Today we celebrate the feast of St. Barnabas the apostle. Although not technically an apostle, most consider him among them. Born a Levite of Jewish parents on the island of Cyprus, Barnabas lived and settled in Jerusalem around the time of the crucifixion. Many believe that the grace of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost converted him and motivated him to sell all his property and donate the proceeds to the Church. A powerful preacher of the early Church, he is counted among the prophets and doctors of Antioch.
The name Barnabas is most often recalled as associated with St. Paul’s. When Paul, the former Saul who persecuted Christians, returned to Jerusalem, the local Christians did not believe the veracity of Saul’s conversion. It was Barnabas who vouched for Paul and gained him access and acceptance into the community. Interestingly, they did not unite in ministry and mission until several years later when Barnabas journey to Antioch and witnessed the fire of the Gentile converts. Barnabas called on Paul to join him in Antioch to preach and teach the gospel.
From Antioch, the men set out to convert the Gentile world, travelling to Cyprus, Asia Minor, Perge in Pamphylia, Iconium, and Lystra, among other cities. In spite of meeting great persecution and violence, they believed God had used them successfully in their mission to spread the faith to the Gentiles.
Barnabas’ and Paul’s work in Antioch gave the Church its first council – the Council of Jerusalem. Believers from Jerusalem arrived in Antioch and preached the necessity of circumcision for salvation, meaning that all, including the Gentiles, must partake of this practice. (I’m sure we all remember the fuss this caused.) In wisdom, Barnabas and Paul knew this would be a huge stumbling block for non-Jewish converts, so they travelled to Jerusalem for clarification of this teaching. When Peter spoke, the decision was final. Thus the teaching Magisterium of the Church was born.
Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch briefly, but parted ways and evangelized different parts of the world upon their departure from Antioch. Little else is known of Barnabas after that time, but his effects are long-lasting.
Catholic Encyclopedia summarizes his legacy well:
With the exception of St. Paul and certain of the Twelve, Barnabas appears to have been the most esteemed man of the first Christian generation. St. Luke, breaking his habit of reserve, speaks of him with affection, “for he was a good man, full of the Holy Ghost and of Faith”. His title to glory comes not only from his kindliness of heart, his personal sanctity, and his missionary labours, but also from his readiness to lay aside his Jewish prejudices, in this anticipating certain of the Twelve; from his large-hearted welcome of the Gentiles, and from his early perception of Paul’s worth, to which the Christian Church is indebted, in large part at least, for its great Apostle.
St. Barnabas, pray for us! Anne