What can we learn from St. Barnabas?

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By Fr. Jay Kythe, OSB

In the Acts of the Apostles, we hear the Holy Spirit say, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” And then a few chapters later (15:39): “And there arose a sharp contention, so that they separated from each other; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus.” A few years later, St. Barnabas was stoned to death at Salamis in Cyprus in the year 60 or 61. A disagreement among disciples led to a course of action of preaching the Gospel that one could say was a bad decision, a failure in leadership perhaps, but definitely in relationships. But God is not upset by these things. In fact, when we follow the Lord, all He asks is to trust Him.

In St. Barnabas, we have a saint who, with St. Paul, was called an apostle, although not part of the original Twelve. He was chosen by God to work with St. Paul for a time, in success and in failure, and to suffer persecution. Another example was when they failed to convert the Jews in Iconium and narrowly escaped death.

One is tempted, while following God in spreading the Gospel and encountering times of failure, to blame God. Our thoughts may be full of doubt: “God, why did You let me fail in serving You? I thought I would only succeed when I give my heart over to You and follow you.” Then we come to the simple truth: that, of course, God is not to blame. That all things, even failure, are part of His Providential Plan. And then finally, what is it about me that must change?

“Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give,” Jesus instructs us. He tells us to take very little with us on the missionary journey. He doesn’t promise successes or failure but that He will care for us. When we encounter failure, perhaps He is teaching us something about ourselves, about our attachments. At times of failure, we may find ourselves turning to our attachments to material things. Make no mistake, these kinds of attachments are inordinate, distracting us from focusing on Him. I have quoted many times in homilies: “For St. Benedict, things are our worst enemies, because in offering us a certain autonomy, they invite us to abandon the ‘difficult, harsh’ things that lead us to God” (Jean-Charles Nault, OSB, The Noonday Devil, p. 155). One of these difficult, harsh things that lead us to God is the realization that perhaps we are still too attached to our worldly concepts of success and failure and not surrendered to or reliant enough on Him. We must learn that success and failure depend not on us but on God; all we must do is to labor for the kingdom. 

Let us remember that conflicts, our own weaknesses, getting angry at ourselves and others, grumbling about things (even in our hearts), all these things distract us from leaning on our Provident God. Let us labor for the kingdom, and leave the rest up to Him.