11 June 2009. Memorial of St. Barnabas, Apostle
Acts 11: 21-26, 13: 1-3; Psalm 98; Matthew 5, 20-26
Have you ever wanted --- or at least the idea crossed your mind --- of being at the service of God in whatever capacity you have (and not necessarily religious life), but felt unworthy of the call? The first thing that chicken us out is our sense of sin --- knowing our dark past, our tendency to be rebellious, or even the awareness that there are many questions, doubts and disagreements with a practice or a promulgation by the Church.
But despite all these, there is a lingering attraction to offer some of our precious time off our work, for some noble and meaningful task. For some even, yielding to a nagging force to offer their life to a loftier ideal, a pro-bono work, or even considering religious life. Many of us suffer from this “low self-esteem” because there is a pervading perception that religious activity is for the holy and the saint.
In fact, many people resolve to come to pray before the Lord when the time is right and perfect. They plan to enter the church only when they have already ‘cleanse’ themselves of any stain of sin. But our experiences tell us that the ‘perfect time’ does not come. Even those who have received the Sacrament of Reconciliation minutes before the mass find their minds wandering during the Scripture readings or their eyes would rest on an exposed skin on a cute churchgoer no matter how briefly. Or for many, a feeling of exasperation on the senseless and unorganized homily of the priest at mass. By the time, they are to receive communion, their hearts are never ‘thoroughly’ clean and spotless; thus unworthy for the Lord to dwell.
But just as the previous posts in this blog tell us about the experiences of St. Paul who has been a persecutor and murderer of Christians and Danniel Sunga nSJ in his article in the Philippine Inquirer, all of us ministers of the Lord are unworthy. Our human qualifications cannot make us worthy of the task of the Lord. And thus, St. Paul said that it is the Lord who make us worthy because Jesus said that though we did not earn the honor of being at the service of God, He made us worthy by his word. That is why after the Agnus Dei and before we line up for communion we say, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive You, but only say the word and I shall be healed” (of our unworthiness).
Having said this, St. Barnabas will thus hold a special part in the life of many of us who suffer from this “low self-esteem”. The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles tell us that Barnabas was a “good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and faith”. Thus, “a great number believed and turned to the Lord” (Acts 11, 21). Barnabas supported St. Paul when he was newly converted. When Saul (Paul) first visited Jerusalem (AD 33-38) after his conversion, the Church there found it hard to believe Saul. Thus, Barnabas helped the apostles to accept Saul. He offered his house in Tarsus for Saul, as he remained in obscurity for some time, perhaps for some soul searching that helped him prepare himself for a daunting task in the future.
Meanwhile, some disciples from Cyrene and Cyprus left Jerusalem after the stoning of Stephen (whom Saul had been partner to) and began preaching in Antioch in Syria. They made numerous converts there, which the Jerusalem community heard about. Barnabas, a Jew, was sent to Antioch and welcomed the new converts and saw an immense opportunity for the faith. He remembered Saul in Tarsus, and gave him the task to preach to the Gentiles. The rest is history: Christianity which began as a Jerusalem sect, became a universal religion. It was in Antioch, that we were first called Christians. It was therefore Barnabas who encouraged Saul, after having a dark past, to believe that he too can do God’s task.
In our lives, we know that when faced with a great challenge, we find ourselves afraid. There are many reasons for us to back out because we are afraid to fail or for our credentials to be questioned by people. If we are called by God, we serve as best as we can because we are qualified by God’s word.
For those who took the leap of faith, many of us have our support group who cheer us. People who believed in us and what we can do. And thus, as Barnabas supported Paul, we too have to develop a culture of encouragement. Who knows: the person who needed a few words of encouragement may turn out to be the person who can change the world.