The scriptures this week introduce us to someone we don’t hear about very much. I’m speaking of St. Barnabas. Tellingly, Barnabas is not the name he was born with. His given name was Joseph. But just as Saul became Paul, Joseph received a new name when he became a Christian. Barnabas means “Son of Encouragement.” Encouragement is what he gave to the growing community of Christians – and it surely describes what he offered to Paul, as well.
In the passage from John’s gospel we just heard, Christ exhorts us to remain in him, like branches of a vine, and to bear good fruit. And today’s letter, also from John, makes the message even more explicit: “Love one another, just as he commanded us.” But in too many places today, that command is forgotten, or abandoned, or even mocked. Our world is scarred by cities that are now synonymous with conflict and bloodshed and hate.
Add to these the wars that are happening in other places too: in our families, in marriage, in politics. The landmines are everywhere – and so is the division and the pain. Moments of mental or physical illness can be times of crisis. They can mean a time of loss and pain, a time of insight and growth, or anything in between. Regardless, our loving God wants to be a part of our experience. We are a faith founded on love. Christ is the vine. We are his branches.
Pope Francis offers us a comforting reflection: “We never go to the baptismal font alone, but rather we are accompanied by the prayer of the whole Church.” Clearly recognizing that human frailty is a part of the reality of life, the church is with us also in the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. The kind words and prayers that we receive from others are a part of this. Let us – everyone of us – strive to be Barnabas.
Paul A. Magnano