Memorial of Saint Barnabas, Apostle
Acts 11:21b – 26; 13:1-3
The first violin in an orchestra, also called the concertmaster, is the leader not only of the string section, but of the entire orchestra. Just before a performance, the first violin leads the orchestra in tuning to make sure that all the instruments are in harmony. The first violin, subordinate only to the conductor, sits to the conductor’s left, closest to the audience. The first violin no doubt must have the most challenging, most important role in an orchestra.
American conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein was asked which instrument was most difficult to play. After some thought, he replied, "The second fiddle. I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find someone who can play the second fiddle with enthusiam — that is a problem. And if we have no second fiddle, we have no harmony."
Anyone willing to play second fiddle? The Church, the Body of Christ, needs lots of them. Barnabas, whose memorial we celebrate today, might be called the patron saint of "second fiddles." In the Acts of the Apostles, Barnabas surfaces as an important leader in the early Church, encouraging and building up the Body of Christ.
One of those individuals he took under his wing was a man named Saul, who not many years earlier had been a hunter and zealous persecutor of Christians. The fear of Paul’s murderous threats toward them was still very much a reality when Barnabas took Paul to the apostles and vouched for him, encouraged him. But before long, Saul was transformed. He became Paul, one of the giants of the Church, a concertmaster. And Barnabas — he gradually faded into the shadow of Paul, to play second fiddle.
Yet, one can only wonder if Paul would have made it without Barnabas. Paul needed the enthusiam, the encouragement, the harmony of Barnabas. In fulling his mission, Barnabas touched the life of Paul and of countless people through the ages. Like salt that seasons and brings out the full flavor of the main dish, Barnabas brought out the flavor of the Gospel to the world.
We too have a mission — no exceptions. We too are called to embrace the primary characteristic of our identity, which is proclaimed in the Gospel and reaffirmed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "Its mission is to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world." We must not lose or give up our ability to season the world with the life of Christ.
Sometimes, we may be called to share our gift by leading. Other times, like Barnabas, we may be called to play second fiddle and to encourage harmony within the Body of Christ. If there is no second fiddle, there is no harmony. But at all times, we are called to proclaim the good news to all — taking our cue from the Master Conductor.
Deacon Manuel Valencia is on the staff at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.