Once called, he devoted himself completely to Christ


People of the Book – St. Andrew

In addition to being the namesake for both the most famous golf course and faultline in the world, St. Andrew models for us a life of radical discipleship to Christ. The brother of Simon who would come to be renamed Peter, Andrew (from the Greek for “manhood”) was one of the first Galileans to be called by Jesus to leave his rough hewn boats and follow him. Thus he is referred to by the Eastern churches as Protokletos (“first-called”).

Almost certainly illiterate, these thickly-accented (cf. Mt 26:73) peasant brothers had spent their entire lives in the grueling, if monotonous, routine of dragging waterlogged nets with or without the meager daily catches in them that would allow them to eke out a subsistence living beneath the blistering Mediterranean sun. But Christ called them to abandon even the humble comforts afforded them by this routine and to trust him not only with their “souls,” (which is a difficult enough if rationally justifiable task), but perhaps more stunningly, with all of their time, energy, day to day livelihood, and families. From that instant, Jesus immediately became for Andrew the very center of his life.

After a lifetime of close companionship to Christ, and of some authority in the early church (he is always listed among the first four apostles in the Scriptures, a remnant of the mnemonic devices which allowed believers to remember the Twelve in a loose order of their importance), Andrew was martyred under the reign of Nero on a decussate, or X-shaped, intersection of two beams, today known as St. Andrew’s cross. Because he is the patron saint of Scotland, their national flag contains this geometric figure.

In thinking about St. Andrew’s response to Christ, one would do well to reflect upon St. Paul’s assertion to the citizens of Corinth that “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7), for he was certainly that. This verse has always struck me as exceedingly difficult. The “giving” part I understand, but do I really have to do so cheerfully? I fear in my heart that I would be much less excited about giving up my familiar life and surroundings for one of destitution and eventual martyrdom than was Andrew.

St. Ignatius tells us “to give and not to count the cost; to fight and not to heed the wounds; to toil and not to seek for rest; to labor and not to ask for any reward, save that of knowing we do your will.” Just as his other prayer to take and receive all my liberty, memory, understanding and will, the Jesuit spirituality that so molded me as a scholar and a person does not seem to do anything half-heartedly. Pope Benedict once admitted that even he finds Ignatius’ prayer almost “troppo grande” — too overwhelming, that he has difficulty bringing himself to recite it authentically. That certainly says something about the pontiff who as a young child supposedly based his life upon the slogan of a local shrine in his Bavarian hometown — “give all, get more.”

How do we work toward these demands — laboring without any reward; turning over the most intimate and defining contours of our inner being to God without reservation; giving all, so that we can somehow get more?

The answer lies in the Gospel notion of the grain of wheat dying in order to flourish. If left to our own devices, the gravelly kernel of our inner lives remains tightly compact and closed, centered only in the incredibly diminutive and narrow confines of our own selfhood. Not only can one in such a condition not dialogue with God, but he or she cannot even experience the most life-giving and rewarding elements of the human experience, that of loving and being loved, whether romantically or otherwise. But if one gives him- or herself over to the transcendent mystery of shedding egoistic concerns and focuses outward, with trust and self-denial and other-centeredness, no longer treating people and God as means to an end or insurance policies we hope never to have to cash in on, the shell of our own miniscule identity and hardened heart cracks open, and the tendrils of a truly happy, healthy, and loving self-identity began to creep out and bear fruit. From the stony tomb comes radiant and unending glory, but only if the grave is accepted and not averted or circumvented. Through death comes life. The two exist in direct and not inverse proportion. We cannot smuggle into our spirituality the attitude quoted so famously by playwright William Saroyan, “Everybody has got to die, but I always believed an exception would be made in my case.”

Andrew teaches us that no exceptions will be made. If the paltry possessions and relationships of our fleeting years, which the Bible (pre-Medicare) numbered at threescore and 10, are given over to others and through them to Christ, then we will certainly be repaid, for “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the Gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields —along with persecutions — and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Mk 10).

Michael M. Canaris of Collingswood is an administrator at Fairfield University’s Center for Faith and Public Life and is on the faculty for the Department of Philosophy, Theology, and Religious Studies at Sacred Heart University.