A spiritual practice I find helpful and recommend is selecting a particular saint who serves as a guide to help inform and deepen your journey in Christ. I found such a saint in Barnabas, whose feast day is June 11. His name means “son of encouragement.” He became my chosen saint several years ago when a mentor priest asked me to give the announcements for the first time at the parish where we were serving. After the service, I asked him how I did. He said, “You did fine. But did you realize you said the word ‘encourage’ 20 times?” I said, “Sorry about that.” He said, “No, I actually kind of liked it.”
After that, I saw myself as the Barnabas of announcements. Barnabas gave the gift of encouragement to the early Church. His original name was Joseph, but when his fellow apostles recognized his gift, they changed his name to Barnabas. Early on, Barnabas sold a piece of land that he owned. He took the money that he received and laid it at the feet of the apostles. It was used to meet the needs of the community. Barnabas teaches us that the gift of encouragement first comes out of the gift of generosity. This generosity is larger than land or any other material possession. It is a generosity of spirit, a spirit that wants to see others succeed and prosper.
After Saul of Tarsus, a fierce persecutor of Christians, had his conversion experience with Christ on the road to Damascus, he returned to Jerusalem to preach and serve Jesus. But the Christian community there remembered him as the man who sought to kill them and would have nothing to do with him. It was Barnabas who took the initiative and had the courage to reintroduce Saul to the community. It was also Barnabas who told them that Saul’s conversion experience was real. He told them about the great work for the Lord that Saul had already done in Damascus. Because the disciples in Jerusalem trusted Barnabas, based on his reintroduction, they now trusted Saul.
This is the beginning of the story of how Saul became Paul, the writer of most of the New Testament and the great missionary who led the spread of Christianity throughout the world. Barnabas’s reintroduction of Saul is the reason we who are across the globe from Jerusalem practice the Christian faith today. Barnabas teaches us that encouragement involves taking a risk, perhaps even taking a chance on someone.
When news reaches the council of elders in Jerusalem that the first Gentile converts to Christianity were joining the community in Antioch, who do the apostles call upon to evaluate this situation? They turn to the man they trust. They turn to Barnabas.
Barnabas went to Antioch and encouraged this emerging Christian community to remain faithful in their devotion to Jesus. He also discerned their gifts and realized that Paul’s gifts would be a good match for encouraging this community to go deeper in their Christian journey. Barnabas went to Tarsus, found Paul, and brought him to Antioch. The community grew in numbers and in deep faith. They were the first to be given a new name, “Christians.”
Encouragement is having the courage to support and affirm someone who is seeking to turn their life toward Christ. Encouragement involves looking for and recognizing the gifts of other people, especially gifts they have no idea they possess. Encouragement is matching those gifts to needs in the community. The life and witness of Barnabas invite us to be sons and daughters of encouragement.
I’ve found my saint. Have you found yours?