Saint Bartholomew – Option 2 – August 24th
Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Bartholomew, literally, the son of Talemy, who has been identified with Nathanael. We know very little about his life before, during, and after the Gospels. Some traditions seek to identify him with the young spouse at the wedding at Cana, but the evidence is weak. Tradition holds he preached the Gospel in the Middle East, facing martyrdom in Syria, and another tradition places him in India.
Even with this background, the Gospel for today holds two lessons for us as religious and as Christians.
First, notice that Nathanael’s vocation begins with a challenge. Philip explains that he has met the Messiah, Nathanael gives a harsh response, but Philip merely replies: “Come and see.” “Come and see.” Commenting on this passage, Pope Emeritus Benedict the XVI writes that “Our knowledge of Jesus needs above all a first-hand experience . . . we ourselves must then be personally involved in a close and deep relationship with Jesus.”
We must always seek to know Jesus more and more. This is what we see in the Gospel. In seven short verses, Nathanael goes from saying “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” to saying “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel,” to Jesus’ reply “You will see greater things than this. . . . Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
Part of this growth comes from knowing and believing that God knows us perfectly: He knows everything about us and wants the best for us. Regarding the fig tree, Benedict says “We do not know what had happened under this fig tree. It is obvious that it had to do with a decisive moment in Nathanael’s life.”
A second lesson we can pull from the life of Bartholomew is from his death. We know that he was skinned alive and then crucified. That torture turned out to be his greatest glory. For instance, in art, it is what clearly identifies this saint: in the Duomo of Milan, the statue of Saint Bartholomew is depicted with his flayed skin draped over him; likewise, in the Sistine Chapel, Saint John Lateran, and so many other churches his flayed skin is his hallmark.
We can see the truth of the words of Saint Paul in his letter to the Romans (8:18): I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us. What was his greatest suffering became his glory. This is a good reminder for us, especially when those little annoyances tend to “get under our skin.”
Today, as we celebrate the feast of Saint Bartholomew, we can ask ourselves about our relationship with Jesus Christ. How have we responded personally to Christ’s invitation to follow Him? Do we try to find Him in everything, even in the most unpleasant tasks and difficult people? Let us ask for the grace, through the intercession of Saint Bartholomew and Mary, Queen of the Apostles, to attach ourselves more firmly to Christ, the One who we can truly and entirely trust.