St Barnabas Healing the Sick by Paolo Veronese
Nicknames are interesting. Some are funny; some make no sense or indicate the opposite, but others are right on the mark. St. Barnabas, the early missionary of Acts of the Apostles and Paul’s companion, was given the name “Joseph” at birth but then along the way picked up a great nickname, Barnabas, meaning “son of encouragement.”
I went to Merriam Webster to find the meaning of encourage and was treated to three definitions:
- “To inspire with courage, spirit or hope” in the sense of “hearten”
- “To attempt to persuade” in the sense of “urge”
- “To give help or patronage to another.”
No wonder Joseph became Barnabas. He did all three. In Chapter 4 of the Acts of the Apostles, we are told of how he generously shared his property and possessions with the early Church community. Acts 9 mentions him as the one who introduces the recently converted Saul to the apostles. Finally, today’s reading from Acts 11 reveals him as the one chosen to travel from Jerusalem to Antioch to encourage and inspire the fledging community of believers. So Barnabas provided both material and spiritual help to the community he served as he also inspired and persuaded them as believers.
During the three days of our plenary meeting, we have desired that spirit of evangelization – the joy of the Gospel – so we can be “sons of encouragement – “Barnabas” if you will, to the faithful we serve. We know our faith is not private but must be shared. Pope Francis reminds us in words that echo his three predecessors: “Evangelization is the mission of the Church, not just of a few, but my, your, our mission.” We bishops want to be Barnabas to the faithful whom we serve.
We also desire to be sons of encouragement – Barnabas – to our nation and our world community as we seek the common good. We know that faith enriches public life. We want to encourage the faithful and all people of good will to promote the common good of our nation and of our world.
Very importantly, however, this meeting also should be an encouragement to each of us in our ministry. There are certain bishops who, like St. Barnabas, seem to have that knack of looking outward and encouraging a brother bishop. One in my life died six months ago. Bishop David B. Thompson, bishop emeritus of Charleston, died on November 24, 2013 and was buried on December 2 at the blessed age of 90! From 1976 to 1988, I was privileged to be in residence at the Cathedral of St. Catharine in Allentown where he was pastor, and I came to experience him as a true friend who had the ability to encourage. Whether it was a brief note artfully written, a phone call, or a pat on the back, Bishop Dave showed genuine concern, friendship, pride, and joy. It was always in his voice and in his written word. The day after his funeral, I returned to Louisville to find a beautifully wrapped Christmas gift in the mail – you guessed it – with a note from + Dave filled with encouraging words. His last acts on earth were encouraging words. We all need a Barnabas in our lives. I am grateful for Bishop Dave for being a son of encouragement to me.
Every one of us needs a Barnabas in our lives. Through the power of Jesus who sends us forth, may we bishops be true sons of encouragement. Amen.