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Through Andrew the Church Reaches All People
BY John Lilly
Pope Benedict XVI met with 35,000
pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square during his general audience on June 14. He
continued his series of teachings on the Twelve Apostles by reflecting on the
lessons we can learn from the life of St. Andrew.
According to St. John’s Gospel, Andrew was the first
apostle to be called by Jesus. His name, which is Greek and not Hebrew, is “an
important indication of a certain cultural openness within his family,” the
Holy Father said. Andrew then brought his brother, Simon Peter, to the Lord.
The fraternal relationship of these two great apostles is reflected in the
special relationship between the sister Churches of Rome and Constantinople.
Pope Benedict XVI pointed out how
the Gospels mention Andrew at three key moments. At the multiplication of the
loaves and the fishes, he said, “It is worthwhile to emphasize Andrew’s
realism. … He realized that his scant resources were insufficient. Jesus,
however, was able to make them suffice for the multitude of people that had
come to hear him.” From Jesus’ prophecy regarding the eventual destruction of
Jerusalem, “We can deduce that we do not have to be afraid to ask Jesus
questions, but, at the same time, we must be ready to accept the teachings that
he offers us, however astonishing and difficult they may be.” The last episode
recalls Jesus’ words that a grain of wheat must die in order to bear fruit — a
symbol of Jesus’ crucifixion that became the bread of life for the world in his
resurrection. “It will be a light for peoples and for cultures,” Pope Benedict
noted. “In other words, Jesus was prophesying that the Church of the Greeks,
the Church of pagans, and the Church of the world would be the fruit of his
According to tradition, Andrew
preached the Gospel among the Greeks until he met his death by crucifixion.
Pope Benedict XVI prayed that Andrew’s example would inspire all Christians to
be zealous disciples of Christ, to bring others to the
Lord, and to embrace the mystery of the cross both in life and death.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In the last two catecheses, we
spoke about St. Peter. Insofar as the sources will allow, we will now try to
get to know the other 11 apostles a bit better. Therefore, today we will talk
about Simon Peter’s brother, St. Andrew, who was also one of the Twelve
The first thing that strikes us
about Andrew is his name: It is not a Hebrew name, as we would expect, but a
Greek name, an important indication of a certain cultural openness within his
family. They lived in Galilee, where the Greek
language and culture are fairly well present. In the lists of the Twelve
Apostles, Andrew is found in second place in Matthew (10:1-4) and in Luke
(6:13-16), and in fourth place in Mark (3:13-18) and in the Acts of the
Apostles (1:13-14). In any case, he surely enjoyed great prestige within the
early Christian communities.
Andrew and Peter
The Gospels explicitly mention the
blood relationship between Peter and Andrew, as well as Jesus’ call to both of
them. There we read the following: “As he was walking by the Sea
of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and
his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to
them, ‘Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men’” (Matthew 4:18-19;
Mark 1:16-17). We learn another important detail from the fourth Gospel: Andrew
was, at first, a disciple of John the Baptist. This shows us that he was a man
who was searching, who shared Israel’s
hope and who wanted to know better the word of the Lord and the reality of the
Lord’s presence. He was truly a man of faith and hope.
One day he heard John the Baptist
proclaim Jesus as “the Lamb of God” (John 1:36). He was moved at that very
moment and, together with another disciple whose name is not mentioned, he
followed Jesus, the one whom John called the “Lamb of God.”
John the Evangelist mentions that
they “saw where he was staying; and they stayed with him that day” (John
1:37-39). Thus, Andrew enjoyed some precious moments of intimacy with Jesus.
The story goes on to convey another significant detail that shows how he
immediately displayed an unusual apostolic spirit: “Andrew, the brother of
Simon Peter, was one of the two who heard John and followed Jesus. He first
found his own brother Simon and told him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is
translated the Anointed). Then he brought him to Jesus” (John 1:40-43).
Andrew, therefore, was the first
apostle to receive the call and follow Jesus. For this reason the liturgy of
the Byzantine Church honors him with the title of Protoklitos (the
First-Called). It is surely because of the fraternal relationship between Peter
and Andrew that the Church of Rome and the Church of Constantinople
consider themselves as sister Churches. To highlight this relationship, in 1964
my predecessor, Pope Paul VI, returned the famous relic of St. Andrew, which
had been kept until then in the Vatican basilica, to the Orthodox metropolitan
bishop of the city of Patras
where, according to tradition, the apostle was crucified.
The Gospels particularly recall
Andrew’s name in three other instances, which help us to know something more
about this man. The first instance is the multiplication of the loaves in Galilee.
On that occasion, it was Andrew
who pointed out to Jesus the presence of a young boy who had five barley loaves
and two fish with him, very little, he noted, for all the people that had
gathered there (see John 6:8-9). In this case, it is worthwhile to point out
Andrew’s realism. He had seen the boy and, therefore, had already raised the
question, “But what good are these for so many?” when he realized that his
scant resources were insufficient. Jesus, however, was able to make them
suffice for the multitude of people that had come to hear him.
