Thomas Griffin 6/11/22 (For Crisis Magazine)
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Poignant delivery of the gospel message is crucially important in times of crisis. Catholics can often experience the challenge of how to bring up their faith in the ordinary experiences of life. The immense pressure of the culture against the principles of truth and holiness make it feel as if any assertion of faith is an attack. The answer to navigating these waters so that our speech is fruitful and not simply brash can be seen in the life of an ancient apostle.
June 11th is the feast day of St. Barnabas. A summarizing remark of Barnabas can be found in these words, “he was a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and faith” (Acts 11:24). He is an overlooked saint in modern times, but the Church has always held him in high esteem. Barnabas was close friends with St. Paul. In fact, he was the one who introduced Paul to Peter and the other apostles (Acts 9:27).
Imagine what would have happened if Barnabas was not friendly with both Paul and the Twelve. Imagine how convinced he must have been of Paul’s integrity (knowing what his past was filled with) to have the courage to introduce him to Jesus’ closest friends and defend him. This was a defining mark of Barnabas: his conviction of faith and his courage to fruitfully apply it.
Conviction and courage, these two words are easily written, read and spoken but difficult to implement. Does our faith drive us to spread it to others in a truthful, meaningful and transformative manner? American culture is pierced on promoting anti-Christian views of marriage and the human person as well as condemning Catholics everywhere for the likely reversal of Roe v. Wade.
With these steep uphill battles we must rely on the witness of the saints before us who mastered bridging the gap between faith and effective mission. Step one is knowing Jesus Christ on a personal, powerful and intimate level. Step two is being willing to inject him into our daily lives and conversations. Barnabas knew Paul (and that he was a man of God) while also knowing the Apostles. It was obvious for him to connect the two. Are there relationships in our lives that can be connected in a similar fashion?
Too often, Catholics and all modern men compartmentalize their lives. We have our work life, personal life, family life, faith life, etc. If we are to be most defined by our faith, however, it must bleed into everything else we do and are. Barnabas knew this and lived it.
The very first mention of Barnabas is in the Acts of the Apostles (where we gain most of our knowledge about him). He was a Levite from Cyprus. We are told that he was known as Joseph but called Barnabs by the apostles, which means “son of encouragement.” Barnabas “sold a piece of property that he owned, then brought the money and put it at the feet of the apostles” (Acts 4:37).
We view here another two critical components in being an effective witness of Christ. Barnabas’ name implies that his life was an encouragement, not a discouragement. We also see that he put his money where his mouth was, literally. Barnabas lived out the demands of the good news and so should we.
Both of these attributes can and should be applied to parish life. It is in the parish that we will be built up and encouraged to spread the faith. This is where we can pray and perceive where exactly we are “being sent” (the definition of “apostle”). It is in the parish that we can become more like the apostles and more like Barnabas.
My home parish growing up was St. Barnabas the Apostle on Long Island. My parents, three brothers and I went to Mass there every Sunday – front pew at 7:00am. That is where we became altar servers and that is where I was married to my wife. My groomsmen, including my brothers, sat in that same front pew on September 14, 2019.
I often look back to that day, my wedding day and the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, as my defining moment as a man. That day, in the literal shadow of St. Barnabas continually presents a challenge: is my marriage, family and work life convicted by faith? Am I a man and a Christian of community and missionary zeal or simply a Catholic by name?
These questions need to be answered in the context of one’s relationship with one’s parish. Many parishes are not thriving in attendance, enthusiasm or youth. Many are in need of revival on countless levels. St. Barnabas reminds us today that renewal begins with personal faith, but it must be ratified through action outside of oneself.
In the case of modern day Catholics, this will mean that we become more involved in our parish communities. Yes by attending more events, but more so by building up the faith through our willingness to speak to others about Christ and how he has radically altered the course of our lives in the most beautiful and unexpected ways.
If your parish seems dead and lost, get more involved. When you get more involved and different personalities or challenges frustrate you, do not be surprised. Barnabas, Paul and the apostles faced similar issues. Work towards building the parish as a haven, like Antioch was for Barnabas. When he traveled with Paul, they poured themselves out into small, seemingly insignificant communities. If your parish feels like one, do not be surprised – remain faithful and continue the work of the Lord.
Only then we will become like Barnabas, and only then will Jesus’ name be spread to the ends of the earth.
Thomas Griffin teaches in the religion department at a Catholic high school on Long Island where he lives with his wife and son.
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