In the General Roman Calendar, the 30th of November is celebrated as a Feast. But in Scotland, it’s kept as a Solemnity, because St. Andrew is the Patron Saint of Scotland.
Some few small pieces of bone, revered as authentic relics of St. Andrew, came to the Kingdom of Fife, no one knows how, some time in the early 8th century. Eventually a great Cathedral would be raised over them, and then by it a University. During the Middle Ages and up to the Reformation St. Andrews in Fife was one of the great pilgrim destinations of Europe. In those days it was Scotland’s proudest boast to possess some tangible link with one who had known Jesus in the flesh, who had seen him face to face, heard him preach, witnessed his miracles. Not only that: Andrew had been personally chosen as one of the Twelve. Therefore he was one of those present at the Last Supper. Andrew was one of those privileged to see the Risen Lord, and converse with him; and one of those solemnly commissioned to preach the Gospel throughout the world, to found Churches, to perform miracles, and finally to give up his life in martyrdom. It is to the witness of St. Andrew, then, with that of his companions, that we owe the gift and grace of our Christian faith, which without any comparison is the greatest blessing in our life, and our consolation, and reference point, and guide, and hope. As today we rejoice in that, we affirm, once again, that the whole goal, purpose and aim of our life is that we be found at last worthy, in our turn, to gaze upon the face of the risen Christ, to enjoy eternal fellowship with him, to enter the inheritance he has promised, to have some share, with all the Saints, in his divine life.
Our Icon of St. Andrew shows him holding a text with words of his recorded by St. John: we have found the Messiah. That is: we have found him towards whose coming the whole history and religion of Israel has been directed. We have found the pearl of great price, the treasure hidden in a field, the answer to life’s riddle, the hope of humanity. Having found Him, we will not let him go. For his sake now we are ready to leave everything else whatever: family, possessions, home, work, security, even life itself. If in doing so we gain him, then we have acted with supreme wisdom, and right judgement, and moral virtue, and for God’s glory, and our own final good.
Behind St. Andrew on our Icon is his Symbol, the Saltire Cross: still Scotland’s National Emblem. According to tradition, this form of the Cross was devised as a refinement of torture for Andrew’s cruel death. Like his Master, Andrew died in apparent failure, executed as a criminal, crucified in a splayed position that would have augmented both his torments, and his humiliation.
A golden halo, resplendent vestments, shining colours, and behind it a symbol of torture: this is the paradox of St. Andrew, and of the Christian life, as portrayed in our Icon. Now, we believe, this former fisherman sits on a throne of glory, exercising unceasing intercession for us in power, and also offering unceasing worship to the Holy Trinity, in endless praise and thanksgiving, in heavenly bliss. But the shadow of the Cross remains. For in our day too, Christians all over the world are being persecuted. In modern secularised Scotland the holy Name of Jesus Christ is almost entirely forbidden in any public discourse. It’s OK nowadays to be an atheist or a pagan or a Buddhist or a Muslim. It’s not OK to be a Christian. Or at least, if you must be a Christian, you are tolerated, but only in so far as you keep your religion to yourself, as a purely private and personal matter, always ready to capitulate when confronted by contrary demands of modern secularism. As for the remaining vestiges of Christian culture and civilisation, established here for over a thousand years: they are being continuously eroded, undermined, derided, replaced, blotted out. It’s as if the dark shadow of Mordor, once defeated, has risen again in our land, and is now reaching ever further out, ever gaining in power, ever winning new allies, ever striving to separate us from Christ, to enslave us to itself, and to drag this country back down into the darkness of unbelief.
We, who are Christians, have no cause to be surprised by this, nor even unduly dismayed. During this last week of the Year the liturgy has been offering us dire warnings about the end times, through the Books of Daniel and the Apocalypse, and in the eschatological discourses of Jesus Himself. We Christians know how to look through defeat, failure, humiliation, loss, calamity, even death itself, simply because our gaze is always fixed on Jesus, who died, and rose again, and will come at the end of time, very soon, in glory.
In the meantime, though, it’s our duty to labour on to keep the light of faith alive, and to spread it by whatever means we can. In so far as is possible, we have to counteract bad ideas, unhealthy customs, unjust laws, lying propaganda. Above all we must do all we can, in season and out of season, to proclaim Jesus Christ. He is our light and our hope. Ultimately we have no other.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus saw Andrew with his brother casting his net into the lake. He did so for the destruction of any fish he might catch. Henceforth, though, he was to cast his net into the world for the salvation and eternal good of every soul he could catch. We pray that we all may be among those caught in the Apostle’s net. Unfortunately, as we look out at the waters of our society, they seem to be so troubled, so polluted, so tangled up with detritus that successful fishing nowadays becomes very difficult, and its labour fraught with disappointment. We also see Apostolic nets severely torn through infidelity, bad example, cowardice, compromise with the world, and failure adequately to preach Christ, and the power of his Cross. So we pray too, today, that these nets might be repaired, and be filled with new fish, for God’s glory, and the salvation of many souls.