St. Barnabas: First RCIA Sponsor

stbarnToday’s saint sends us back to the Acts of the Apostles. St. Barnabas was born in Cyprus of a Jewish family. He was of the Tribe of Levi, the priestly tribe of Israel, and thus, it sounds as though he spent a lot of time travelling to Jerusalem to assist in the Temple duties. He was the cousin of St. Mark the Evangelist, and worked frequently with him throughout his ministry. The Acts of the Apostles tells us that he converted to Christianity after Pentecost, and sold all his property, giving the money to the Church to help the poor. St. Barnabas is considered to be ranked among the Apostles, but not one of them, similar to St. Paul, and indeed, he was esteemed as the greatest Christian of the first generation aside from St. Paul and the Apostles. St. Luke, who is usually pretty reserved, gushed about him in the Acts of the Apostles, saying that he was “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith.”

St. Barnabas spent much of his ministry as a companion to St. Paul, and in fact, when many people didn’t believe that St. Paul’s conversion was authentic, Barnabas stood as his sponsor. I guess that makes him the first RCIA sponsor or the first godparent! With Paul, he worked in preaching to the gentiles in Antioch, then moved on to Cyprus, then Asia Minor. His preaching was so eloquent that the Greek people in Asia Minor were trying to sacrifice bulls to him – they thought St. Paul was Hermes and St. Barnabas was Zeus! St. Barnabas was present at the Council of Jerusalem, where he lobbied for a dispensation from circumcision and dietary laws for the gentiles he was preaching to. So thank St. Barnabas the next time you eat bacon!

Not much is known about St. Barnabas after the Scriptural references in St. Paul’s letters and the Acts of the Apostles. Some stories have him as the first Bishop of Milan. Others have him preaching in Alexandria, and others Rome, where he supposedly converted St. Clement, who as you recall from a previous article, was the fourth pope. Some Early Christian Fathers say that he wrote a document called the Epistle of Barnabas, but evidence suggests that it was written a century later by some quasi-Christian factions. The document is very harsh on Jews, which seems odd, given that he had been a Jew (and a Levite at that!), and it is no wonder this document was not included among the inspired texts of the New Testament.

Traditions hold that he was martyred in Cyprus, his native country. The story goes that he was attacked by Jewish leaders who were annoyed by and jealous of his success as he was preaching in their synagogues. He was stoned to death by the crowds, bearing witness to Christ. His cousin St. Mark was present for his martyrdom, and buried his body there. Today, St. Barnabas is considered the patron of Cyprus (of course), peacemakers, and of all things, is invoked against hailstorms. So there you go.

See you next week as we head back to the Early Church Fathers!

St. Matthias: Patron Saint of Gambling and Casino Boats (Not Really)

MatthiasPoor St. Matthias. Unfortunately, it seems he will forever be known as “the guy who replaced Judas”. My goal this week, however, is to show you that he actually offered quite a bit in service to the Church!

Not a whole lot is known about St. Matthias before he was chosen as an apostle. He was probably one of the seventy-two disciples of Jesus who had been with him from the baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist all the way to the Ascension. It seems pretty clear that he had heard much of the public teaching of Jesus in person, and was familiar with what it meant to be an apostle.

Of course, St. Matthias is known for replacing Judas as the twelfth apostle. In the Acts of the Apostles 1:15-26, he is chosen to assume that ministry and be a coworker of St. Peter. The choice came down to being between him and a certain Joseph, called Barsabas. Both were chosen as candidates because they had accompanied Jesus most of the time, but also because they were superior examples of holiness of life. The choice was drawn by lot, so as to be entrusted to the Holy Spirit, and what do you know, St. Matthias won!

Not much else is known about him, other than from legends and stories. Unfortunately, not too many of these are reliable in his case, as they are sometimes contradictory or far-fetched. Still, some are rather interesting, and probably have a basis in the truth. St. Matthias is said to have begun his preaching in Judea, but as with most of the apostles, he expanded further out. Some traditions suggest that he went to the area called “Ethiopia” (not that one, the other one) in present day Georgia (also not that one, the other one) in the Caucasus region. One story says he was crucified, while another says he preached to the barbarians and cannibals there (yikes!) before travelling to Armenia and dying of old age. Still another tradition holds that he never left Judea, and was stoned to death in Jerusalem before being beheaded. Despite these seemingly contradicting traditions, the Church continues to celebrate St. Matthias as a martyr, and I suppose that’s what matters.

Little remains of the words or writings of St. Matthias, other than some quotations taken from his work by some of the early Church Fathers. One old tradition remains, however, which is to say that the Feast of St. Matthias on May 14 is the luckiest day of the year, because…you know…Matthias was chosen by lot… (those Church Fathers are so witty). So go buy a lottery ticket on May 14 – just remember your 10%!

