For the Love of Saint Andrew: A Christmas Novena, Day 10

On this, the tenth day of the Christmas Novena, it strikes me that the intention that I have been praying for up to now is too selfish, too self-centered to even be worthwhile to continue to ask God for.

Instead, I am compelled to pray for a different intention; one for our brothers and sisters in the world who are being persecuted for Our Faith.

What prompted the change of heart is a nagging feeling I have had of late regarding the nature of love. I’m not referring to eros, here but instead to the form of love known as caritas in Latin, or agape in Greek.

I once shared the thoughts of Archbishop Fulton Sheen on the various words for love and their meanings. Today is the day that our brother, the good Archbishop, passed on to eternity. When I was reminded of this, the recollection of that post, and this novena came together like ingredients in a mixing bowl.

Since the beginning, we have been called to love one another. It is difficult, and we weren’t getting it right, and God knew we wouldn’t.Even now, loving others is still tough to do. But God had a plan for this, one part of which we celebrated yesterday, and the other, the Incarnation, we will celebrate soon. We have confused ourselves about the meaning of love, and confused it’s nature as something to be guarded jealously for fear it may be stolen, or fear that our hearts will be broken.

But God’s love for us is not that form of love. With His love, we need not guard our hearts and jealously keep them locked away from others. Nor do we need to continually act like mercenaries of love and ask God, “what’s in it for me?” like Ray Kinsella asks Shoeless Joe Jackson in Field of Dreams. St. Catherine of Sienna discussed this at length in her Dialogues.

I’ve lived life in that manner long enough to know that being a practitioner of mercenary love is a complete waste of time. It certainly, and unequivocally is not the Way.

These sentiments of mine lay dormant until the coming of this Advent season and this novena prayer. Twenty-five days of saying a prayer and asking for the same intention has a way of making you take stock of the intention, see? And today I was prodded into changing mine and sharing my change of heart with you because as I was praying the LOTH today, Psalm 43 came crashing down on my head.

I couldn’t stop thinking about our persecuted brothers and sisters in Iraq after reading these verses,

Unto the end, for the sons of Core, to give understanding.

We have heard, O God, with our ears:
our fathers have declared to us,
The work, thou hast wrought in their days,
and in the days of old.
Thy hand destroyed the Gentiles,
and thou plantedst them:
thou didst afflict the people
and cast them out.
For they got not the possession of the land by their own sword:
neither did their own arm save them.
But thy right hand and thy arm,
and the light of thy countenance:
because thou wast pleased with them.

Thou art thyself my king and my God,
who commandest the saving of Jacob.
Through thee we will push down our enemies with the horn:
and through thy name we will despise them that rise up against us.
For I will not trust in my bow:
neither shall my sword save me.
But thou hast saved us from them that afflict us:
and hast put them to shame that hate us.
In God shall we glory all the day long:
and in thy name we will give praise for ever.

But now thou hast cast us off, and put us to shame:
and thou, O God, wilt not go out with our armies.
Thou hast made us turn our back to our enemies:
and they that hated us plundered for themselves.
Thou hast given us up like sheep to be eaten:
thou hast scattered us among the nations.
Thou hast sold thy people for no price:
and there was no reckoning in the exchange of them.

Thou hast made us a reproach to our neighbors,
a scoff and derision to them that are round about us.
Thou hast made us a byword among the Gentiles:
a shaking of the head among the people.
All the day long my shame is before me:
and the confusion of my face hath covered me,
At the voice of him that reproacheth and detracteth me:
at the face of the enemy and persecutor.

All these things have come upon us,
yet we have not forgotten thee:
and we have not done wickedly in they covenant.
And our heart hath not turned back:
neither hast thou turned aside our steps from thy way.
For thou hast humbled us in the place of affliction:
and the shadow of death hath covered us.

If we have forgotten the name of our God,
and if we have spread forth our hands to a strange god:
Shall not God search out these things?
for he knoweth the secrets of the heart.
Because for thy sake we are killed all the day long:
we are counted as sheep for the slaughter.

Arise, why sleepest thou, O Lord?
arise, and cast us not off to the end.
Why turnest thou face away?
and forgettest our want and our trouble?
For our soul is humbled down to the dust:
our belly cleaveth to the earth.
Arise, O Lord, help us
and redeem us for thy name’s sake.

Do you see what I mean? And I’m not the first to notice that often times the LOTH, has an uncanny way of speaking the words of God to me that I need to hear most, and when I need to hear them. And I believe the answers to these prayers are seen in the short readings included for Terce, Sext, and None as well.

