St Anndra's Day
What St Anndra can teach us about ourselves and Scotland.
The Feast of St Andrew falling at the beginning of advent just after the Feast of Christ the King, is not something I’d really considered until recently, when I began to reflect on history in the light of Catholic tradition. Not just sacred history, but all history, including that of our own here in Scotland. Sadly I don’t think I’m alone in that omission, an all too common consequence of the reformation & ‘free thinkers’ of the ‘enlightenment’ deciding that man ruled the universe rather than God.
However, before that rebellion, all of Christendom recognised that since Christ is King of the cosmos (not only of creation but also time & history), then the ordering of history must also be accepted as an act of His Holy Will: whether active or permissive. Hence, a Catholic understanding of mankind’s unfolding story sees Gods providence in the historical events leading up to the birth of Christ within the Roman Empire. The unsurpassed order and infrastructure instigated by the Romans, along with the preceding common language and culture of Greek philosophical thought under Alexander the Great, had tilled the soil in preparation for the incarnation of God made man in Jesus Christ. Thus, the disciples could easily and speedily, spread the Good News of the Gospel, across huge swaths of the Mediterranean, Middle East, India and Africa.
This Catholic understanding of Christ’s incarnation as the central event in human history is the only interpretative key with which the rest of history radiating to and from it can be comprehended. A point not only articulated by the likes of St Augustine (5th Cent AD) but also attested to by Scotland’s own historians e.g. the monks of the Diocese of St Andrews & Edinburgh who documented our nations early history in the 12/1300’s within the likes of the Proto-Fordun, Gesta Annalia & the Scotichronicon.
So given that all of history is God’s initiative pointing to and radiating from Christ and our response to that in time and space, I have begun to see Scotland’s past in a whole new and illuminating light. Not least regards St Andrew our patron by God’s design. Just as confirmation saints help us discover our unique charisms, intercede for us, guide our personal history and model the particular virtues we are meant to imitate, that we may find our place in His great plan of salvation; so do patron saints for nations. They’ve also been given the very attributes required to fulfil a particular mission and hence are for us shining exemplars and patterns of the virtues we must as a nation embody, if we are to attain our fullest purpose. I’m reminded, that whilst as children we think that we’ve chosen particular saints to be our heavenly friends; it later becomes clear that rather, it is they who first chose us!
As such, I’d like to consider anew what we know about St Andrew and what his life and virtues might illustrate about God’s designs for Scotland in granting us one of Christs chosen 12 as our divinely ordained intercessor and guide. In this first part of a mini-series, I’d like to contemplate a little of what we can learn of him from the Gospels, then in later reflections consider his life and martyrdom post the resurrection of Christ, followed by the influence he has had on our nation to date. Viewing all within the light of Divine Providence, guiding this land purposely through our saintly patron so that we can fulfil the mission that is ours alone.
The Life of St Andrew
St Andrew, the first called of the Apostles was one of the two disciples to whom John the Baptist pointed out ‘the Lamb of God’ and ‘having stayed with him that day’ subsequently brought his brother Peter, our first Pope, to Jesus with the words ‘We have found the Messiah’ (Jn 1:35-42). Jesus called these two fishermen to follow him, promising to make them ‘fishers of men’ (Matt 4:19). This phrase alludes to Jeremiah 16:16 where God promises his chosen people that before the day of disaster (which they have brought upon themselves as punishment for having turned away from Him to serve other gods), he will ‘send for many fishermen’ to catch them, before He sends for the hunters to pay the wages for wickedness and sin.
It is certainly interesting that Jesus even as he calls his very first apostles, is alluding to what will happen in the day of disaster in the end times as prophesied by Jeremiah…
I must admit I’m struck by the implied allegory of the fishing net as a net of safety, a safety net, which Andrew and Peter with the other disciples will later be commanded to spread over the ends of the earth in the great commission (Matthew 28:16-20). This safety net, the Gospel no less, which Christ orders them to cast upon the waters to: ‘make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ is the refuge of safety for all who willingly accept it. A net with which the fishermen pull us out of the stormy waters of slavery to sin onto dry land, away from the dangerous currents trying to pull us into the eternal abyss of hell. It is certainly interesting that Jesus even as he calls his very first apostles, is alluding to what will happen in the day of disaster in the end times as prophesied by Jeremiah, when his chosen people will once again turn away from Him to worship false gods and embrace sin.
