June 11, 2012 - Memorial of Saint Barnabas, Apostle

Acts 11:21-26; 13:1-3
Psalm 98:1-6
Matthew 5:1-12

I always admired Barnabas. His name, which means “Son of Encouragement”, reminds me of a guy I knew in high school, Joe. He was a delight to be around, and everyone else was better when he was with us. He was one of the best advertisements for Christianity I have ever known, truly a lampstand. I was always disappointed that he was some sort of Evangelical Christian and not a Catholic, that he did not play for our team, so to speak. I imagine Barnabas to be a lot like him, with a word of encouragement for everyone and never a personal attack, neither to a person’s face nor behind their back, not with meaningless compliments but actual encouragement. Blessed is everyone around a Barnabas.

Encouragement, it seems to me, is an eighth gift of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, encouragement is not only a gift of the Holy Spirit but also a title. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Encouragement. The Holy Spirit brings encouragement where it is needed by giving this gift to someone near a person whom he is pleased to encourage and is, thereby, the Spirit of Encouragement that every Barnabas is the son of.

Today we read that Barnabas went to Antioch and encouraged everyone “for he was a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and faith.” This kind of encouragement is more truly a proof of the presence of the Holy Spirit than speaking in tongues or prophecy. The evil spirit gives prophecies, but only the Holy Spirit gives encouragement to Christians. We see a characteristic of that encouragement when Barnabas goes up to Tarsus and finds Paul. A true Barnabas looks for the God-given gifts in others and is not jealous but rather rejoices.

We Christians are not all going to preach like Peter. We will not all count converts by the thousands like Paul. We do not all have the theological mind of John. We may not raise the dead or cure the sick or speak in tongues or prophesy, but we all should learn to emulate Barnabas. We all should learn to encourage our brothers and sisters to be better Christians. We should all be sons and daughters of encouragement – not mere human encouragement: patronizing, saccharine words – but the encouragement of the Spirit of Encouragement, who fills our hearts, who always has a word or action ready for us to share with another. When you see a person in need, just listen to that Spirit and speak the encouragement.