Feast of St. Bartholomew, Apostle | August 24, 2019
Many of us are familiar with the latest streaming show that has developed a big fan base, called Stranger Things. It is a science fiction drama set in the 1980s.
If I were to give a title to my reflections on today’s readings, I’d call it “Greater Things.”
Today the church commemorates St. Bartholomew – an apostle of Christ and a martyr for the faith, traditionally thought to have been a missionary to Armenia. It is thus a special day for the Armenian church!
Catholic tradition has also identified him as Nathaniel the apostle who appears in today’s Gospel story, though scholars doubt they are the same person. Bartholomew is venerated not only by Catholics – but the Orthodox, Anglicans, and Lutherans. He is an ecumenical saint! How appropriate that these readings highlight both the first efforts of Jesus to draw together his new community in the Gospel, and the final joyous achievement of that community in in the first reading.
These readings are about the “Greater Things” that God has in store for those who trust, and who build their faith on the promise that God can do amazing deeds in our lives with the smallest of openings in our hearts.
The imagery of the Book of Revelation can often be confusing, especially if one takes it literally instead of symbolically as the author intends. John also didn’t intend to give us a vision of events to come, but a vision to sustain hope in trying times for the church – under threat at the time of his writing – probably around 100 A.D.
John promises “greater things” to those who endure the difficulties of the present. The holy city Jerusalem is a symbol for the promised coming of God’s kingdom where, finally, justice, peace and mercy reign. It has its walls – but not to isolate. Rather, they show the strength of God’s reign. The four walls have a total of 12 gates – each named for one of 12 apostles. There are many ways into God’s home!
This image is a symbol that reminds us that our faith is built on the witness and testimony of those first apostles and disciples; we enter the dwelling of God through this “apostolic” faith, which has been “handed on” to us – or as I like to say “traditioned” to us.
The image reminds us that our faith has come to us through the care of generations of faithful Christians and through the great popes, bishops, prophets, teachers, and others – both clergy and lay – down through the centuries who have “handed on” this witness in times of joy, sorrow, peace and persecution. It is a vital faith – a living faith that gets expressed in ever ancient and ever new ways, and it is now ours to live, and to hand on to the next generation.
The psalmist says it well – “Your friends make known the glorious splendor of your Kingdom, O God.”
In the Gospel, first Phillip and then Jesus had to work a little harder than usual to overcome Nathanael’s preconceptions about what to expect from “Jesus of Nazareth.” Nathanael had learned that little Nazareth was not a place to expect anyone or anything good from – least of all the promised Messiah!
But Nathaniel’s experience of Jesus changes his attitude. In his case, the encounter with Jesus elicited both faith, and the bold proclamation of Jesus’ identity. And Jesus’ response reminds him – and all of us – that when we respond in faith, following the example and path of the humble and merciful Christ – we, too, are destined for “greater things.”
A great prayer for each of us might be to return to the psalm of today and ask God how we can show God’s splendor in our lives this coming week. Perhaps we will then find it a little easier to see the “greater things” God is doing in us and others.
God give you peace!
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As Director of Certification for Ecclesial Ministry and Service at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), I have the opportunity to record video reflections on the readings of the Scriptures proclaimed at daily Mass. I do so as part of larger group of colleagues at the Conference, along with lay and ordained leaders from around the country. I am grateful for the opportunity to reflect on the meaning of the readings for the life of faith today and to share them here, along with the written text of the reflections. To view these video reflections for past and upcoming celebrations of the Eucharist, visit the USCCB website.