2011
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“How do you know me?”: St. Bartholomew’s vocation

Cana, 24th August

Looking at the present-day town of Cana in the Galilee, which is traditionally identified with Kafr Kanna, slightly further north of Nazareth, with its spring where until a few years ago the women would go to fetch water, it is not difficult to imagine what it was like in the time of Jesus. It is very small and quiet, with its white houses that look on to the main street, along which there is, just before the Greek Orthodox church, the Latin shrine of Mary’s Mediation, with its red dome and its two bell-towers, built by the Franciscans in 1881 on the ruins of an older sacred building. Pilgrims come here to commemorate the first miracle by Jesus and narrated in the Gospel according to St. John, the transformation of water into wine at a wedding (John 2,1-12). Many couples still come here today to consecrate their love and entrust their project to found a family to God, hoping to receive a special blessing on the most beautiful day of their lives.

In Cana another event from the early days of the ministry of Jesus is also commemorated, the vocation of St. Bartholomew (Nathanael), which is also mentioned in the Gospel of St. John (John 1,43-51). A native of Cana (John 21,2), Nathanael (in Hebrew God has given; gift of God) is mentioned in old lists of the twelve Apostles with his patronymic, Bartholomew (in Aramaic bar Talmay, i.e. son of Talmay), and generally placed next to his friend Phillip (Mt 10,3; Mk 3,18; Lk 6,14). In Cana, on the same street in the centre, about fifty metres on from the Latin shrine, there is the small Franciscan church dedicated to the apostle Bartholomew. In the lower part of the altar, a bas-relief commemorates the vocation of Nathanael, whilst on the wall behind the altar there is a large painting showing his martyrdom, which according to tradition took place by flaying. On the feast day of St. Bartholomew, 24th August, the small Arab Christian community of Cana, joined by pilgrims passing through, gathered in the small church dedicated to the Apostle for a solemn Holy Mass, celebrated by the Franciscan parish priest of the town, Father Pierfrancesco Maria, and animated by liturgical songs in Arabic. The Holy Mass was served by one of the participants in the recent World Youth Day in Madrid. The ceremony took place in a climate of serenity and great hospitality, which continued in the simple festive moment that followed the celebration.

The story of Nathanael becomes emblematic of the very special relationship that Jesus established with each man, with the intimacy of the heart which can provoke the genuine “leap of faith” that can radically change a life. Nathanael’s vocation, observed Father Pierfrancesco Maria of Cana, follows an original dynamic compared with that of the other Apostles mentioned at the beginning of the Gospel according to St. John. Phillip of Bethsaida is the only one Jesus called directly to follow him (Jn 1,43), whilst two other disciples joined Jesus on the suggestion of John the Baptist, who described Jesus to them as the “lamb of God” (Jn 1,36). One was Andrew, who immediately called his brother Simon Peter and the other was John the Evangelist, who was always to remember the time of his vocation, 4 o’clock in the afternoon (or the Roman tenth hour), as a full and complete moment.

Phillip also immediately invited his friend Nathanael to follow Jesus, but his first reaction was one of scorn and prejudice for that man from Nazareth from which nothing good could come (Jn 1,46). Jesus surprises Nathanael when they meet, responding to the latter’s diffidence with the purity of His eyes which understand the authentic depth of people, brings them out of anonymity and makes them a presence in a dialogue of substance. Jesus shows that he knows the virtues of the heart of Nathanael, the essential inclination of his soul, his love for the Scriptures, on which he would meditate under the fig tree, the symbol of the Jewish people and his thirst for the truth. Like a real friend, Jesus “renders justice” to this cultivated and enthusiastic man, recognizes his qualities and moral sensitivities and helps him to be himself even more, even freer, making the fundamental step from faith in the Scriptures to faith in a person, Jesus, “God who saves”. In his limpid profession of faith (Jn 1,49) Nathanael penetrates the mystery of the Messianic nature of Jesus with great insight and long before the profession of faith of Peter in Caesarea.

In his simple everyday life, Nathanael was actively waiting for this “dialogue of life”, this meeting that would reveal the essence of his humanity. The search for the Truth can thus become a discussion between people and dialogue accomplishes the best of its generating potential. After the dialogue with Jesus, Nathanael was changed forever, with that existential union at the origin of a new trust and a new willingness to share the highest ideals with the Master, a confirmation of the spirit and a reinforcement of the character, openness to contemplate the Eternal who becomes closer in the simplicity and poverty of existence.

By Caterina Foppa Pedretti
Photos by Marco Gavasso

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