It is fitting that we celebrate Barnabas, the ‘son of consolation’, or the ‘son of encouragement’, in this season of the Holy Spirit. For the Hebraic terminus of his name, the navi (consolation, or even prophet) after the bar (son) is one of the titles of the Third Person of the Trinity, the consoler, advocate and guide.
Indeed, for Barnabas is described in today’s readings from Acts (11:26) as a ‘good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith’. He was an invaluable companion of Saint Paul’s, accompanying him on a number of his apostolic journeys, present at the first Council at Jerusalem in 70 A.D., and is even counted amongst the early apostles, as those ‘sent’ by the Lord to convert the first wave of Jews and Gentiles to the ‘Way’ of Christianity.
Beyond these few references, we don’t know all that much for certain about Barnabas. Tertullian claims him as the author of the letter to the Hebrews, and extra-canonical writings recount his preaching the faith in Syria, where he met his martyrdom. What we do know is that we may implore his intercession for all that travails the Church in our own age, and give us what consolation and encouragement we need to keep up the good fight of the Faith.
And on that note, I won’t say much more about ‘Jonathan Morris’ – how he now styles himself, bedecked in suit and tie, set to give an interview this evening on Fox News further describing his decision to leave the priesthood, and seek wife, family all that is entailed in the felicitas domestica. Except, if I may be allowed, to reiterate that I wish he were doing all this quietly, off-scene, between him, his God and whatever spiritual advice he may be receiving. Why this need to emote and justify himself on the nation’s airwaves, which may cause scandal to those wavering in their promises of celibacy and chastity? The response of Queen Gertrude to the overacting in Hamlet’s play within the play come to mind, ‘Thou dost protest too much, methinks”.
If we are to leave Father Morris’ conscience to himself, I would ask that he return the favour, and leave the rest of the world out of his conscience.
What we do need, in the spirit of Saint Barnabas, are more examples of keeping one’s vows and promises, not less. The spirit of Jean de Brebeuf, of Saint Jean Vianney, of John Paul II. And I would add Blessed Joseph Thao Thien, (+1954), of whom I just read, a priest who refused to abandon his flock and so was captured by the Communist forces in the chaos of Cambodia. I will quote the article in this month’s edition of Columbia magazine:
‘He was arrested and led to a prison camp, passing lines of people on their knees, weeping. In prison, he was pressured to become an ordinary citizen and marry. “Whether you kill me or not,” (Joseph) said, “I will never leave the priesthood”.
We judge not Jonathan Morris’ decision – still waiting upon the Holy Father’s permission, we may add, before he gets too comfortable in the suit and tie – and we may hope and pray he finds his way, but our young people, in this case young men, need strong, virile examples of those like the early Apostles and their successors, saints, confessors, martyrs, who have forsaken the world and the good that it offers – wife, children, lands – for that ‘better part’, the spiritual joys of which, achieved through thorns and thistles and a supernatural perseverance, are ineffable, a prelude to heaven itself.