Have you ever wondered or thought about how people got their names?  With us, the explanation is fairly obvious.  We were given our first names by our parents.  And we inherited our last names from our fathers, just as they did from their fathers.  But there was a time when most people had only one name.  The world was younger.  The population was smaller.  People moved less – spent all of their lives in the same place.  One name was enough.

                If two people in the same village ended up with the same name, then it became necessary to distinguish between them.  John the farmer became John Farmer.  John the blacksmith became John Smith.  Thus, family names or last names began to appear.

                Of equal fascination is the origin of nicknames.  These are usually given by family, or friends, or foes to describe some outstanding characteristics of a particular person.  This was a common practice in the Bible.  One such example was Barnabas, which means “son of encouragement.”  He was that kind of man.  He encouraged people.  That was his reputation.

                He did that for St. Paul.  It seems strange to us now, but St. Paul had a hard time finding acceptance within the Church.  People were afraid of him.  His original name was Saul.  He had been a Pharisee.  And among all the enemies of the Christian faith, Saul was probably the most fierce and fanatical.  He was ruthless in his efforts to destroy the Church.

                Then a strange thing happened.  Saul, himself, was converted and became a Christian.  But his prior reputation was not easy to shake.  It followed him wherever he went.  When he returned to Jerusalem and tried to join the Christians there, they turned their backs and walked away.  In that critical moment, when the life and ministry of a great man hung in the balance, it was Barnabas who came to the rescue.  He took Paul by the hand and led him into fellowship with the Church.

                Aren’t we glad that Paul stayed on?  Whenever we read or listen to one of the many letters that he wrote to and for the Church, we should credit Barnabas with an assist.  He was the one who paved the way for Paul.  Would Paul have been lost to the Christian faith had it not been for the encouragement of Barnabas?  Who knows?

                We need many Barnabases in our church today – people who know how to encourage other people in their Catholic faith.  The problem in the Church today is not exactly the same as it was in the days of St. Paul.  We are not inclined to freeze people out of our fellowship because we fear them.  Our tendency today is to lose people from our fellowship, because we forget them.  They simply drop by the wayside.  We don’t see them for a few weeks.  We wonder about them occasionally.  But after a while the principle of “out of sight, out of mind” takes over, and the dropouts are quietly forgotten.  By this process more than any other, many priceless people are lost to the Catholic faith and to the Church.

                So where is Barnabas?  We hear and read a lot about the shortage of priests in the Church today.  And that shortage is real.  But if we had a full staff of priests in every parish, they alone could not do what is needed.  We would still need Barnabas and his kind – those warm-hearted men and women who will take lonely people by the hand and lead them back into the fellowship of the Church.

                You see, not many people are shamed into faith.  Fewer still are frightened into it.  Most people are drawn into it by someone who truly cares for them.  And that is where Barnabas enters the picture.  What the Church needs is an army of encouragers.  Who can say what difference genuine friendship might make in the life of any person?

                Will you be Barnabas for another person today?