Unless you attend Mass pretty regularly, you have probably not had a great deal of exposure to the feasts of the Apostles, and the stories of their lives. So, today, instead of a sermon in the normal sense of the word, I would like to tell you what we know about today's saint, Bartholomew.
But first, I would like to ask you to take the time to write to your congressmen and senators about the court order in Alabama, forcing the chief justice, Roy Moore, to remove a stone representation of the Ten Commandments from the grounds of the court house. I am sure you all know that the authority of all earthly governments comes from on high -- and that all governmental legitimacy depends on how closely its laws approximate the natural laws of God. In our civilization, going back perhaps 3,000 years, the Ten Commandments represent that divine law. To repudiate them strikes at the very legitimacy of government itself.
And while you have pen in hand, I would also ask you to contact the Governor, asking him to intervene in the case of Terri Shiavo, a young woman who has had some rather suspicious physical problems, and whose husband wants to discontinue feeding her, despite strong objection from the rest of her family.1
But, if I may, just a few words about the feast day:
The name "Bartholomew" is certainly a patronymic -- one of those names that identifies a person by giving the name of his father. Bartholomew would have been the son of Tholomais. Scripture scholars are rather united in saying that our saint is also the one called Nathaniel in the Gospels -- so we are celebrating the feast of Naathaniel the son of Tholomais.
We encounter Bartholomew at the beginning of Saint John's Gospel.2 Our Lord has called Andrew and Peter and Philip to be his apostles -- and then Philip goes and tells his friend Nathaniel: "We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and the Prophets wrote, Jesus the son of Joseph of Nazareth." Nathaniel, Tholomais' son, was skeptical at first, but he was quickly won over to Jesus, who seemed to be impressed with him in return, referring to him as "a true Israelite, in whom there is not guile' (no deception, no dishonesty. Jesus promised him that he would live to "see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man" -- probably a prediction that he would see our Lord's Ascension into Heaven. Bartholomew, thus, is among the first of the apostles called by our Lord.
When it came time for the apostles to separate and carry the Word of God to different lands, Bartholomew traveled through parts of India, Persia, and Armenia. The success of his preaching in Armenia was the cause of his martyrdom, for having converted the King Polymius and his wife and a large number of others, he inspired the jealousy of the pagan priests. The King's brother saw an opportunity for self advancement, and had Bartholomew put to death horribly, first stripping him of his skin before beheading him. This guile-less man from Galilee won the palm of martyrdom at Albanopolis, on the western shore of the Caspian Sea.
Even in death, though, he did not rest. His remains were moved several times, before ultimately being brought by the Emperor Otto III, to Rome, where a church was built in his honor on an island in the Tiber River.
"In art, Saint Bartholomew is portrayed as a bearded, sometimes middle-aged, sometimes venerable man, with a book and a butcher's knife used for his flaying. At times he holds his own flayed skin. Bartholomew is the patron of bookbinders, butchers, corn-chandlers, dyers, glovers, furriers, leather-workers, plasterers, shoemakers, tailors, tanners, vine-growers, and Florentine salt and cheese merchants. He is invoked against nervous disorders and twitchings."3
Today's Gospel mentions all of the apostles.4 That is fitting because they all met with a similar end. Except for Judas who betrayed our Lord, they were all hard working, but common men. Except for Saint John, they all died the martyr's death -- and, even though John lived to ripe old age, he was afflicted by serious persecution and exile. Except for Judas, they shared a common zeal for our Lord Jesus Christ. That zeal enabled them to begin the conversion of the known world. Let us pray on this feast of a holy apostle, that God will send that same zeal to our bishops and priests and to ourselves -- let us pray that this world, grown so cold with indifference to God and his moral Law, be rekindled with the zeal of the apostles.