There is sunlight and shadows in the book of The Acts of the Apostles, for it is an adventure into the birth of the early Church, and how the freshly anointed Christians lived. The apostles traveled great distances to spread the Gospel, despite persecution and imprisonment. Filled with the Holy Spirit, and equipped with an extra dose of courage, they drew people to God with the charisms they had received.
Peter, the rock on which the Church was built, oozed God’s grace as was evident in the many miracles that happened. “The people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mattresses, so that when Peter passed by at least his shadow might fall on one or another of them.” (Acts 5:15). Thousands, even Gentiles, were baptized as Peter proclaimed God’s message of salvation.
Talking of shadows, one might think that Andrew, Peter’s brother, lived in his shadow. However, it was Andrew who drew Peter’s attention to Jesus. Thanks to the Gospel of John, we learn that when John the Baptist watched Jesus walk by, he said, “Look! There is the Lamb of God!” (Jn 1:37) Hearing that, Andrew not only immediately followed Jesus, but he found his brother Simon (Peter) and told him, “We have found the Messiah!” (Jn 1:41)
One can definitely call Andrew, the “first” of Jesus’ apostles. In fact, the Byzantine Church has given him the name Protokletos, which means “the first called.”
Andrew and Peter, sons of Jonah, were fishermen from the village of Bethsaida, on the Sea of Galilee. They left their nets at Jesus’ invitation to become fishers of men, as Matthew’s Gospel narrates. The sons of Zebedee, James and John were also fishermen who followed in Jesus’ footsteps. Interestingly enough, all four became Jesus’ apostles, but Andrew was not part of the inner circle. When Jesus was Transfigured on the mountain, and during his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, Andrew was not invited to join the others.
It was always Peter, James, and John. Yet in his quiet way, Andrew came to the rescue when Jesus asked the apostles to feed the hungry crowd in Galilee. He found a boy who had five barley loaves and two dried fish, (Jn 6:8-9) and Jesus worked the miracle.
Andrew’s name is of Greek origin. When some Greeks wanted to meet Jesus, they approached the Apostle Philip. Seeking Andrew’s advice, the introduction was made by Philip and Andrew (John 12:20-22)
Tradition has it that St. Andrew went as far as Greece and Turkey to spread the Gospel, and was martyred in Patras, western Greece. He was not nailed, but bound on an X-shaped cross or a “saltire,” called St. Andrew’s cross. He asked to be crucified this way, because he considered himself unworthy to be crucified on the same kind of cross like Jesus.
Bishop Robert Barron defines a saint as being “a friend of God,” and a martyr, “someone who witnesses to the faith with his or her life.” The former fisherman Andrew became both, a saint and martyr. He moved away from being in Peter’s shadow, if he ever was there, and became a dedicated disciple of Jesus doing things with great love, while willing the good of others.
St. Andrew’s feast day is on November 30th, a day I can’t forget, because it was my father’s birthday. He loved celebrating his birthday, and aimed to reach a hundred. God called him a few years shy of meeting his goal, but I’m pretty sure that St. Andrew was watching over him for all those years.
On November 30, 2020, Pope Francis sent a message to Patriarch Bartholomew I, Archbishop of Constantinople, since the Apostle Andrew is patron saint of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In it he called to mind “the charity, apostolic zeal and perseverance” of St. Andrew, which he said was “a source of encouragement in these difficult and critical times.”
Above all else, St. Andrew points us in the direction of Jesus’ birth, since his feast hovers around the start of Advent. He helps us begin our Advent preparations of welcoming Christ into our world.
We are now left with a soul-searching question. Like Andrew brought Peter to Jesus, are we willing to move out of our shadows to bring others to meet the infant Jesus of Bethlehem?