Today we celebrate the feast day of Saint Bartholomew, one of the original twelve apostles of Jesus Christ. Not much is known about Saint Bartholomew outside of what we read in the Gospels. In tradition, it is believed that Bartholomew is also Nathanial in the Gospels. The name Nathanial means – “God has given.” Many of the Apostles, like many men of the time, often had two names. They had their Hebrew name and their Greek name. Because Greek was the primary language of the time, most Jewish tradesmen or fishermen would use their Greek name for business. Their Hebrew name was used with family or in the synagogue.
It is believed that Nathanial came from the city of Cana and witnessed Jesus’ first public miracle at the wedding feast. This could be the place where Nathanial was first called by Our Lord to follow him. In the Gospel’s, Nathanial and Philip are often mentioned together. More than likely they were friends and it was Philip who told Nathanial about Jesus being the Messiah of whom the prophets and the Law spoke about in the Scriptures. When Nathanial finds out that Jesus is from Nazareth, he says, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Jn 1:46) A prejudice no doubt is what we think when we hear these words. Jesus was not only from Nazareth (an obscure town), but also from Bethlehem and Heaven itself.
Philip tells Nathanial to “come and see” for himself. Philip has already come to accept that Jesus is the Messiah and wanted his friend to experience it as well. This is a good reminder for us that we should always be open to meeting Jesus again and again. We need to “come and see” our Lord! Even when we struggle with sin and endure temptation, Our Lord is always ready for us to “come and see” him. Experiencing Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist and adoring him in Adoration are the best ways to “come and see” Him. We are blessed to not only have the words of Jesus Christ, but as Catholics, we received him – body, blood, soul and divinity.
Jesus moves Nathanial when Our Lord tells him that he saw him under the fig tree. We don’t know what happened under the fig tree for it is not recorded in the Gospels, but it was enough to make Nathanial say this man really knows me, understands life, and is someone I can trust. Similarly to Saint Peter, Nathanial makes a confession about Jesus – “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (Jn 1:49).
It is in this confession that Nathanial makes the first move to accepting Jesus as the Messiah and becoming his disciple. It’s another good reminder for us that once we accept our Lord, he will not let us go. Each time we attend Mass or go to Confession, we accept our Lord again in our life. Although Saint Bartholomew plays a small role in the Gospels, his confession about Jesus is fundamental for our relationship with Christ.
It is believed that Saint Bartholomew after Pentecost made it to Persia and possibly even as far as India to preach the Gospel. As were most of the Apostles, Saint Bartholomew was martyred. He was flayed (skinned) alive. His relics were brought to Rome by the German Emperor Otto III in 983 A.D. and have been venerated since that time.
Last school year, I taught my students at St. Dominic Savio Catholic High School about the twelve apostles. When I spoke about Saint Bartholomew, I showed them the picture to the right. Blocks A, E, and F all freaked about it and wanted me to remove the picture.
Out of all the students, there was one student in F Block (the same individual who I told not to eat Goldfish snacks during class numerous times – I eventually took the Goldfish, shared them with others and ate the rest myself…ha ha!) who could not handle the picture at all and would close their eyes and shake their head. High school is a fun age to teach. I miss it and especially those students from Savio.