The second instance was in Jerusalem. Leaving the
city, a disciple pointed out to Jesus the impressive sight of the powerful
walls that supported the Temple.
The Master’s response was astonishing: Of those walls, he said, not one stone
would be left upon another. Then Andrew, along with Peter, James and John,
asked him, “Tell us, when this happen, and what sign will there be when all
these things are about to come to an end?” (Mark 13:1-4). In response to this
question, Jesus delivered an important discourse on the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of
the world, inviting his disciples to read the signs of the times with wisdom
and to always remain vigilant.
We can deduce from this episode
that we do not have to be afraid to ask Jesus questions, but, at the same time,
we must be ready to accept the teachings that he offers us, however astonishing
and difficult they may be.
Apostle to the Greeks
Finally, there is a third endeavor
by Andrew that is recorded in the Gospels. Once again, the setting is in Jerusalem, shortly before
the passion. For the feast of Passover, John tells us, some Greeks — perhaps
new converts or some God-fearing men — had come to Jerusalem in order to worship the God of
Israel during the feast of Passover.
Andrew and Philip, the two
apostles with Greek names, acted as interpreters and mediators with Jesus for
this small group of Greeks. The Lord’s answer to their request seems somewhat
enigmatic, as is often the case in the Gospel of John, but it for this very
reason that it is full of meaning.
Jesus says to his disciples and,
through them, to the Greek world, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be
glorified. Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the
ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces
much fruit” (John 12:23-24).
What do these words mean in this
context? Jesus says: Yes, my meeting with the Greeks will take place, but not
as some simple and brief conversation between me and a few other people that
arises out of curiosity. Through my death, which will be like a grain of wheat
that falls to the ground, the hour of my glorification will be attained. My
death on the cross will bear great fruit. The “grain of wheat that dies” — the
symbol of my crucifixion — will become bread of life for the world through my
resurrection. It will be a light for peoples and for cultures. Yes, the
encounter with the Greek soul, with the Greek world, will take place in the
very depths to which the grain of wheat refers, attracting to itself the forces
of heaven and earth and becoming bread.
In other words, Jesus was
prophesying that the Church of the Greeks, the Church of pagans, and the Church
of the world would be the fruit of his paschal mystery.
According to some very ancient
traditions, Andrew, who transmitted these words to the Greeks, was not only the
interpreter for the Greeks at the meeting with Christ that we just mentioned,
but was considered to be the Apostle to the Greeks during the years following
Pentecost. They tell us that that he proclaimed and explained Jesus to the
Greek world for the rest of his life. Peter, his brother, went to Rome, leaving Jerusalem and
passing through Antioch,
in order to exercise his universal mission; Andrew, however, was the apostle to
the Greek world.
In this way, both in life and in
death, they truly appear as brothers, a fraternal bond that is expressed
symbolically by the special relationship between the Sees of Rome and Constantinople, Churches that are truly sister Churches.
A later tradition, as I mentioned
earlier, recounts the story of Andrew’s death in Patras,
where he was executed by crucifixion. However, at that great moment, like his
brother Peter, he asked to be placed on a cross that was different from Jesus’
cross. In his case, it was on a diagonal cross, that is, a cross set on its
side, which has thus come to be known as “St. Andrew’s Cross.”
According to an ancient narrative
(from the beginning of the sixth century) entitled The Passion of Andrew, this is what the Apostle said at that time:
“Hail, O cross, that the body of Christ inaugurated and that was adorned with
his members as if they were precious pearls. Before the Lord mounted you, you
struck awe upon the earth. Now, however, blessed with celestial love, you will
be welcomed as a gift. Believers will know how much joy you possess, how many
gifts you have prepared. Confident, therefore, and full of joy, I come so that
you will also receive me exultantly as a disciple of the one who was hung from
you. … Blessed cross, which received the majesty and beauty of the members of
the Lord … take me and lead me far from men and hand me over to my Master so
that, through you, he will receive me, he who, through you, has redeemed me.
Hail, O cross, yes, truly hail!”
As we can see, we have before us
an extremely profound Christian spirituality, which sees the cross not as an
instrument of torture but rather as the incomparable means of a full
assimilation with the Redeemer, the grain of wheat that has fallen to the
We must learn a very important
lesson from this: Our crosses acquire value if we see them and welcome them as
part of Christ’s cross and if they are touched by the reflection of his light.
It is only through that cross that our sufferings, too, are ennobled and attain
their true meaning.
May the Apostle Andrew teach us to
readily follow Jesus (see Matthew 4:20; Mark 1:18), to speak enthusiastically
about him to everyone we meet, and, above all, to cultivate a relationship of
true friendship with him, well aware of the fact that only in him can we find
the ultimate meaning of our life and death.