Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator
Once again, we take a break from the continuous readings from the Gospel of St. Matthew and from St. Paul's First Letter to the Thessalonians so that we can consider the person of St. Bartholomew, one of the Twelve. The first reading comes from Revelation and speaks of the Twelve as the foundation of the new city Jerusalem. The Gospel passage introduces us to Nathanael in the opening chapters of St. John's Gospel.
Perhaps the first thing we need to discuss is the name of this saint. Why does the Gospel refer to him as Nathanael while the Church identifies him as Bartholomew? Some of you may already know the answer. Bartholomew could well be an identification of his father as in "bar Tholomew," or "son of Ptolomy." (You might remember that St. Peter is identified as "Simon bar Jonah.") At any rate, the tradition that identifies this saint considers Nathanael and Bartholomew as one and the same person.
St. Bartholomew is identified as "one without guile" in the Gospel of St. John. Jesus says that he has seen Bartholomew sitting under a fig tree before St. Philip even introduced him to Jesus. This is usually regarded to as a figure of speech which indicates that Bartholomew was studying the Torah. It may also mean that he was a man of leisure or a student, perhaps even a very young man who was still living in the household of his father and had no need to seek employment. The other tradition is that this saint became a missionary after the Ascension of Jesus and carried the Gospel to India and Armenia. He is regarded as one of the patron saints of the Church in Armenia.
There are two traditions about his martyrdom. One says that he was beheaded. The other, the one that is usually depicted in art, says that he was flayed alive and then crucified upside down. He is depicted in the fresco of the Last Judgment by Michaelangelo as well as in the statuary of St. John Lateran holding his own skin.
Though very little is said about St. Bartholomew in the Scriptures, the traditions surrounding him tell us that he was an avid preacher of the Gospel of Jesus. It is said that he carried a copy of the Gospel of St. Matthew with him in his missionary ventures to India. With the others of the Twelve, he represents the foundations of the Church. We honor him for his role in spreading the faith.