Image: Youth of Paulatuk
Today we celebrate the memorial of Saint Barnabas, an early member of the Christian community and a martyr for the faith. Barnabas was the one who welcomed Paul into the community after Paul’s conversion, which took a great deal of courage when others were still very much afraid of the man who had so zealously persecuted the Christians. Barnabas and Paul traveled and worked together for many years preaching the word of God among the gentile people.
Barnabas was a name given to the missionary; his original name was Joseph. Apparently, there was something about his personality that made an impression on people as Barnabas means “Son of Encouragement”. This trait is certainly present as Barnabas stuck out his neck to welcome Paul into the fold and we see it again in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles.
Barnabas, we are told “saw the Grace of God”, he rejoiced when he saw all the new converts and told them, “Remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion.”
Complaining is easy. When the going gets tough it is easy to criticize and to question the way things are being done. It is so refreshing when someone comes along and tries to lift people up, who looks on the positive side and tries to lend a hand instead of taking the wind out of our sails. This is what we call encouragement. The word encouragement means just like it sounds, to give someone courage, to take away someone’s fear.
In the Gospel today the disciples need all the encouragement they can get as Jesus sends them out into the world. I remember well, being given my first construction project to look after by myself after having been learning at my dad’s side. It was daunting to think that I would have to be the one responsible for its successful completion as well as any unforeseen problems along the way. It is not uncommon to feel that we are not up to the task that is placed before us when we are trying something for the first time.
My Dad was great, he encouraged me not by coddling me, not by diminishing the challenge that lay ahead, but by expressing his confidence in me and reminding me that I had the skills and experience to the get the job done. And, if there were any problems he would not be far away, and he would be there to help. Likewise, Jesus encourages the apostles as he sends them on sharing some advice and some of his experience with them, letting them know that they could do this and that, even if it were difficult, there was no reason to be afraid.
Anyone can give an encouraging word, at a baseball game a thousand eager fans are shouting encouragement at the batter that he can hit a home-run, but the best encouragement has to be more than just words. True encouragement comes from someone we trust and who knows us. Someone who knows what we are capable of so that when they say, “I know you can do this”, we know they are telling us the truth.
When we look around our communities, our young people are really in need of encouragement. They face so many pressures and challenges that are new to them. The world is changing so quickly they sometimes find themselves without solid ground to stand on. With love and gentle words, you can do a great service by encouraging a young person in your life. Talk to them about the gifts that you see in them, let them know that they are capable of doing so much with their life and that they have your support and help with whatever they might face.