‘[T]he Evangelist tells us that when Jesus sees Nathanael approaching, he exclaims: “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile!” This is praise reminiscent of the text of a Psalm: “Blessed is the man... in whose spirit there is no deceit”, but provokes the curiosity of Nathanael who answers in amazement: “How do you know me?”
Jesus’ reply cannot immediately be understood. He says: “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you”. We do not know what had happened under this fig tree. It is obvious that it had to do with a decisive moment in Nathanael’s life.
His heart is moved by Jesus’ words, he feels understood and he understands: “This man knows everything about me, he knows and is familiar with the road of life; I can truly trust this man”. And so he answers with a clear and beautiful confession of faith: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” In this confession is conveyed a first important step in the journey of attachment to Jesus.
Nathanael’s words shed light on a twofold, complementary aspect of Jesus’ identity: he is recognised both in his special relationship with God the Father, of whom he is the Only-begotten Son, and in his relationship with the People of Israel, of whom he is the declared King, precisely the description of the awaited Messiah. We must never lose sight of either of these two elements because if we only proclaim Jesus’ heavenly dimension, we risk making him an ethereal and evanescent being; and if, on the contrary, we recognise only his concrete place in history, we end by neglecting the divine dimension that properly qualifies him.
We have no precise information about Bartholomew-Nathanael’s subsequent apostolic activity. According to information handed down by Eusebius, the fourth-century historian, a certain Pantaenus is supposed to have discovered traces of Bartholomew’s presence even in India.
In later tradition, as from the Middle Ages, the account of his death by flaying became very popular. Only think of the famous scene of the Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel in which Michelangelo painted St Bartholomew, who is holding his own skin in his left hand, on which the artist left his self-portrait.
St Bartholomew’s relics are venerated here in Rome in the Church dedicated to him on the Tiber Island, where they are said to have been brought by the German Emperor Otto III in the year 983.
To conclude, we can say that despite the scarcity of information about him, St Bartholomew stands before us to tell us that attachment to Jesus can also be lived and witnessed to without performing sensational deeds. Jesus himself, to whom each one of us is called to dedicate his or her own life and death, is and remains extraordinary’.
from the general audience of 4 October 2006 by Pope Benedict XVI
O Almighty and everlasting God, who didst give to thine Apostle Bartholomew grace truly to believe and to preach thy Word: grant, we beseech thee, unto thy Church; to love that Word which he believed, and both to preach and to receive the same; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
Fr Lee Kenyon