Memorial of St. Barnabas, Apostle
Fostering Busy-ness or Peace?
Readings: Acts 11:21-26; 13:1-3; Psalm 98:1-6. R. v. 2; Matthew 10:7-13
The readings for today’s memorial of Saint Barnabas speak to me of a lesson that I’m still trying to learn. I’m reminded in particular of two experiences of mine. The first is that of going on home-leave. Returning to the family home after being away for years at a time, one quite naturally felt the need to help out with the chores. One insisted on “helping” even when the family seemed too polite to accept one’s help. But then, after some time, one began to realize that the refusals were not purely out of courtesy. Rather was it more a case of them not wanting to have the additional work of undoing the “damage” caused by someone who didn’t quite know how things were usually done around the house. As the Chinese saying goes, it was more a case of “the more one helps the busier they become.” One really needed first to learn how things were done, what help was needed, before plunging in to lend a hand.
I had a similar experience when undergoing training (and in many ways I’m still undergoing training) to accompany people on retreat. At first, filled with all the information I had about “Ignatian Spirituality”, I went about trying to fit people into the structures that I had in my mind. In the process, however, I found that I was only making them “busier”. What I needed to learn was to first pay attention to how God was encountering them, to appreciate what they really needed, what helped and what hindered them, and then to follow the flow of God’s grace already at work within them.
We see a similar lesson being taught to us in the experience of Barnabas too. We are told in the first reading that Barnabas was listed among the prophets and teachers of the church at Antioch. We are also told that he spent a whole year there instructing a large group of people. But what’s more important to observe is what Barnabas does when he first arrives at Antioch. Instead of immediately engaging in teaching and telling people what to do, the reading tells us that he first saw for himself that God had given grace. It is only with that awareness of how God’s grace was already at work in Antioch that Barnabas began to speak, thus resulting in a large number of people being won over to the Lord.
And isn’t this approach simply another way of putting into practice Jesus’ instruction to the apostles to travel light? Although Jesus mentions only material things in the gospel, might the spirit of his exhortation not also include our own preconceived notions of what we can do to help? Isn’t this one important benefit of traveling light: that we might learn first to seek out and to depend more on God’s grace at work in a particular situation than on our own possessions, in whatever form these might take? And could it be that it is only to the extent that we learn to do this that we can truly foster peace among those to whom we are sent? Instead of simply making them “busier” than they already are?