June 11

St. Barnabas

St. Barnabas

The Generous Giver

History pays great tribute to the people who had offered outstanding contributions to humanity. However, it is very often that the supporting persons, those “behind the scenes”, who enabled their greatness are given recognition. But the Church recognizes and values the importance of these “hidden” people who had played important roles for the proclamation of the Gospel.

St. Barnabas was an important key agent in the early Church. He was directly responsible for integrating Paul into the faith after his conversion. He was a Jew, particularly of the Levite lineage, and was a native of Cyprus (see Acts 4:36). Having settled in Jerusalem, Barnabas was one of the first who believed in Christ and embraced the Christian faith after Jesus’ Resurrection. The first instance that Barnabas’ name was mentioned in the New Testament can be found in Acts 4:36-37 where he sold his property which he owned and gave the money to the Apostles for the needs of the Church.

The Bridge-Maker

After Paul’s conversion to the faith, he was so zealous and eager to preach the Good News. However, the community in Jerusalem doubted and still feared the former persecutor. It was Barnabas who vouched for the sincerity of Paul’s conversion: “Then Barnabas took charge of him [Paul] and brought him to the apostles, and he reported to them how on the way he had seen the Lord and that he had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus.” (Acts 9:27).

Later on, he was sent to Antioch in Syria, but went on to look for and meet Paul in Tarsus where he had withdrawn. He spent a whole year with him there and dedicated himself to the evangelization of that city where Barnabas was known as a teacher and prophet (see Acts 13:1). Seeing the first conversions of the Gentiles to the faith, Barnabas realized that Paul’s hour had come. He restored Paul to the Church who would later on become the Apostle to the Gentiles.

A Missionary with Paul

Barnabas and Paul were sent by the Church of Antioch on a mission. This became known as the first missionary journey of Paul. In fact, it was Barnabas’ missionary voyage since it was he who was really in charge of the mission and Paul had joined him as his collaborator. Together, they visited the regions of Cyprus and Central and Southern Anatolia, with the cities of Attalia, Perga, Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe (see Acts 13-14).

After this, Barnabas and Paul went to the so-called Council of Jerusalem. It was there that the Apostles and the Elders decided to discontinue the practice of circumcision as no longer a component of the Christian identity (see Acts 15:1-35). Through this, they officially made possible the Church of the Gentiles, without the burden of the Jewish customs and laws.

At the beginning of the second missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas had a disagreement. Barnabas was determined to take with them as a companion John who was also called Mark, while Paul was against it. This was because the young man had left them during their previous journey. The Acts of the Apostles recounts the aftermath of this issue between the two: “So sharp was their disagreement that they separated. Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and departed after being commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord.” (Acts 15:39-40).

Barnabas, together with John Mark, returned to Cyprus in about the year 49. From that moment, the Scriptures lost track of him. It was only through the Epistles of Paul that Barnabas’ name was mentioned again. Nothing is known for certain about the circumstances or date of his death. A 5th century apocryphal writing, Journeys and Martyrdom of Barnabas, described the alleged martyrdom and burial of Barnabas in Cyprus. Discovered in 488, the reputed tomb of Barnabas was found near the Monastery of St. Barnabas in the city of Salamis in Cyprus, the community founded by Paul and Barnabas. His feast day is June 11.

5 Interesting Facts About St. Barnabas

  1. St. Barnabas is the patron saint of Cyprus, Antioch, against hailstorms and invoked as peacemaker.
  2. “Barnabas” was just his nickname. His real name was Joseph as recorded in Acts 4:36.
  3. The nickname “Barnabas” means “son of encouragement”.
  4. St. Barnabas was a cousin of St. Mark the Evangelist.
  5. The Christian writer Tertullian attributed to St. Barnabas the Letter to the Hebrews. The Letter to the Hebrews interpreted the priesthood of Jesus in an extraordinary way. Barnabas belonged to the priestly tribe of Levi, and he may have been interested in the subject of the priesthood, so this was not improbable.

Prayer to St. Barnabas

O God, who decreed that Saint Barnabas,a man filled with faith and the Holy Spirit,should be set apart to convert the nations,grant that the Gospel of Christ,which he strenuously preached,may be faithfully proclaimed by word and by deed.Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,one God, for ever and ever. Amen.