The Great Apostle: Part II

"The Martyrdom of St. Paul" by Jacopo Tintoretto
“The Martyrdom of St. Paul” by Jacopo Tintoretto

If you recall, last week we began looking at the life of St. Paul. He went from being “Saul”, the persecutor of the infant Church, to “Paul”, one of the greatest apostles the Church has ever seen! God must really have a sense of humor, right? Without his desire to persecute Christians in Damascus, and without his subsequent conversion, the Church wouldn’t exist as it does today.

As important as his conversion was, what happened afterward was even more important. St. Paul began his Christian life retreating to the Sinai Desert to pray, but then returned to Jerusalem to join the apostles. St. Paul is best known as a great missionary, and the Acts of the Apostles divides his journeys into three parts. The first journey was to Antioch and throughout what is now southern Turkey. He returned to participate with St. Peter and the other apostles in the Council of Jerusalem (the first of 22 ecumenical councils in the Church up to Vatican II), and then began his second journey to Tarsus, Derbe, and Lystra (also in Turkey), before going to Philippi in Macedon, the site of the famous Roman battle. Travelling south, he went through Greece, including Athens, where he preached in the famous Areopagus. He returned to Caesarea near Jerusalem, then headed back out on his third missionary journey back to strengthen the churches western coast of Turkey (any more Turkey and it would be Thanksgiving!), then back through Greece, before returning to Jerusalem.

As he returned to Judea, St. Paul’s fervent preaching upset a group of Jewish leaders so much that they rioted and attacked him. Paul only escaped them by voluntarily being taken into Roman custody, where he was imprisoned for two years. Remember last week when I told you he was a Roman citizenship? Well, it came in handy, as he took advantage of his rite of trial by the Emperor to get a free trip to Rome to preach there. After being shipwrecked along the way, he eventually made it to the Eternal City and awaited trial under house arrest, all the while writing letters to the Churches throughout the Mediterranean, the very same letters that we read at Mass today!

His martyrdom came under the reign of the Emperor Nero, who was widely known to hate Christians, even blaming them for the great fire in Rome in 64 AD…which conveniently occurred in a slum…where Nero later built a palace (just sayin’). Nero’s persecution was so brutal that he burned Christians along the roads of Rome to serve as illumination for the streets. St. Paul was martyred along with many other Christians around that time. Traditional holds that he was beheaded with a sword, considered an honorable death for a Roman citizen, which is why he is usually depicted holding a sword. In 2009, Pope Benedict announced that excavations under the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome had uncovered a sarcophagus inscribed “Paul, Apostle and Martyr” in Latin. This location was consistent with the Church’s ancient tradition of where St. Paul was buried, and the bone fragments inside were carbon dated to the 1st or 2nd centuries. It’s neat to find that even today, we have that deep connection with the apostles!

St. Paul was an extraordinary missionary, even using his sufferings, difficult circumstances, and even imprisonment as a platform to speak of his love for Christ. Probably many of us have our own struggles, and yet Christ continues to work in us to fill that emptiness. Let us pray that we can have the same love and courage as St. Paul to preach the Gospel in good times and bad!

The Great Apostle, Part I

Statue of St. Paul St. Peter's Square
Statue of St. Paul
St. Peter’s Square

And we’re back! This week’s saint is St. Paul, known as the Great Apostle. St. Paul wasn’t one of the original apostles, but we might consider him an apostle by adoption, an apostle by grace, or an apostle by influence. We know so much about him because of his epistles. In fact, 14 of the 27 letters in the New Testament are attributed to him. This is incredibly important, because not only does he pass along to us the understanding and teaching of the Church from its first days (which is quite thorough already!), but he tells us much about himself in the process. In fact, we know so much about him that I’m going to have to write this segment in two parts. Also, this will keep these shorter, and might keep the secretary from getting too mad at me…

Paul’s father was a Roman citizen, and of a certain class that his citizenship passed on to Paul as well. He was likely part of a devoutly Jewish merchant family, as Tarsus (where he was from) was one of the largest trade centers in the Mediterranean. Originally, his name was Saul, possibly after the original King Saul, who like him, was of the Jewish tribe of Benjamin.

St. Paul spent much of his childhood selling tents, which later came in handy to fund his missionary journeys. I mean, people in the ancient world loved tents! He was very educated, and steeped in the Jewish faith as a member of the Pharisee class. He studied under Gamaliel, one of the most famous rabbis in history, but he also learned Greek and studied the Greek philosophers as well, which his writings clearly reference. He was so zealous as a Pharisee that he persecuted the early Christian community, and was even present at the death of the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen.

