he brought him to Antioch. The two embarked on a mission to the gentiles. The Acts of the Apostles refer first to “Barnabas and Saul” then gradually it becomes “Paul and Barnabas.” Paul emerged as the gifted apostle.

It was Barnabas who first recognized his gift.