The Holy Apostles: St. Bartholomew

The Call of Nathanael
The Call of Nathanael

This week’s apostle is St. Bartholomew.  Well, actually, he’s only called “Bartholomew” in the lists of the apostles in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke).  In the Gospel of John, which tells us the most about him, he is named “Nathanael”.  I guess they called him “Bartholomew” for short…

So Nathanael was from Cana, where Jesus performed his first miracle at the wedding feast, and he was summoned to Jesus by St. Philip, who we discussed last week.  Upon meeting Jesus, Nathanael asked Jesus how he knew him, to which Jesus responded “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.”  Now, I’m guessing that Jesus wasn’t ten feet away from the fig tree at the time, because this had a huge effect on Nathanael.  We don’t know the significance of the fig tree, but apparently, it was a decisive moment in Nathanael’s life.  He exclaimed, “You are the Son of God!  You are the King of Israel!”  Jesus responds in a way fitting for the beginning of Nathanael’s journey: “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree?  You will see greater things than this.”

And indeed that was true.  St. Bartholomew/Nathanael was a witness to the Resurrection, when Jesus appeared near the Sea of Tiberius while they were fishing.  After that, things get a little confusing.

What did St. Bartholomew do after the Resurrection?  It depends who you ask.  Two ancient sources, Eusebius of Caesarea (the famous Church historian) and St. Jerome, had Bartholomew preaching in India.  Whereas St. Thomas went to the southeast of India near Mylapore, tradition says that St. Bartholomew went to the western coast of India, near the present-day Mumbai.  It was there that he supposedly left a copy of the Gospel of Matthew.

Other traditions hold that St. Bartholomew went to Ethiopia, Mesopotamia, Parthia (present-day Iran), and Lycaonia (central Turkey).  And apparently, he went to Hierapolis with St. Philip, as we heard last week.  One of the more popular and widespread traditions of St. Bartholomew is that he went to Armenia (in present-day…Armenia), an area that is traditionally very strongly Christian.  He converted Polymius, who was the king of Armenia, but this wasn’t popular with the king’s brother, who ordered Bartholomew to be tortured and executed.

Michelangelo's "The Last Judgment" Look at him!  He's holding his own skin!!!
Michelangelo’s “The Last Judgment”
Look at him! He’s holding his own skin!!!

Tradition holds that St. Bartholomew was martyred by being flayed alive and crucified.  In the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo depicts St. Bartholomew with the other apostles, holding his own skin in his left hand!  His relics were eventually moved to the Church of St. Bartholomew on the Tiber Island in Rome, where they can be venerated today.

Back to his call, one of the first things that Bartholomew/Nathanael said when Philip tried to introduce him to Jesus was, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”  Basically, he was making fun of Jesus for being a hillbilly from the country!  The great Messiah couldn’t possibly be from there, could he?  The Messiah wasn’t really living up to Nathanael’s expectations.  But Jesus was found in the very place he least expected him.  How true is that for us?  Many times we place our own expectations of Jesus in the way of our faith – what he should do for us, what we should receive from him, how he is supposed to work in our lives.  It takes a real act of faith and docility to put aside our own expectations and follow, but that is what a disciple does.  Let’s pray for the intercession of St. Bartholomew to be able to follow Jesus more closely, even when he does what we least expect!

The Holy Apostles: St. Philip

“St. Philip” by Peter Paul Rubens

This week’s apostle is St. Philip, who shares a feast day with St. James the Just and his native town with St. Peter and St. Andrew.  He came from Bethsaida, and was called by Jesus there, shortly after the calling of Sts. Peter and Andrew.

The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) say very little about him, but St. John’s Gospel gives a few more details about his life as one of the apostles.  After having been called by Jesus, he must have been overwhelmingly inspired in his discipleship, as he then introduced Nathanael (called Bartholomew for short) to Jesus, saying “Come and see.”

Like the other apostles, St. Philip had a hard time grasping some of the things that Jesus said.  We usually think of St. Peter asking all the questions, but in John’s Gospel, Philip asks quite a few as well.  In some cases, we can almost feel Jesus’ frustration.  Jesus said at one point (Jn 14:7-9), “I am the way…if you know me, then you will also know my Father.  From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”  Now, I know that’s confusing, but St. Philip doesn’t seem to get it at all.  “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.”  Jesus probably face-palmed and said, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip?  Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

Well, St. Philip got it eventually, because like the other apostles, he preached along the Mediterranean coast, particularly in Greece, Phrygia (modern day Western Turkey), and Syria.  Now, just as a caveat, the sources for much of St. Philip’s post-resurrection information is pretty shifty, but we know that St. Philip preached and evangelized, and was eventually martyred.  According to the Acts of Philip, he was doing missionary work with his fellow apostle Bartholomew, and his healing miracles and preaching were so successful in Hierapolis (a great ancient city in Western Turkey), that he converted the wife of the proconsul of the province.  This didn’t sit well with the proconsul, and he tortured the two apostles and crucified them upside-down (How do all these evil guys know to martyr them the same way?  Was there a mass e-mail or something?).  Philip continued preaching from the cross, and even convinced the crowd and the proconsul to release Bartholomew, while Philip embraced martyrdom.

Interestingly enough, Philip’s tomb was only discovered in July of 2011 in the ruins of the ancient church dedicated to his honor in Hierapolis.  His relics were no longer there, but other accounts have them likely brought to Constantinople, and then moved to Rome to protect them from invaders.

I think one of the most striking qualities of St. Philip was his willingness to invite others, namely Nathanael, to follow Christ.  He wasn’t told to do so by Jesus, and he wasn’t forced – when he understood what great things Christ had already done for him, he wanted others to experience it.  When was the last time you invited someone to church with you?  When was the last time you invited someone to share a quiet moment of prayer at adoration?  Let us pray that St. Philip would pray for us, that we too might give thanks for what God has done for us, and invite others to that joy also!