The Daily Bread, 5th May 2020: At the boxing ring!
Readings: Acts 11:19-26; Psalm 86(87); John 10:22-30
One of my favourite persons appears in today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles: Saint Barnabas. He became a “second generation” apostle after he converted to the faith, possibly even on Pentecost Sunday, when hearing St. Peter preach. Barnabas was from Cyprus and was what was known as a “Hellenist Jew.” Hellenist Jews were either Greeks who became Jews or Jews who had moved to Greece to live. Cyprus had a population of such Jews.
The reading describes Barnabas as a good man, filled with faith and with the Holy Spirit. His name actually means “son of encouragement” or “son of comfort” or “son of advocacy.” The Greek word itself says “son of the paraclete”, the paraclete in Greek being the man who would encourage and support a boxer in the ring. As you have probably noticed, in Christian terms the One who encourages, comforts and advocates for us is the Holy Spirit. He assists us in the “boxing match” of the moral and spiritual life.
Our reading shows us that the Apostles in Jerusalem recognised these qualities in Barnabas and so sent him to Antioch (modern day Antokya in south-central Turkey, near to both Syria and Lebanon) to give support there. The reason was that, after Stephen’s martyrdom in Jerusalem, many of the new Christians had fled from the persecution which followed. Many of them had been Jews and brought the Gospel only to Jews in other places. But many had come from other countries and so were beginning to preach about Jesus to non-Jews, or Gentiles (as we would have been!). This was a departure from normal practice, so the Apostles in Jerusalem wanted reassurance that things were being done properly.
So, they send Barnabas to Antioch and he is pleased with what he sees and gives everyone great encouragement. He goes to Tarsus to find St. Paul. They both stay in Antioch for a year and it is there that the followers of Jesus are first called Christians.
Of course, it’s not only the church in Antioch that needs a Barnabas to give it encouragement and comfort! We all need it, especially at the present time. But we can at least pray to Saint Barnabas to intercede with the Holy Spirit to pour out on us all these graces of encouragement, comfort, consolation and hope.
At Mass, we also receive the Bread of Encouragement, the Holy Eucharist. It is the bread of pilgrims, to keep our hearts up (“lift up your hearts”!) and fixed on the homeland of final consolation. In May, we also have the added assistance of Our Lady, Mother of Divine Hope, Mother of Consolation, Comfort of the Afflicted, who knew how to hope against hope as she stood at the foot of the Cross and is now crowned with glory.
I invite you today to pray to St. Barnabas and to Our Lady for these precious gifts of the Holy Spirit, to help see you through this challenging time and to give you the strength also to help others whose hearts may be down. Why not perform an act of encouragement today? If you hear a voice that is sad, be compassionate and try and lead the person to look upwards. Knock on a neighbour’s window and say you are a messenger from St. Barnabas to lift up their mood.
On a personal note, years ago I gave the name of Barnabas to my Guardian Angel, asking him to be my encouragement and to give me a kick on the posterior when I need to get on with the business of living and preaching the Gospel. I call him “Holy Barnabas”, so between him and Saint Barnabas, I’m doing just fine.
Why not “baptize” your own Guardian Angel with a name which sums up what you would like him/her/it to do for you?