Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator
Today marks the last weekday before the end of the Easter Season, but it is also, coincidentally, the Feast of St. Barnabas. Consequently, the first reading for today's liturgy backs us up in the Acts of Apostles to include Barnabas by name in the Scripture readings. The Gospel reading for today retains the custom of reading the last verses of St. John's Gospel.
Barnabas was a Jewish man of the tribe of Levi. As such, he probably had some sort of position in the temple. He may even have been a priest much the same as Zechariah. He was a Cypriot and was named Joseph by his parents. However, when he became a disciple of Jesus, he sold all of his land and his goods and contributed the proceeds to the community. They gave him a new name, Barnabas, which translates into "son of compassion." He is most associated with the Christian community of Antioch which would be in modern day Turkey. He was a companion of St. Paul and is responsible for bringing St. Paul to the apostles after his conversion. This seems to indicate that Barnabas became a disciple before St. Paul. As was the case for almost all of the early apostles and disciples, Barnabas was martyred as he tried to preach the Good News of Jesus in the synagogue.
You will remember that it was in Antioch that disciples of Jesus first became known as Christians. Barnabas is forever linked with that place and that name.
This feast day gives us the opportunity to recall the powerful witness that Barnabas and all of the early Christian martyrs gave. Martyrs are given primacy of place in the Easter Season. (The Church even prescribes different prayers for a martyr who is celebrated in the Paschal Season.) Their willingness to shed their blood speaks of the tremendous conviction they had in the resurrection of Jesus. Barnabas was stoned by his Jewish contemporaries. We know that his fellow missionary, Paul, was beheaded. Many of these early Christian martyrs are mentioned by name in the first Eucharistic Prayer, commonly called the Roman Canon.
As we come to the end of the Easter Season, let us remember that it began with our renewal of baptismal promises. Though none of us will probably be called upon to shed our blood for the faith, we do carry with us the promise to live our lives free from sin as witnesses to the power of Christ's redemptive death and resurrection.