The Catholic Defender: The Apostle St. Bartholomew, follower of Christ
St. Bartholomew was one of the original 12 Apostles of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. His name literally means "son of Tolomai", born in the "House of Tolomai" from Cana of Galilee.
Bartholomew most certainly knew the Bride Groom and guests at the famed wedding feast of Cana when Jesus performed His first public Miracle (John 2:1-11).
At the time of Jesus, Cana and Galilee in general had a strong economy based on the fishing industry. No doubt St. Bartholomew lived within the means of his household, but because of his friendship with St. Phillip, he had an encounter with Jesus that would change his life forever. St. John knew St. Bartholomew and lists him in his Gospel as "Nathanael" in respect to his strong faith and reliance on God.
At that time, there were many reports of messiahs and there were problems with the leaders of Israel, they were under Roman Rule and despair was a temptation. At one point, St. Bartholomew told his friend, St. Philip, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see." What St. Bartholomew did not know was that St. Philip had already met Jesus a couple of days before.
John 1:47 States, "Jesus saw Nathana-el coming to him, and said of him, "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!" Think about that for a second, wouldn't that be great for Jesus to think of you that way? St. Bartholomew must of been strong in faith and conviction. From that time on St. Bartholomew would be counted with the 12 Apostles (Matthew 10:1-4, Mark 3:13-19, Luke 6:12-16).
St. Bartholomew was very amazed with Jesus asking him, "How do you know me?" Jesus answered him, "Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you." Obviously, St. Bartholomew understood this revelation by Jesus as a call to follow Him. This was apparently a point that no one would have known St. Bartholomew was near this fig tree except those who were there. Yet, Jesus had knowledge of this and it is important that Jesus said "Before Philip called you". At least St. Bartholomew's reaction gives that presumption, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" (John 1:47,49)
Think about this for a moment, this encounter with Jesus had to be powerful to St. Bartholomew, it was an encounter that he had been praying for, was open to, and was ready for. Like Jesus told Philip "Come follow Me" St. Bartholomew likewise followed Our Lord. Can you imagine the joy at this moment St. Philip must of had? Do you know this feeling by bringing someone to Jesus and they decide to follow Jesus today? They join the RCIA and begin this journey of faith and like St. Philip, you walk with them in this journey? What joy this is!
Jesus taught St. Bartholomew as one of the Twelve, his devotion, prayer, and conviction placed him in all of the events of Jesus public Ministry found in the New Testament. St. Bartholomew, through his deep faith, was able to recognize something special with Jesus, he was awaiting the Messiah as was St. Philip.
They knew well the Old Testament writings and prayed over them all their lives which Jesus opened their eyes. We can certainly learn some good practices today as we seek to follow Jesus today, to know our faith, love our faith, and spread our faith.
For three years the Apostles walked with the Lord, they were sent to do His will bringing the good news to the towns throughout Judea. They saw the miracles, Jesus walking on water, calming the storm, feeding the thousands with just a couple of fish and bread. St. Bartholomew was right there with St. Philip when St. Andrew brought forward a young boy who had five barley loaves and two fish. They witnessed Jesus feeding thousands of people and still had 12 baskets with fragments coming from the five barley loaves, and two fish.
Jerusalem would be the site of where the Apostles were tested as Jesus endured his passion and death. They were scattered for fear of the Jews and Romans beginning in the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 47:56). But Jesus was raised from the dead as he foretold, St. Bartholomew was in the upper room when Jesus appeared to His Apostles (John 20:19-23).
St. Bartholomew was with the other Apostles fishing (John 21:1-14) when Jesus appears on the lake shore of Tiberias and calls out to them. Again, another miracle of fish. There were 153 fish caught representing all the nations, tribes, and peoples of the earth and the one net represents the Church without schism, without division (John 21:11).
Jesus would remain with His Apostles for 40 days when he Ascends into Heaven, this is the last mentioning of St. Bartholomew by name found in the New Testament (Acts 1:13), but we know he was present at the Council of Jerusalem in 49 A.D. (Acts 15, Galatians 2).
According to St. Eusebius (283-371), he states of St. Bartholomew that he went to India carrying a copy of the Gospel of Matthew. It is also reported St. Bartholomew went to Ethiopia, Mesopotamia, Parthia, and Lycaonia and finally Armenia.
Because of St. Bartholomew and fellow traveler, St. Jude Thaddeus success in converting the people to Christ, King Polymius went out to hear St. Bartholomew speak and himself was converted. This conversion so outraged King Polymius brother, Astyages that he secretly had St. Bartholomew arrested and brought to Abanopolis on the west coast of the Caspian Sea and tortured. Because the Apostle would not deny Christ or the Catholic Church, Astages had St. Bartholomew flayed alive and crucified upside down. Another story includes St. Bartholomew was also beheaded.
Do you think that Astyges won the day? Many miracles were reported after St. Bartholomew's death as it had been before. Soon, the people of Abanopolis began doing processions remembering their beloved Saint. A silver statue was made of St. Bartholomew which they carried towards town from where he was martyred. On one occasion, as they carried the statue, it became very heavy. The young men had to set the statue down. Then once again they resumed the procession as the towns people followed on, but the statue again because it became so heavy that again, the men had to set the statue down again. For a third time, they attempted to lift the statue and this time, they could barely pick it up, but within moments the walls leading into the town collapsed not far from where the procession was moving. Had they proceeded through without hindrance, many would have died in the collapse of walls.
Moving far into the future, during World War ll, the local government was looking for ways to raise money for the war effort when they wanted to melt down the statue of St. Bartholomew. But upon weighing the statue, it weighed only a few grams. As a result, the people who wanted to keep the statue won the day placing it back in the Cathedral of Lipari, the place of St, Bartholomew's martyrdom. The miracle is that the statue weighs actually several kilograms. Knowing this actually makes the first miracle that much more amazing.
The site of St. Bartholomew's Martyrdom, the Province of Armenia is now Southeastern Turkey.
Jesus told His Apostles, "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth." The Greek word for witness is "martus" which is where the English word "Martyr" is taken. Today, St. Bartholomew holds a place of honor in Heaven, "And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (Revelation 21:14)
The Catholic Church is built on this foundation (Ephesians 2:19-20) and St. Bartholomew's feast day is August 24.
Bartholomew or Nathanael? We are confronted again with the fact that we know almost nothing about most of the apostles. Yet the unknown ones were also foundation stones, the 12 pillars of the new Israel whose 12 tribes now encompass the whole earth. Their personalities were secondary—without thereby being demeaned—to their great office of bearing tradition from their firsthand experience, speaking in the name of Jesus, putting the Word Made Flesh into human words for the enlightenment of the world. Their holiness was not an introverted contemplation of their status before God. It was a gift that they had to share with others. The Good News was that all are called to the holiness of being Christ’s members, by the gracious gift of God.
The simple fact is that humanity is totally meaningless unless God is its total concern. Then humanity, made holy with God’s own holiness, becomes the most precious creation of God.