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.
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 paschal mystery.”
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 Apostles.
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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 ground.
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.