"The Conversion of Saint Paul" by Luca Giordano
“The Conversion of Saint Paul” by Luca Giordano

Of course, his conversion on the road to Damascus is well documented, so much so that it has it’s own feast day in the Church calendar. Along the way, St. Paul was blinded, knocked off his horse, and heard a voice crying out, “Saul, Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” It was indeed Jesus, who felt the persecution of his Church as his own. Christ told Paul to go to Damascus and meet Ananias, another Christian, who would teach him the ways of the faith, almost like a primordial RCIA program. Good thing our RCIA team doesn’t have to heal blindness too often, eh?

The dramatic conversion of St. Paul calls us to our own continued conversion as well. It shows us that anyone, even someone like Paul who threatened and persecuted and killed the early followers of Jesus, could be saved by God’s grace. Even when we might think that we are too sinful and shameful to receive God’s forgiveness, he reaches out to us through the Sacrament of Reconciliation to bring us mercy and conversion of heart. And then, like St. Paul, he sends us out to give thanks for his mercy and courageously and joyfully live as a witness to the world. But we’ll save that part until next week. Stay tuned!

St. Jude: More Than Just a Hospital Charity

St-Jude-9Today’s saint is the feast-day buddy of St. Simon from last week. He’s called “Jude” in the Gospel of Luke and Acts of the Apostles, but “Thaddeus” in Matthew and Mark. Thus, lots of people in the Church simply refer to him as “Jude Thaddeus” to cover all their bases. He was probably actually “Judas”, but that was shortened in order to avoid confusion with another Judas who you might have heard of. Tradition holds that he was the son of Mary and Clopas, and so was the cousin of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Other than his name, there is no direct reference to him anywhere in the Gospels.

We pick up St. Jude’s story after the Resurrection…or we would, if there were any reliable texts. Tradition holds that St. Jude went to Judea, Samaria, Syria, and Mesopotamia. Supposedly, he and St. Bartholomew were the first to bring Christianity to Armenia on their missionary journeys, and so are venerated as patron saints of the Armenian Church to this day. In fact, there is a monastery in northern Iran (formerly part of Armenia) where a church was present even as early as 68 AD!

St. Jude and his partner St. Simon are spoken of in the famous story, the Golden Legend. The legend speaks of the apostles’ martyrdom by a group of enchanters/magicians who belonged to the court of King Abgarus of Edessa (in Armenia). St. Jude had been preaching to the king, and after his conversion, the magicians had been sent away, so in their anger and jealousy, they attacked and killed the two apostles. In iconography, St. Jude is sometimes depicted holding an axe to symbolize the way he was martyred. Today, his relics rest in St. Peter’s Basilica alongside his partner, St. Simon.

St. Jude has become one of the most popular Catholic devotions. He is usually pictured with a small flame atop his head, symbolizing the presence of the Holy Spirit, and wearing a pendant of the face of Christ, representing his missionary work of holding Christ in his heart and bearing him to others.

Somehow, the tradition developed of him being the patron saint of hopeless causes, although to be honest, I’m not sure why. There have certainly been numerous powerful miracles through his intercession, even from the early days of the Church. One example was the life of famous 40’s and 50’s comedian Danny Thomas. Early on in his career, he was very near starvation, but was so moved by a homily on Sunday that he gave away all he had in the collection basket – except he didn’t realize it! When he discovered that he had nothing left, he prayed that St. Jude would protect him and help him be successful, and sure enough, it happened! Danny Thomas became extremely successful and pledged to build a hospital in St. Jude’s honor, which now stands in Memphis, Tennessee.

It’s worth reminding ourselves that even when things fall apart around us, when we have a strong faith, nothing is impossible for God. St. Jude surely learned that in his time following Jesus, and he lived it out in his preaching and ultimately sacrifice. Let’s pray that we would have hope, and that through St. Jude’s intercession, God would accomplish the impossible through us!

By the way, if you’re interested in donating to St. Jude Hospital, you can do so here!

 

St. Simon the Zealot

morattiSimonWell, with nine of the original twelve apostles down, that brings us to St. Simon the Zealot. St. Simon is referred to as the “zealot” to distinguish him from Simon Peter, but really, there’s not a whole lot known about him from the Gospels. Much of what we believe is extrapolated from that little nickname!

Some Church Fathers identified St. Simon as being from Cana in Galilee, although many modern scholars seem to think a mistake in translation led such Fathers as St. Jerome to make this assumption. Some Easter Christians hold the tradition that St. Simon was the bridegroom at the wedding feast in Cana where Jesus turned water into wine, and that he was so moved by the miracle and so “zealous”, that he left his new bride to follow Christ. Sounds like the beginning of a great romantic comedy!

Other traditions hold that the title “zealot” indicates that he was a devout and zealous follower of the Jewish Law before he met Jesus. Still other traditions take that a step further and suggest that his devotion to the Law actually drove him to be a member of the Jewish revolutionary group known as the Zealots.

