Memorial of St. Barnabas, Apostle
Acts of the Apostles 11:21b-26; 13:1-3; Matthew 10:7-13
At a Christmas party gift exchange, the woman next to me opened her gift and muttered, “Oh, no.” “What?” I asked. She whispered, “Two years ago, I got this from my niece. I didn’t want it, so I re-gifted it to my colleague over there. She must’ve forgotten I was the one who gave it to her, and re-gifted it to me.” That’s the first time I heard that term, “re-gifting,” but I hear it’s common: Someone gives us a gift, we open it, smile, thank them, bring it home, re-wrap it, and give it to someone else.
Then, thinking about the first reading, it occurred to me: God gives us some gifts that he wants us to re-gift. These are called “charisms” – gifts of the Holy Spirit given to us but not meant for us; they’re meant to be given away so the Church can prosper.
We see this “re-gifting” in the person of Barnabas, whose feast is today. We know little about him other than what Luke tells us. He first appears in Acts chapter 4, where he gives the proceeds of the sale of his property to the Church. Today we hear of him being sent to Antioch, going to Tarsus to find Paul, bringing him to Antioch, and working with Paul there and on his first missionary journey (Acts 13-14).
In all this, Barnabas shows at least three charisms. First, generosity. He could have done many things with his property; even if he had to sell it, he didn’t have to give the money to the Church. But he did. Second, encouragement. In Antioch, Barnabas encouraged them all to remain faithful. As a result, Luke tells us, a large number of people was added to the Lord (Acts 11:23f). Third, teaching. Along with St. Paul, Barnabas spent a year there teaching people the faith. To great effect; they brought in so many Gentiles that the disciples in Antioch were the first to be called Christians (Acts 11:26).
Of course, Barnabas isn’t alone; as St. Paul said, to each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit (1 Corinthians 12:7). So, that prompts us to ask what charisms we have. One place to start is with the gifts God gave us from birth. Perhaps we’re known as a welcoming person, one whose door is always open; or we love to teach, or to encourage others. Maybe we’ve always had a talent for bringing people together to get something done, or for being compassionate towards those who are alone or sick or suffering. Barnabas probably had several of these qualities. Still, having gifts isn’t enough; not all generous, encouraging, or bright people use their gifts to build up the Church. Going from gift to charism takes more; it takes the grace of the Holy Spirit.
You know you have a charism if someone says to you, “When you welcome (or console) me, you make me feel like I’m the only person in the world,” or, “When you teach (or sing or create artwork), you help me see God in a whole new way,” or, “You have a way of encouraging me that makes me feel like I can move mountains,” or “Under your leadership, I feel like I really belong and can make a difference.” This is evidence that the grace of God has given our natural ability a supernatural boost. Charisms make us the instruments God uses to touch people beyond mere human capacity.
Perhaps you’ve tried to use various gifts or talents but never heard this. Take heart; that doesn’t mean you have no charisms. Charisms don’t work for our glory or notoriety. Most likely, many people never said a word to Barnabas yet were edified or inspired to do what they saw him doing, whether that meant giving money, time, or talent to build up the Church. It’s also possible that you haven’t yet found the place or situation to put your gifts to work. Stay vigilant. When you find it, you will know; then it will be time to act. Again, look at Barnabas. He looked at the situation in Antioch and saw they badly needed encouragement, so he gave it. Not only that, he watched and listened enough to know that Paul was a man who, whatever people said about him, could have an impact on the Church. He seized the moment, found Paul, and brought him back. Look at the result! What would the Church be like if Barnabas had never done that?
Perhaps you are being urged by the Holy Spirit right now; perhaps there is something you’ve wanted to do, or think you may be called to do. Don’t wait. Find a way. As Jesus said to the Twelve in today’s gospel, Without cost you have received; without cost, you are to give (Matthew 10:8). Or, re-give.
St. Barnabas, pray for us.