In calling them to ‘follow’ him, Jesus uses the very words they had probably yearned to hear as teenagers but had not. Boys attended rabbinic school until around 13 or 15 at which point they would hear one of two things. The brightest would hear one of the rabbi’s say to them ‘follow me’ whereupon they would become disciples of that rabbi or they would be directed to go and ply their fathers’ trade. As fishermen, their whole way of life, income and inheritance would be tied up in the family business and yet… they followed Jesus immediately without hesitation. Did they recognise that Jesus was offering them a second chance at spiritual nourishment and they were not going to let it go - for anything? They had found the ‘pearl in the field and left everything behind in order to purchase it knowing the chance would not come again.
So I ponder, that Scotland was a land of fishermen, one of the first called out of the nations with King Donald requesting papal missionaries from Pope St Victor somewhere between 180-198 AD, indicating that the Gospel must have already been here earlier. Given that St John died ~100AD, it becomes clear that the Good News reached Scotland only a few decades after the last apostles death at the latest. ‘Having stayed with Him’, Scotland too took seriously our call to cast our nets upon the waters as the Scots/Irish kingdom of Dàl Riada (including modern day Argyll & Isles) was part of a Celtic powerhouse of missionary activity. Sadly, many of these Scottish saints born and formed in Dalriada including Iona are now considered Irish, when that was not the case. Dalriada encompassed parts of both modern day Scotland & Ireland with the Irish Sea merely the equivalent of a motorway running through the middle. How many of us recognise St Patrick (from the Kingdom of Strathclyde) as the Scot who evangelised Ireland, allowing Ireland to evangelise the world? Or St Serf and with him St Enoch & a young St Mungo as the evangelisers of much of northern England?
However, tragically our nation chose not to remain with him during the reformation, hence for far too long we have been bringing in nothing but empty nets, indeed even emptying the nets of others back into the infested waters of heresies. So I pray that we too in the midst of our longing and regret are being given a second chance like St Anndra, called to ‘follow him’ once again, knowing through the eyes of faith that God’s plans are revealed once we begin to follow Him unreservedly and not before.
We learn more about Andrew in John's Gospel account of the feeding of the 5 thousand, which took place when the feast of the Passover was at hand. It was Andrew who noticed the lad with ‘five barley loaves and two fish’ and perceiving what was available, also acknowledged its inadequacy “what are they among so many?” Yet, despite his recognition of the enormous gulf between the two, he still brought what little there was to Jesus, trusting that He would know what to do with it. It was exactly this meagre offering in the face of the multitude of hungry families, which Jesus accepts at Andrews' instigation, from the openhanded boy. This trusting lad, who having given Jesus everything he had, saw it multiplied until everyone ‘had eaten their fill’ and witnessed 12 baskets filled with the left over fragments ‘that nothing may be lost’. A sign that made the people cry ‘This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world!” (John 6:1-14).
Junk Food vs Real Food
But what of now? We’re so full with the junk food of the world that we have no room or even appetite for the true nourishment of Jesus Himself in Word or Eucharist I think of the times when our people eked out their living in harsh climes, were sparsely served by priests and yet saw what was needed, and gave what little they had to church and neighbour for the glory of God. We don’t even have to look too far back to see the hardships our families endured in the 18/1900’s in order to build and beautify Catholic churches and schools after 300 years of being outlawed. A time when we Scots Catholics were hungry for the Word of God, His teachings, His precious Body and Blood under veil of the Eucharist and having presented our meagre offerings, we too ate our fill and saw enough baskets left over to send to the missions, convents and monasteries.
But what of now? We’re so full with the junk food of the world that we have no room or even appetite for the true nourishment of Jesus Himself in Word or Eucharist. Those few remaining that recognise their innate hunger for the meat of truth are all too often sent away empty having been fed nothing more than the froth of Catholic ‘lite’ or increasingly tasteless ‘free from’ versions. No wonder then, that Scotland is now a mission country herself and praise be to God for those priests and religious who have travelled across the world to feed us!
