Setting Sail from Syrian Antioch

Sent forth by the holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia and from there sailed to Cyprus. (Acts 13:4)

Speaking for myself, I feel a fairly deep sense of reverence for the verses of the Acts of the Apostles that we read at Holy Mass today. Barnabas and Saul sailed from Antioch on the Orontes, and they made for Salamis, on the east end of the isle of Cyprus. And thus began…

The missionary journeys of St. Paul. The one whom St. Thomas Aquinas calls “The Apostle.”

Anyone ever heard of Odysseus and Aeneas, the heroes of the ancient pagan epics? Crafty, brave, muscular warriors, irresistible to the ladies. Odysseus and Aeneas sailed like Barnabas and Paul sailed, hoisting canvas in the Mediterranean wind, putting their future entirely into the hands of higher powers, into the hands of destiny.

But the drama of the ancient heroic pagan epics does not hold a candle to the adventure lived by the Apostle, the bookish Pharisee from Tarsus. Odysseus and Aeneas had wind, wit, will, and wanderlust. St. Paul had the Gospel of salvation and the power of the Holy Spirit. Odysseus and Aeneas left the legacy of successful sons of fortune. St. Paul built up the Church of God.

What the Apostle bequeathed, time has not erased. And I don’t just mean his letters–written in the throes of complicated circumstances, the particulars of which we can only begin to grasp–letters which nonetheless deliver to us the enduring Word of God.

No, not just his letters in the New Testament. St. Paul’s amazing adventure across the Mediterranean gave birth to Christian communities, to local churches, flowing with the sap that gives life to the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of Jesus Christ.

Even though St. Paul lived a celibate life, he became a father in a way that Aeneas never did. Aeneas was revered by the ancient Romans as their father. But the chaste Apostle makes the lady-killing Aeneas look less-than-virile by comparison.

The Apostle sailed the Mediterranean in order to give to the poor the Good News of Jesus Christ. He hardly did it by swashbuckling, dashing gallantry. He made extra money by spending his days making tents. Not exactly romantic.

But, sailing hither and yon across the Mediterranean, St. Paul lived the adventure of divine love. Every day he grew closer to Christ, by sharing what he knew of Christ with others. And what greater adventure could there be?

Don’t we want to be on the boat, setting out from Antioch, with Barnabas and Saul? The wide sea opening before us, with the prospect of souls on all the father shores, with whom the Lord is asking us to share His love?

That adventure awaits us even now. That ship is sailing even now. The adventure that St. Paul lived is by no means over. In truth, it has only just begun.

Not Owning It

Barnabas…sold a piece of property that he owned, then brought the money and put it at the feet of the apostles. (Acts 4:36-37)

Re-birth from above involves letting go of worldly possessions and putting them entirely into the hands of their true owner, which is God.

Martyrdom of St. Barnabas
Martyrdom of St. Barnabas
Barnabas had a large estate. People in those days, just like us, thought of a large country estate as the ultimate possession. You could go there and control everything–have peace and quiet, escape the noisy demands of all the rabble in the city. A man with a large estate enjoyed true “independence,” or so everyone thought in the days of the Roman empire.

But Barnabas discovered something. He did not want independence. He didn’t want to be a powerful man who controlled everything in his life and could keep the dirty people away from him.

He wanted just the opposite. He wanted to live in a tent with St. Paul. He wanted to eat simple meals with the poor and teach them about Jesus Christ.

Barnabas knew he could never be satisfied with a comfortable life, because even his great riches seemed paltry compared to the joy of living as one of the brothers who followed in the footsteps of Jesus. Even a vast estate on a Mediterranean island seemed lame compared to heaven. Barnabas chose Christian friendship over wealth. True friendship is worth more than all the money in the world.

St. Catherine of Siena* followed in these same footsteps. She gave up the marriage to a wealthy man which her parents had planned for her. She, too, did not want a “comfortable” life on earth. She preferred to live like Barnabas. She found happiness with the bare minimum of food, clothing, and shelter, so that she could focus on helping other people turn to God.

However it is that the Lord has planned for us to serve Him in this pilgrim life, we can only find our way by recognizing this fact: Everything we have really belongs to God. He has put it all into our hands for one reason: So that we can have the true joy of sharing it with others.

* who died 634 years ago today