The Zealots tried to stir up the people of the Roman province of Judea to rebel against the Empire by force of arms. We might consider them to be the spiritual successors to the Maccabees, who did the same thing against the Greeks 160 years before. Their belief was that only God was the king of Israel, and the Law of Moses was their only law, and so the Roman occupiers were not only politically harmful, they were also spiritually desecrating Israel by their rule. This all came to a head in the Great Jewish Revolt from 66 to 70 AD, which ultimately resulted in the Temple being destroyed by the Romans. If St. Simon was part of this group, it is assumed that he gave up this part of his life when he began following Jesus.

After the Resurrection, St. Simon’s life is just as foggy. Most traditions hold that he did his missionary work with St. Jude Thaddeus (who we will discuss next week). Unfortunately for historians, pretty much every region of the world claims St. Simon preached to them (zealot indeed!), although the most likely destinations are Egypt, North Africa, Persia and Lebanon. One of the more popular Church traditions is that he was named Bishop of Jerusalem for a time, and was martyred doing missionary work in that region. Often times, he is depicted in art holding a saw, which supposedly was the instrument of his martyrdom! Intense! Today, his relics are believed to be entombed alongside St. Jude’s in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.

Maybe the most important quality that we can take away from what little we know of St. Simon’s life is what he is known for – his zeal. Generally speaking, zeal is a great enthusiasm or energy that drives one toward a cause or goal. In the case of St. Simon and many of the saints, his zeal was a zeal for souls, spreading the Gospel to all the nations, just as the Lord had commissioned him. It’s so easy to put other needs and concerns ahead of our faith, but the example of St. Simon and the saints is that all of the affairs of our lives ultimately continue to direct us toward our most important goal – Heaven. Let us pray through the intercession of St. Simon that we might have his zeal in every aspect of our lives!

St. Matthew, Publican and Apostle

Statue of St. Matthew from the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran in the Vatican
Statue of St. Matthew from the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran in the Vatican

Today we come to one of the better known apostles, St. Matthew, also known as Levi in the Gospels of Mark and Luke. St. Matthew was known primarily for being a tax collector, and it was while he was sitting at his post in Capernaum when Jesus called him. It’s actually more accurate for us to think of Matthew as a “publican”, an official position in the Roman Empire. Publicans were despised by their fellow Jews because their job meant that they collaborated with the occupying Romans. Publicans were contractors, overseeing public building projects and other goings-on. But yes, they were mostly known for collecting taxes.

Being a publican was very profitable. Taxes in the Empire didn’t work as they do today, but instead, the Roman officials approximated how much tax a province could handle, and the publican would manage the payment. The sum paid to Rome was actually treated as a loan, and the publicans would receive interest on that payment in the end. Also, the publican kept any excess tax collected beyond the requested sum, so there was extra incentive for the publican to collect. You can imagine why it was considered a rather greedy profession.

The fact that St. Matthew turned away from an incredibly profitable life as a publican to follow Jesus makes his conversion all the more powerful. He even held a “going away party” of sorts, inviting all of his friends – who were also publicans, because everyone else hated him. But Jesus clearly gives his reasons for calling Matthew as an apostle: “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Even as a sinner, St. Matthew was empowered by Christ to do wonderful things. He became an eyewitness to the Resurrection, and afterward, spent his time serving the communities of Palestine. Perhaps he was making amends for his previous life, but he selflessly served his Hebrew brothers and sisters until he moved elsewhere. Where exactly he went, we don’t know. Some sources mention Persia, others Macedonia, and others Syria. Almost all mention that he preached in Ethiopia…but not that Ethiopia. The Ethiopia Matthew went to was south of the Caspian Sea, near Armenia. I guess they didn’t know the name “Ethiopia” had already been taken!

The tradition of the Church is that Matthew was martyred like so many of his apostle brothers, but there is disagreement as to how or where. Whether he was burned, stoned, or beheaded, suffice to say that it wasn’t pretty, but he did it to give witness to Christ. Today, what are believed to be his remains rest in the Cathedral of Salerno, Italy.

St. Matthew doesn’t seem to have as many fancy stories as the other apostles, but his primary contribution as an evangelist was authoring the Gospel bearing his name. It was written in Aramaic, the language of his people, and then translated later into Greek. We are not exactly sure when it was written (there were no copyright pages then), but probably very early, possibly even 10 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus!

The transformation of Matthew from a man of selfishness and greed to a man of generous and loving service is a great example for us today. It’s easy for us to get down on ourselves for our weaknesses, believing that we are not good enough for God, but like St. Matthew, Christ calls us to follow him, especially as sinners. Let us continue to pray that we would embrace that call to live and spread the Gospel, just as St. Matthew did!

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!