St Bartholomew and You
I like to follow the monastic (Catholic) lectionary. As a Quaker kid growing up in Indiana, I would have had no clue what the word, lectionary, meant. And if you had told me that it meant, “daily reading,” that would not have helped too much. I would not know that many in the liturgical church tradition follow a daily reading of Christian scripture and other supplementary readings. All of this was designed to be a devotional aid in relating to God on a regular basis.
And now in my adult years, I find the lectionary a helpful tool. For those of us who want this kind of discipline, it is very nice for someone to have organized a daily regimen of reading. This provides a good basis for reflection and meditation and other disciplines. I personally like the fact that I am focusing on the same texts that my monk friends are doing.
Along with the lectionary I follow, I also get the rhythm of saint days that come with the Catholic year. Since Quakers did not really deal in the saints, this was a place of ignorance for me. Since I have never been Catholic, it might well be true I don’t really know what we are supposed to do with saints. For me they are the spiritual giants of the ages. They are spiritual models and encouragers. They help me see what is possible.
Now I am not looking to model those who were killed for the faith. I am hoping to die of old age! But I would like to model their spiritual witness. I am convinced if a couple saints were around today for me to converse with, they would tell me not to try to imitate the older, dead saints. I am sure they would advise me to become a saint in my own way in my own context.
That is why I liked finding out the saint for the day is St. Bartholomew. If you ask most Christians who Bartholomew was, they would have no clue. If the Christian knew the Bible very well, he or she might know Bartholomew was mentioned---albeit briefly---in the New Testament. For all intents and purposes, Bartholomew was a minor player---a bit player, really. So how did he get to be a saint?
Tradition has it Bartholomew was born in Cana. Cana is a town in northern modern Israel. I have been there. Cana is best known as the place Jesus turned all that water into wine, while he was attending a wedding. But we have no clue whether Bartholomew was there that day. (Not likely, I think.)
Bartholomew was one of the twelve disciples. Tradition also says that the Apostle Philip brought Bartholomew to meet Jesus, a story recounted early in John’s gospel. Bartholomew is also known as Nathaniel. And that’s about all we know. A fourth century church historian, Eusebius, says Bartholomew was in India. I find that unlikely…but who knows. Rumor had it that he was martyred in Armenia, but again, who knows? All we know is we don’t know much.
And that is what fascinates me. Here is one of the original twelve---one of the key players. For some reason he encountered Jesus and that changed his life. It is likely that act of following Jesus got him in trouble. It certainly put him on the opposite side of the tracks. And somehow he became a saint---St. Bartholomew. I find that inspiring.
It inspires me because for all intents and purposes, I am an average guy. I am not rich and, certainly, not famous. When I die, the world will not miss a beat. A few will remember for a short period of time and, then, I will be history. There should have been no other expectation for Bartholomew than this. And yet he became a saint. There actually is a St. Bartholomew Catholic Church just down the road from here. So how did he become a saint?
I will speculate he became a saint by being true to his conviction and calling. Jesus had called him into a relationship. All believers should be more than believers. They should also be doers. I am sure Bartholomew was a doer. You don’t become a saint by believing. And surely, we don’t become saints by becoming famous. Hitler is famous, but he was an utter jerk and devil!
To become a saint is to become our true self. Our true self is the self God made us to be and wants us to become. We become saints by serving that God and all God’s creatures. Right now the creatures of God whom I serve are mostly students. And there are fellow faculty and my friends, the staff. My pilgrimage to sainthood passes right through the classroom and committee venue. Where does yours pass?
The good news Bartholomew brings us is the reassurance that we, too, can become saints. We can become the daughters and sons God wants us to be. We can be average, normal and make it. I like that. And I like the fact that we can do it together…day by day in our own way.