St. Nathanael (or Bartholomew for short)

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 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? 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!

“C’mon, Phil, stay with me here!” -Jesus

Rubens_apostel_philippusThis 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 are 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 recently 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 ask 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!

“C’mon, Phil, stay with me here!” – Jesus

Rubens_apostel_philippusThis 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 are 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 recently 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 ask 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!

“C’mon, Phil, stay with me here!” -Jesus

Rubens_apostel_philippusThis 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 are 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 recently 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 ask 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!

James, the Bro of the Lord

"James the Less" by El Greco, 16th Century
“James the Less” by El Greco, 16th Century

Our apostle for this week is St. James. No, not that one, the other one – St. James the Lesser. It’s not the greatest nickname, but it was used to distinguish him from the other St. James, the son of Zebedee, who we learned about a short time ago. St. James the Lesser was also called James the Just, a much better nickname I would say, and was the son of Alphaeus.

St. James is sometimes referred to as the “brother of the Lord.” This can sometimes be deceiving for us, because we often think of “brother” as a biological term. In ancient Jewish culture, however, this phrase could be interpreted a number of ways other than being an actual biological brother of Jesus. James’ mother, who was also named Mary (this is starting to get confusing, isn’t it), was either a sister or a close relative to the Blessed Mother, and so according to the custom of the time, James would be referred to as the “brother of Jesus.”

After the Resurrection, St. James was made the first bishop of Jerusalem, taking care of the infant Church in what seemed a pretty prestigious honor. Tradition holds that he was the author of the Letter of James in the New Testament. Now, this isn’t specifically stated in the letter, but evidence suggests that it was written some time after St. Paul’s writings, meaning that it was probably written around 59 AD. Well, the other St. James had been dead for 14 years by that point, so there you go! Also, many of the early Fathers of the Church support the claim.

The Letter of James was written against some of those who were preaching and teaching things about Jesus that weren’t true, and abusing some of the teachings that had gone before, especially from St. Paul. It is a very interesting and valuable letter. It much of the basis for our understanding of the relationship between faith and works, that “faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (2:17) It also discusses the means to live a holy life, and makes specific reference to the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick: “Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint [him] with oil in the name of the Lord.” (5:14)

And here is a cool icon of St. James celebrating Mass!
And here is a cool icon of St. James celebrating Mass!

St. James was martyred in Jerusalem – we know that much. But what is interesting is that one of the sources we have isn’t a religious source, but the famous secular historian Josephus, who himself was a Jew. Apparently, St. James was accused of violating the Jewish Law in Jerusalem. The Roman procurator at the time had just died, and the new one had not yet arrived in office, so the high priest took advantage of the confusion to condemn James to death by stoning. And so St. James shared the crown of martyrdom, just as so many other apostles had done before.

Really not as much is known about St. James the Just than other apostles, and there certainly aren’t as many fantastic legends. But what we do know is that James was one of the human men who became the foundation of the Church. This wasn’t an achievement of St. James by his own right, but as a gift from God, and he was able to share more deeply in Christ’s life through his own suffering. Let’s pray that we too can be instruments of grace for Christ to use and build up his Church!

Doubt Once, and Those Disciples Never Let You Forget It

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas By Caravaggio
The Incredulity of Saint Thomas
By Caravaggio

The next apostle on our list is St. Thomas, who we are all very familiar with. We really don’t know how he was called, but we know that he was originally a Jew and that he left it all to follow Jesus. He is mentioned briefly here and there throughout the Gospels.

But of course, what everyone knows St. Thomas for is his reaction to the Resurrection. When all his brothers told him that they had seen the Lord, he refused to believe until he touched Jesus himself and felt his wounds. Well, I guess he opened his big mouth too far, because that’s exactly what happened!

Say what you will about “Doubting Thomas”, but that experience clearly changed him. His immediate response was, “My Lord and my God!”, but that was only the beginning. Whereas many of the apostles went north and west to preach to the people of Asia Minor, Greece, and Rome, St. Thomas went to the almost complete geographical and cultural opposite. He started going north through Syria to Edessa (southern Turkey), but then made a u-turn and headed south. He preached to the Parthians, Persians, and Medes through what is now Iran, and kept going south to India.

Tradition tells us that St. Thomas encountered King Gondophernes (a historical king featured on ancient coins!), and eventually converted him and his brother. The king must have wanted to put Thomas to work, because he was put in charge of building projects, several of which were churches. Apparently, this didn’t sit well with a number of the local priests, because they chased him up a mountain (now called St. Thomas Mount – original, I know), and killed him with a lance. His body was buried at the church he built in Mylapore, India. The tomb remains there even to today, although a significant portion of the relics were moved back to Edessa.

Much of the story about St. Thomas in India comes from the Acts of Thomas, which is pretty shifty, and probably not very reliable. It was probably written by Gnostics, who tried to incorporate a warped form of Christianity into their mystical religion. What is true, however, is that later missionaries found a large number of Christians that had been in India for a very long time, some of whom still speak Syriac, a dialect of the language that St. Thomas probably spoke. Even Marco Polo visited the tomb of St. Thomas on his journeys and learned the stories, so if nothing else, there is probably a kernel of truth to these legends.

So what can we learn from St. Thomas? One thing is that as doubtful or weak as we might consider St. Thomas, Jesus doesn’t pick worthless men and women to do his work. St. Thomas’s human weakness, and our human weaknesses as well, point out the fact that real Christian holiness is a gift from God, not something we do on our own. God uses our doubt and weaknesses to transform us, and to do great things through us, just as he did through St. Thomas. Let us entrust ourselves even more to God through the prayers of St. Thomas, that he would make us better disciples!