St Bartholomew was one of the twelve apostles and gave his life in witness to Christ as a martyr. We may accept the common opinion that he is the same as Nathaniel who is mentioned in the first chapter St John’s Gospel. There, Nathaniel is told by St Philip that they have found the one about whom Moses and the prophets wrote, and that He is Jesus of Nazareth. Nathaniel was sceptical and said “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” St Philip invites him to “Come and see.” (Jn 1.45-50)
When Jesus saw Nathaniel, He said that he was an “Israelite without guile” – perhaps in modern slang, “an honest, down-to-earth bloke.” Nathaniel was immediately converted by Our Lord and said “Rabbi, thou art the Son of God, thou art the King of Israel.” Jesus promised him that he would see greater things – as indeed he did: as a witness to the teaching, miracles, death and resurrection of the Lord. He was one of the apostles who saw Jesus on the shore of the sea of Tiberias after He had risen from the dead. (Jn 21.2)
The historian Eusebius says that St Bartholomew went as a missionary to India where he left behind a copy of St Matthew’s gospel. Other traditions record him as serving as a missionary in Ethiopia, Mesopotamia, Parthia, and Lycaonia, as well as Greater Armenia where he is greatly venerated. In modern political geography, that would be much of Iraq, north-eastern Syria, and part of Iran, with central Turkey, Armenia, and much of modern Georgia and Azerbaijan. Such missionary journeys, like St Paul’s (and those of the modern traveller) would see warm hospitality, interspersed at times with significant dangers.
The strongest tradition is that St Bartholomew was martyred in Albanopolis* in ancient Greater Armenia, (modern day Azerbaijan) by being flayed alive and then crucified head-downward.
So let us apply the lesson of the life of St Bartholomew to the Holy Eucharist which is the focus I have chosen for this month. We can learn first of all from St Barthlomew’s simplicity: Our Lord Himself spoke of him as an honest and undeceiving man, and his immediate response of trusting faith is an example for us to follow. Our Lord teaches us straightforwardly in the sixth chapter of St John’s gospel that He is the bread of life and that we must eat His flesh and drink His blood in order to draw our spiritual life from Him. Therefore we kneel before the Blessed Sacrament and say simply and humbly, “My Lord and my God.”
Christ promised St Bartholomew that He would see greater things, and so He did. Not only did he see the risen Lord on the shore of Tiberias, he is now joined with the twelve who are the foundations stones of the heavenly Jerusalem, and the martyrs in white robes who see the risen Christ in glory in heaven. Holy Communion is the bread of eternal life and a pledge of future glory.
When we receive Holy Communion and are united with Christ here on earth, we must look forward eagerly to seeing Him in glory in heaven.
Today we must also pray for those Christians in the lands where St Bartholomew preached, who are suffering persecution. There have been many new martyrs in recent months. May their prayers join with those of the holy apostle, for peace, and the restoration of the Church so that in every age the invitation may be made without fear of violence to “Come and see” our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Sermon given by Fr Finigan for the 21st Sunday of the year (A). Our Lady of the Rosary. 24 August 2014
* Here is a link to a Google map of “Where the Apostles died” according to tradition.