In AD 79 Mt Vesuvius wiped out several cities. In 410 Alaric the Visigoth sacked Rome. In 1215 Pope Innocent III declared Magna Carta invalid. In 1582 French Catholics massacred a bunch of Huguenots. In 1812 British troops burned the White House (after eating the abandoned supper that was laid). In 1995 Windows 95 was unleashed. What do these dire events have in common? They all took place on August 24, the feast of the Apostle St Bartholomew, who is also identified as Nathanael.
St Bartholomew is depicted in art either being flayed (tormentors peeling his skin off his body while still alive) or holding a knife and sometimes his own hide, as in Michelangelo’s Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel.
I have true affection for Bartholomew, not only for the way he died (a treatment familiar to many priests of traditional leanings) but also because my first ecclesiastical office was as rector of a tiny 700-year-old church in Italy named for him along with St Peter.
Our Lord praised Bartholomew/Nathanael, saying that he had no guile. How many of us have no deceit? You will recall Christ calling him in John 1:43-51:
Philip found Nathan’a-el, and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathan’a-el said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathan’a-el coming to him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” Nathan’a-el said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathan’a-el answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (RSV)
I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the Apostle on his feast than eating, in the Italian manner and with friends, fichi e prosciutto, that is, ripe figs with prosciutto ham, both for the image of the fig tree and also for the thinly sliced strips of tasty meat. The combination is a material proof that God loves us. As we dine we can reflect on three duties incumbent on us all: pray, flay and obey. After all, we all experience little peelings in our lives, happily not as dramatic as that of St Bartholomew.
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