Friday, November 30, 2012

The Feast of St. Andrew: Apostle and Model of Christian Discipleship

Today is the feast of St. Andrew, Apostle—and brother of St. Peter. Andrew’s feast usually falls in Advent, but this year it precedes it by two days. 

As we enter into these last days of the Church Year, it is a good time to think about the foundations of that year, especially the mystery of our salvation.

By tradition, Andrew was martyred through crucifixion on an X-shaped cross. What follows is a meditation on that scene, as written by the great preacher, teacher, and biblical scholar Bernard of Clairvaux. Bernard recalls it in detail, especially the aspect of the story about St. Andrew going joyfully—and without fear—to his cross. This portion of his sermon is focused on the reason for St. Andrew's attitude toward suffering and death.

Bernard reminds us we are in essence no different from St. Andrew. We must each take up our own cross, not in our own strength, but in the strength of God. When we do this, we find that the cross is not the source of shame and foolishness the world sees, but the unique and holy access point to the unlimited Power of God. In this way, St. Andrew’s story is a constant source of encouragement to us in our own struggles.

From a Sermon by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Abbot

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Andrew. If we attentively meditate upon it, we shall find in it much food for our spirit.

You must have noticed that St. Andrew, when he came to the place where the cross was prepared, was strengthened in the Lord and started uttering fiery words, being inspired by the Spirit whom he had received together with the other apostles, in the form of tongues of fire. His mouth spoke from the abundance of the heart, and the charity that burned in him gave ardor to his voice.

And what did St. Andrew say when he saw the cross that been put up for him? “O cross,” he said, “long desired and now offered to my soul’s desires! I come to you full of joy and assurance. Receive me then with gladness, for I am the disciple of him who hung from your arms.”

Whence then came to that man such astonishing joy and exultation? Where did he, so frail a creature, get so much constancy? Where did he get so spiritual a soul, so fervent a charity, and so strong a will? Let us not imagine he got that great courage from himself. It was the perfect gift issued from the Father of lights, from him who alone produces marvels. It was the Holy Spirit who came to help his weakness and filled his soul with the charity strong as death, and even stronger than death.

May it please God to make us share in that Spirit! For if now the effort of conversion is painful to us, and if we are vexed by watchings, the only reason is our spiritual indigence. If the Spirit were present to us, he surely would come to help our weakness. What he has done for St. Andrew when he faced the cross and death, he would do also for us: removing from the labor of our conversion its painful character, he would render it desirable and even delicious. “My Spirit, says the Lord, “is sweeter than honey,” so much so that the most bitter death could not lessen its sweetness.

We must take up our cross with St. Andrew, or rather with him whom he himself has followed, the Lord, our Savior. The cause of his joy and his exultation was that he died not only with him, but like him, and that he was so intimately united to his death and to his sufferings that he would also reign with him.

Let us too listen, with the ears of our heart, to the voice of the Lord who invites us to share his cross: “If any wish to be my followers, they must deny themselves and take up their cross, and follow in my steps.” For our salvation is found on the cross, provided we courageously are attached to it. “The message of the cross,” the Apostle [Paul] tells us, “is complete absurdity to those who are headed for ruin, but to us, who are experiencing salvation, it is the power of God.”
St. Bernard of Clairvaux, [1153]
from the Second Sermon for the Feast of St. Andrew

Collect for the Feast of St. Andrew

Almighty God, who gave such grace to your apostle Andrew that he readily obeyed the call of your Son Jesus Christ, and brought his brother with him: Give us, who are called by your Holy Word, grace to follow him without delay, and to bring those near to us into his gracious presence; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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