Friday, June 12, 2009

Barnabas the Peacemaker

I had never really given St. Barnabas much thought before the last few days. I knew of him, but hadn’t considered his ministry, why he was a saint, why he was important. There are dozens of saints that are far more ‘popular.’ Everyone from Paul to Teresa to Francis to Therese to Maximilian Kolbe and someday Theresa of Calcutta and John Paul – they are more well known, more revered, more time spent in devotion to. They are invoked and looked to for intervention and assistance. Jude, Anthony, Joseph and Mary, of course, are called upon constantly in times of trouble and strife and worry and need. But honestly, when was the last time any of us prayed to Barnabas? Perhaps on June 11 of last year. Yet the more I have read and learned about Barnabas the more I want to understand his importance.

When we think of a saintly patron of peace, chances are we think of Francis of Assisi. And the great love of Francis by the faithful has probably overshadowed Barnabas. While Francis was a man of peace – a very Christ-centered virtue – Barnabas was a man who MADE peace. The patronage of Barnabas isn’t just peace, but peacemaking. He is the patron of mediators – according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary of Law “…one that works to effect reconciliation, settlement, or compromise between parties at variance.” While Christ is the one mediator between God and people (I Timothy 2:5) Barnabas was an earthly mediator, seeking compromise between groups in disagreement.

Being a mediator is not glamorous work. Nor is it fun. I’m sure everyone has had the experience of being the ‘go-between’ in an argument or disagreement. Whether between family members, co-workers, acquaintances or friends each of us has had times where we had to act as the one that brings those two sides together, to find a common ground with which everyone can be reconciled with if not completely satisfied. And occasionally, the task seems almost impossible. Or we lose the trust and confidence of one or both sides and then we are not just the one in the middle, we are the one that ends up caught in the crossfire. We end up damaged and beaten down and no one is any the better.

But being a mediator can also be incredibly rewarding work. And there is every indication that Barnabas was very good at what he did. He was a sponsor of Paul to the other apostles and was his close companion. He was one who visited the various communities of early Christians, encouraging them and helping them understand their new-born and developing faith. He brought communities together that were moving in different directions and helped them understand the centrality of Christ to their faith. And like many early Christians who shared and evangelized their faith in a very public manner he was martyred. In the Acts of the Apostles he is described as “a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and faith.” (Acts 11:22-24) There really isn’t a higher compliment.

In the Sermon on the Mount Christ exhorts those gathered – and us today – to be reconciled with one another (Matthew 5:23-24). We can’t live a true Christian life if we are constantly at odds with one another, if we are criticizing one another, if we’re constantly holding others in judgment. In everything we do we have to open our hearts to one another – even when it’s difficult or uncomfortable. In everything we must “go first and be reconciled.” These commands are ones Barnabas was surely familiar with because he carried his own handwritten copy of the Gospel of Matthew, a copy he had with him at the time of his death. Not just commands he was familiar with, but commands he lived by, and commands he was willing to give up his life for.

In the days, months and years ahead I know Barnabas will be much more in my thoughts and prayers. Two of the great evils in the world are misunderstanding and distrust. Barnabas’ life was all about helping people understand one another, and helping people to learn to trust one another. Besides his patronage of peacemakers, he truly is a model of what it means to be an apostle of Christ even though like Barnabas we aren’t one of the original twelve. A model of what it means to live as a Christian – to go out and share God’s love with others and help them understand through our efforts God’s place in their lives. A model of evangelization, reconciliation, and great faith. St. Barnabas, the peacemaker. St. Barnabas, the good man filled with the Holy Spirit.

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