February 19: Barbatus–Fool me once, but not twice!

    Barbatus (or, sometimes, Barbas) exemplifies a trait that, interestingly, Butler does not lift up as a reason for canonization but which seems the most telling of the biography presented. Barbatus, from very early on, was a good-natured, earnest, sheltered, scripture-reading, innocent, pure, virtuous, and talented young man who became a priest at the youngest age possible at the very first moment that the canons of the church would allow.

    So into his first church he goes, only to find out that all his innocence, kindness, purity, and devotion were quite unwelcome to his congregants. They branded him as a trouble-making firebrand with no respect for their ways. They were resistant to his teachings. They treated him maliciously. But young Barbatus just met all of this miserable treatment with meekness, a smile, and a determination to proceed in a godly and righteous fashion. This of course proved disastrous, professionally speaking. Butler writes of the parishioners, “Finding their malice conquered by his patience and humility, and his character shining still more bright, they had recourse to slanders, in which, such was their virulence and success, that he was obliged to withdraw his charitable endeavours amongst them.”

    At least there came a time when Barbatus agreed that enough abuse was enough. And he learned from his experience!

    The next parish that Barbatus served, he showed that he had learned from his first time at the rodeo. Butler tells us that these people were idolatrous, the Christians maintained the worship and veneration of a golden asp, and were likewise uninterested in Barbatus’s teachings and ministrations. So instead of meeting them all with meekness and a smile, patience and humility, he took to a much more prophetic ministry. He told them just what miseries and suffering was going to come their way if they kept acting like this. He scared the bejesus out of them and the jesus back into them.

    AND he was prepared to help with transitions–instead of simply destroying or doing away with their golden asp, Barbatus had it melted down and shaped into a chalice for use in their most sacred rituals. He found ways to ensure that what happened with his community was not merely cosmetic but effected lasting change. He also was not going to keep meeting resistance with passivity, nor was he willing to wait until being slandered out of a job. Barbatus saw that impressing his righteousness on other people was not the core of ministry, but was instead just plain annoying to people. He also discovered that letting people know just where their kinds of behaviors would lead them, being unwilling to stand between them and the consequences of their choices, but being on hand for those wanting to trade up for the better–that, that was the core of ministry.

    Lesson well learned!