As I consider this sad indictment, I wonder if Andrew is waiting for us Scots to notice him again, nudging us towards Jesus, with our own loaves and fish, in the knowledge that we ourselves must first be fed with His unchanging and immutable truth before we can feed others? That this miracle depends on generously and trustingly giving Him everything, no matter how little, that He may multiply it? I wonder if it’s really coincidental that worldwide, those religious orders holding to ‘old fashioned’ habits and theology along with aesthetic lifestyles of true poverty, chastity & obedience are the ones flourishing with young vocations? Or, that it’s the young families embracing the age-old traditions & truths of the church unaltered by modern fashion who are the ones with full baskets to take to the peripheries, including that of religious vocations and missions…
The Fruit of His Pasch
The next episode sees Andrew and Philip intercede for some Greeks (most likely God-fearing gentiles come to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem) telling Jesus that they would like to meet with him. Jesus’ reply to this seems baffling: “The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:23-24).
Pope Benedict observes that what Jesus is really saying is: ‘My death on the Cross will bring forth great fruitfulness: in the Resurrection the ‘dead grain of wheat’ — a symbol of myself crucified — will become the bread of life for the world; it will be a light for the peoples and cultures… In other words, Jesus was prophesying about the Church of the Greeks, the Church of the pagans, the Church of the world, as a fruit of his Pasch.’
Around the same time of this exchange, the disciples had been admiring the grandeur of the temple when Jesus stated that not one of its stones would be left upon another. Andrew is prominent again when he along with Peter, James and John privately asked Jesus on the Mount of Olives when these prophesies would be fulfilled. This questioning by his closest friends precipitated Jesus to give his eschatological discourse on the end times, highlighting that just before His second coming ‘on the clouds with great power and glory’ when his angels would gather his own from the ends of the earth, there would first be many trials. Deceptions, wars, earthquakes, famines, betrayals, persecution, abominations, false messiahs & false prophets performing wonders to deceive even the elect, the sun and the moon becoming darkened and stars falling from the sky (Mark 13: 3-37, Rev).
Both of these exchanges took place immediately before Jesus was to enter his Passion. As Catholics, we know that we are the stones forming the temple of his mystical body the Church, with each generation laid stone upon stone throughout the centuries upon the foundation stones, the apostles, with Christ himself the cornerstone. We also know that the Church has traditionally taught that Christ would be crucified again in His Body - the church – following the same pattern as the first, before He comes again in glory. That the Holy Spirit will sustain us in the great tribulation to come, until Christ Jesus is revealed to all heaven and earth through his crucified church, triumphantly raised from the dead and transformed in splendour for the Glory of God the Father.
Hence it strikes me that each episode we are told about St Andrew, with the exception of his calling (which Jesus also refers to in eschatological terms), are recorded as either being when the Feast of the Passover ‘was at hand’ or indeed just before Christs final Passion and crucifixion; itself taking place at and being the fulfilment of Passover. This despite Andrew being the first called, brother of St Peter and having remained with Jesus 3 full years. Was there no other incidence of note to be recorded in that time or could it be that we are meant to notice the eschatological and Eucharistic significance of all of these incidences? Is Saint Andrews’ final and greatest mission yet to be fully revealed before the final passion and victory of the Church brings the nations to Christ crucified anew and do we, under his leadership, have a specific role to play in that?
Just as traditionally St Andrew is regarded as the Apostle to the Greeks (gentiles) and after Pentecost gave the rest of his life bringing the Greek world to Jesus, are we Scots also being given a second chance to follow Jesus, called to imitate St Andrew in a special way? Are we being asked to entreat Peter to remain with Jesus (hear all those who have ears) where together we will be ‘fishers of men’, catching & feeding the multitudes in the safety net of Mother Church with the un-alterable sacraments of baptism, confirmation, most Holy Eucharist and confession; our only safe place of refuge?
Which brings me back to where I started…the Feast of St Andrew falling at the beginning of advent as we await the coming of the Lord, just after the Feast of Christ the King of the Universe is not something I’d really considered until recently!
Let us invoke his intercession in this traditional novena to St Andrew to help us prepare spiritually for the Lord at Christmas. The short prayer is repeated 15 times daily from the Feast of St Andrew (Nov 30th) ending on Christmas Eve and can be either recited altogether like the rosary or by repeating the prayer 5 times each morning, noon and night.
Traditional Novena to Saint Andrew
Hail and blessed be the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight,
in Bethlehem, in the piercing cold.
In that hour vouchsafe, I beseech Thee, O my God, to hear
my prayer & grant my desires, [mention your request]
through the merits of Our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of His blessed Mother.