Editor’s note: The following homily was preached by the Reverend Peter M. J. Stravinskas, Ph.D., S.T.D., on the feast of St. Andrew, November 30, 2019, at the Church of the Holy Innocents, Manhattan.
Today we celebrate the last feast of the liturgical year by honoring St. Andrew the
Apostle, the brother of St. Peter. Not much is known about him from the New Testament, however, what is known is very important.
His name is interesting, to start with. Its origins are Greek, rather than Hebrew; “Andrew” comes from aner, the Greek word for “man”. Why would a Jewish boy get a Greek name? Because Andrew and Peter came from the Galilee, which was heavily influenced by the Greek language and culture.
We also learn that Andrew was a disciple of St. John the Baptist, who pointed Andrew to the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:36). Andrew is curious; more than that, he is an honest and serious seeker. And Jesus takes him seriously, urging him: “Come and see!” Andrew leaves forthwith and in an effort to learn more about this “Lamb of God,” we are told that he “stayed” with Jesus to get to know Him better. Actually, the Greek verb used in this Gospel passage is employed by St. John many times, menein, which means more than “staying” suggests; rather, it signifies taking up permanent residence (it would seem Andrew had already made up his mind)! Having been suitably impressed by this Jesus, he then hastens not only to inform his older brother Peter about his experience, but unequivocally declares, “We have found the Messiah” (Jn 1:41).
In a few short verses, then, we glean some very significant details about this man. First, we discover that he is the first disciple directly called by Our Lord, thus earning him the title in the Eastern Churches of Protokletos or “First-Called.” That would be edifying information, but simply being “First-Called” doesn’t mean much if that’s where it stays. So, St. John Chrysostom underscores the next phase: “Andrew, after staying with Jesus and after having learned what he did, did not keep the treasure to himself but hurries and races to his brother in order to let him know the good things Jesus has shared with him.”
Chrysostom explains further: “This is what brotherly affection, natural friendship, is all about when someone is eager to extend a hand to another when it comes to spiritual matters.” And so, the “First-Called” is equally the first evangelist, we can say.
The next time we meet Andrew is in the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel as Jesus and Philip (the other Apostle with a Greek name) are discussing possibilities for feeding the multitude. Andrew comes up with a potential solution: “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish.” Perhaps not wanting to appear foolish or gullible or maybe just very realistic, he just as quickly dismisses the suggestion: “. . . but what are they among so many?” (v. 9). Of course, as we know, Christ acts on Andrew’s suggestion with His almighty power. Yes, God can do mighty deeds if “we give God permission,” as Mother Teresa was fond of saying.
Andrew’s third appearance in the Fourth Gospel occurs in chapter 12 as some Greeks tell Philip, “We wish to see Jesus” (v. 21). Philip immediately enlists the assistance of Andrew; together, they approach Our Lord with the request.
In all three instances where Andrew features in John’s Gospel, we find him “introducing strangers to Christ,” as Cardinal Newman puts it in his homily for this feast: first, to Peter; then, to the young fellow with the loaves and fish; finally, to the Greeks. We might rightly call Andrew “The Grand Facilitator.” It is worth noting that these three encounters happen in hiddenness, with no great splash or public acclaim. Further, Newman makes the point that Andrew’s initial action not only brings Peter to Christ but ultimately enables Peter to become the Prince of the Apostles, leaving Andrew in the shadows. St. John Henry goes on to suggest that this often happens in the Christian life: the relatively unknown Ananias, for example, was the human instrument by which Saul’s conversion was completed.
Sacred Scripture is silent on our saint of the day thereafter. Tradition informs us that he preached the Gospel in Scythia and was martyred in Achaia by crucifixion. Like his brother Peter, Andrew deemed himself unworthy to be crucified like his Lord and Savior; thus, he asked to be nailed to a cross in the shape of the letter “X”; to this day, we refer to that image as “St. Andrew’s Cross.”
It is interesting to observe that the plan of Providence saw to it that Peter eventually headed west to Rome for his evangelical mission, while Andrew headed east. Between them, they symbolize the unity of the Churches of the East and West. Not by accident, while the Church of the West honors Peter with particular devotion, the Church of the East holds Andrew in high veneration.
In January of 1964, Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras made history by breaking a millennium of silence between what they were soon to call “Sister Churches” as the two men met, fittingly enough, on the Mount of Olives where, at the Last Supper, Our Lord made as His dying wish, “That all may be one” (Jn 17:21). A year later, the two prelates lifted the mutual excommunications of 1054 for a healing of memory. Since then, on June 29, the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, the Patriarchate of Constantinople sends a delegation to Rome to assist at the Papal Mass, while on this day, the Pope sends a delegation to participate in the Divine Liturgy of the Patriarch in Constantinople (Istanbul).
Almost intuitively, Andrew knew that the Gospel, the Good News, was too good to be kept to himself. His example of holy zeal and evangelism should inspire us to spare no effort to spread the Good News of Christ. Pope John Paul II began his Petrine ministry with the urgent appeal, “Open wide the doors for Christ!” Twelve years later, in his missionary encyclical, Redemptoris Missio, the saintly Pontiff declared: “”Faith is strengthened when it is given to others!” (n. 2). Even more to the point, the finest thing anyone can do for another human being is to introduce that person to Jesus Christ, following the example of St. Andrew. St. John Henry understood this very well as he reflected: “I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.”
In Pope Benedict XVI’s series of Wednesday audience addresses on the saints, he devoted one to St. Andrew. Considering Andrew’s acceptance, indeed his embrace, of the Cross, he noted: “Here we have a very important lesson to learn: Our own crosses acquire value if we consider them and accept them as a part of the Cross of Christ, if a reflection of His light illuminates them. It is by that Cross alone that our sufferings too are ennobled and acquire their true meaning.”
I can do no better than to end this homily with the words Benedict used to end his reflection on Andrew in June of 2006, done with his usual insight and precision of thought:
The Apostle Andrew, therefore, teaches us to follow Jesus with promptness (cf. Mt 4: 20; Mk 1: 18), to speak enthusiastically about Him to those we meet, and especially, to cultivate a relationship of true familiarity with Him, acutely aware that in Him alone can we find the ultimate meaning of our life and death.
St. Andrew, the First-Called, pray for us, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
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