I. Introduction: Barnabas and the Knights
Today the Church remembers the Apostle Barnabas. Though not one of the original Twelve Apostles, Barnabas, as we shall later see, came to be called an Apostle. Happily, today’s Scripture reading from the Acts of the Apostles paints a portrait of Barnabas whose name means “son of consolation”. All of us can be consoled as we reflect on this depiction of Barnabas – and his work of spreading the Gospel in the earliest days of the Church – because his life and example applies to us as leaders in the Order in four ways. Let’s see how this is so.
II. “A Good Man Filled with the Holy Spirit and Faith”
A. First, St. Luke, the author of the Acts of the Apostles, tells us that Barnabas was “a good man filled with the Holy Spirit and faith.” As today’s reading opens, Barnabas is living in Jerusalem in the days following the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. We see how the Gospel quickly went beyond Jerusalem and spread to Antioch where many people were being won over to the Lord. The Apostles decided to send Barnabas to have a firsthand look at what was happening in Antioch, a Greek and Roman city in modern-day Turkey.
B. If I could put it this way, Barnabas was sent to Antioch as a layman. He was a disciple, baptized in the Holy Spirit, on fire with the love for the Lord and zeal for the Gospel. Clearly, the Apostles knew Barnabas and trusted him. They saw that he was a man of virtue, a man in whom the Gospel had found a home. They could count on him to size up the situation accurately and to fan into flame the faith that had spread to a city that one day would be nicknamed, “the cradle of Christianity”. That is precisely what Barnabas did. A man who was himself filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit could recognize the workings of God’s grace in the Christian community at Antioch. He could be counted on to encourage these new followers of Christ “to remain faithful to the Lord in firmness of heart…”
C. As State Deputies, you were chosen by your brother knights because they regard you as ‘good men, filled with the Holy Spirit and faith.’ They regard you as disciples of the Lord Jesus, as active members of the Church, as men of virtue who are trustworthy fellow knights who will also be co-workers with bishops and priests, especially our chaplains. Accordingly, your brother knights have sent you on mission to travel around your jurisdictions to foster the growth of the Knights of Columbus, to encourage the recruitment of new members and to help these men and their families to live the Gospel principles of charity, unity, and fraternity.
III. First Class Recruiter
A. A second aspect of St. Luke’s portrait of Barnabas is that he was a good recruiter. When he arrived at Antioch, he not only encouraged those who had already become Christians to remain strong in the faith, we also read that “large numbers of people were added to the Lord.” In other words, Barnabas didn’t merely praise the status quo but instead contributed to the dynamism of the Christian community at Antioch. We might say that he made it an evangelized and an evangelizing community. As a result, many new Christians were “recruited”.
B. But there is a second way in which Barnabas was a first-class recruiter. We read that he went to Tarsus to look for Saul, known to us, of course, as Paul. Evidently, Barnabas persuaded Paul that he should come to Antioch to assist in foster the growth of the first Christian community on Hellenic soil. I’m going to guess that Paul might not have been the easiest man to recruit. Be that as it may, Paul comes to Antioch with Barnabas and then things really take off. Thus begins the Church’s mission to the Gentiles. In a short time, Paul would become the leader and Barnabas his assistant. Barnabas did not resent Paul’s rising prominence but instead rejoiced because he was focused not on himself but on the mission.
C. Well, it’s pretty obvious how this applies to us as leaders of the Knights of Columbus. Through these days, you are receiving much guidance and encouragement with regard to the recruitment of new members. You are being sent from New Haven to your jurisdictions with a mission similar to that of Barnabas: to grow the Order – to develop more “star councils” and to reach out to younger men and their families, for the good of the Order and for the strengthening of family life – aware that the Gospel spreads whenever there are strong families, families that can rightly be called “domestic churches”. So ask St. Barnabas to make you and your co-workers “first-class recruiters”… But there is another way in which you, like Barnabas must recruit: it is essential that we attract and raise up excellent leaders in the Order. Just as Barnabas went out of his way to recruit Paul for the mission at Antioch, so too we need to go out of our way to find and raise up those men who will be capable of taking leadership positions in the Order and we should rejoice if we find leaders who overshadow or outshine us. After all, it’s not about us – it’s all about the mission. So ask yourselves: Is there a “Saul of Tarsus” somewhere in my jurisdiction whom I can recruit not only for membership but also for potential leadership?
A. A third aspect in St. Luke’s portrait of St. Barnabas is teamwork. Barnabas is called a prophet because he taught God’s word authentically, but we should also note that he was indeed part of a team of teachers and prophets entirely dedicated to spreading the Gospel in Asia Minor; St. Luke has even provided us with their names. Not only did Barnabas not resent the rising prominence of St. Paul, he was a valued member of a team dedicated to the spread of the Gospel and I’m going to guess that Barnabas lent to that team cohesion and coherence.
B. The lesson here is obvious: no one in a fraternal order should be a lone ranger; rather, we are all part of a team. As state deputies, one of your most important jobs is to form an excellent team, and to provide leadership to that team so that it works well together such that it advances the mission of the Order in ways that make sense to our brother knights and to those whom we seek to recruit. Fostering teamwork, as you know, takes patience and perseverance.
V. Fostering Vocations
A. A final aspect of St. Luke’s portrait of Barnabas is his ordination. Together with Saul, he was set apart for the work of the Gospel by prayer and the laying on of hands – the essence of the sacrament of Holy Orders— and then they were sent on their missionary journeys. Because of Barnabas’ close association with St. Paul – known as “the Apostle” – Christian tradition also accords the title of Apostle to Barnabas.
B. This aspect of Luke’s portrait reminds us of another aspect of our leadership: namely, the long-standing commitment of the Order to priestly vocations. Barnabas whom we met as a layman ends up an Apostle – just as some join the Order as lay persons, often in our college councils, and, through the support of the Knights, answer a call to priesthood. Raising up priestly vocations is deeply rooted in the mission of the Knights because we were founded by a holy priest, Father McGivney, and the cooperation of the laity and the ordained is a hallmark of the Order as well as a great source of strength for the Church’s mission to spread the Gospel.
So, as this important organizational meeting proceeds, St. Barnabas gives us much to think about and much to pray about. For now let us ask him to pray for us, for our families, and for our jurisdictions, that we might serve them in the same spirit as he served the Church of Antioch such that large numbers will be added to our beloved Order. Vivat Jesus!