Friday August 24, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Feast of Saint Bartholomew
Reading (Revelation 21:9b-14) Gospel (St. John 1:45-51)
As we celebrate today the feast of Saint Bartholomew, we have to remember that Bartholomew, like many people in ancient times, had two names: Bartholomew and Nathanael. That is why we hear about Nathanael in the Gospel reading today because it really is the same person. At the very end of the Gospel reading today, Our Lord says of Nathanael that he is a true Israelite; that in him there is no guile. He was single-hearted; he was focused on the Lord.
There is a prophecy from the ancient times of the Old Testament that talked about how each Israelite would have his own fig tree and be able to sit underneath it. When the Lord is touching upon this point and telling him: "I saw you under the fig tree," it sounds like a foolish point to us. Why is Nathanael saying, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God," just because Jesus said, "I saw you under the fig tree"? To us, it would be like saying: "I saw you sitting on your front porch." Well, the difference is that it had all these connotations of what it meant to be a true Israelite. That is the point.
When He was able to see that Nathanael was under the fig tree, Nathanael was there for a reason because for him that was the place where he was able to show his belief in God and the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies. When the Lord says, "I saw you under the fig tree," Nathanael recognized that he was there for a reason. That is where the Lord saw him, and that is why the Lord was able to say that. Bartholomew's response, then, is: "You are the Son of God. You are the King of Israel."
Then the Lord goes on to tell him: "You will see the heavens opened and the angels of the Lord ascending and descending upon the Son of man." He tells him that because of his singleness of heart he is going to see this wondrous thing. When we go back to the Book of Genesis, we see the same thing: the angels of the Lord ascending and descending on the place where the Lord appeared to Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel); the angels of the Lord were going up and down upon a ladder. We see that, but the point we have to understand in what the Lord is talking about in this ascending and descending is that it shows, first of all, that the Lord is the Temple of God; but also, it talks about going both directions, so it is the new Jerusalem that is being spoken of. To be able to see the angels ministering to the Lord in Heaven is to be able to see that new Jerusalem of which he would be a part; he would be one of those twelve apostles whose names were written on the doors and he would be part of the foundation of that new Jerusalem.
The Church gives to us that reading from the Book of Revelation today because of this little part that the Lord tells Nathanael in the Gospel reading. It is a prefiguration for him. It is a little promise that the Lord makes to Nathanael: If he maintains that singleness of heart, that lack of guile, he is going to be able to see the glory of God in the new and eternal Jerusalem and, in fact, he would be part of that foundation.
Yesterday, in the readings, we talked about being the bride of Christ; how each one of us - each soul - is the bride of the Lord. Today in the reading we hear about that bride. The bride is the new Jerusalem and each person who is a member of the new Jerusalem is a bride of Christ, is part of that one bride; but each of us, individually, takes that as well. We too, then, are called to be without guile, like a faithful bride who has but one husband and her heart is not wandering all over looking for other men, or whatever it may be. But that heart is focused solely on our one spouse, on the Groom of our souls, Jesus Christ, so that we too will truly be without guile. And we will see the angels of the Lord ascending and descending on the Son of man because we will be members of the new and eternal Jerusalem. We will be members of the very spouse of Jesus Christ.
Note: Father Altier does not write his homilies in advance, but relies solely upon the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.