He will stand and feed his flock with the power of the Lord, with the majesty of the name of his God. They will live secure, for from then on he will extend his power to the ends of the land. He himself will be peace (Micah 5:4-5).

A little while now, and I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. The new glory of this Temple is going to surpass the old, and in this place I will give peace – it is the Lord of Hosts who speaks(Haggai 2:6,9).

For you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness will shine out with healing in its rays; you will leap like calves going out to pasture. You will trample on the wicked, who will be like ashes under your feet on the day I am preparing, says the Lord of Hosts (Malachi 3:20-21).

Thanks be to God.

The St. Andrew Christmas Novena can be found here.

For Help Reading Maps Correctly

Jesuit map of the world, 17th century (Public Domain).

I have a friend who can’t understand why I enjoy being a Catholic.

From discussions I have had with him, it appears that he believes I am now enslaved by an organization that is run by a tyrant who bears the title of “Pope.” I reckon that his libertarian tendencies bristle at the very idea of submitting to an authority, even if that authority is ordained  and conferred by Christ Himself.

Now before you go and start thinking Frank is using hillbilly colloquial speech by using the word reckon, let me put on my Anu Garg hat and have a look at this particular word. Here is what the Merriam Webster Dictionary says about it,

Reckon transitive verb
Definition of reckon
a: count <to reckon the number of days days till Christmas>
b: estimate, compute <reckon the height of a building, etc.>
c: to determine by reference to a fixed basis

the existence of the United States is reckoned from the Declaration of Independence
2: to regard or think of as: consider
chiefly dialect : think, suppose < I reckon I’ve outlived my time — Ellen Glasgow>

intransitive verb

1: to settle accounts
2: to make a calculation
a: judge
b: chiefly dialect: suppose, think
4: to accept something as certain: place reliance reckon on your promise to help.

I hope you can see from this that using the word reckon in a sentence is not something that only hillbillies from Tennessee do. Because surely you can see that this word has many different meanings, and shades of meaning. And notice the reference to the Declaration of Independence, which for the purposes of this post fits where I’m going to the “T.”

There is another use of the root word reckon that may help shed some light on where I’m going with this post as well. This word is really a phrase that has to do with the science of navigation. Let’s take a look at Merriam Webster again,

Dead reckoning noun
Definition of Dead Reckoning

1: the determination without the aid of celestial observations of the position of a ship or aircraft from the record of the courses sailed or flown, the distance made, and the known or estimated drift
2: guesswork
— dead reckon (verb)

First Known Use of Dead Reckoning: 1613

Dead reckoning is nice, and all, but you wouldn’t board an airline flight if you thought the pilot was just taking the plane up for a spin without any detailed flight plan to get you where you were going, would you? And lookee there at the second definition of the word. In the navigation business, guesswork can get you killed.

Now, I’m removing the scholarly and erudite looking Anu Garg hat and putting on my Tennessee hillbilly “common sense” hat to say that this here fancy phrase-word means nothin’ more than “flying by the seat of your pants.” Heck, you might even be plumb lost, “but yer jes too proud to stop at the gaas stayshun to ask that feller for directions, I reckon.” See?

What’s that? You can read a map all by yourself you say? You don’t need any help reading maps? Well, I would really like to believe that about you but my own experience has been different. I almost never get lost, geographically speaking. Just ask my wife. And I’ve spent an awful long time in the map room too and I love reading maps as well. But in my practical, real world experience of actually navigating out in the field as a Marine? I know that some people read maps wrong. Dead wrong.

And they were reading the same maps that I had, too. I can’t even remember how many times I have had to point this out to lost Lieutenants, Captains, and sometimes even Majors, when I was out in the field in the Marines. And to PFC’s, Lance Corporal’s, and even Sergeants sometimes too, as they were learning land navigation skills. And this assumes you are using current maps that were drawn and printed recently. True story time. This may shock you, but I even knew a Captain in my artillery battery who got lost routinely(!) even when he was using GPS. I kid you not! So don’t argue to me that the latest technology will absolutely guarantee that you will make it to your intended destination.

Now, what if the map you are using today is ancient? You know, like you are using one that looks something like Blackbeard’s treasure map, or the one from Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic book Treasure Island. You can see that there is an X that marks the spot of the treasure but not much more detail than that.

Well, if I were you, and I found a map like this, I would track down and find the guy who buried the treasure who, as it turns out, is also the same guy who drew the map, and I’d say,

Lookee here, I can’t make head nor tales of where in the world this here treasure is from a readin’ your map all by myself. Show me how to read this map and take me to the place where “X” marks the spot.

That is where the Catholic Church comes in see? She made the map, and she knows where the treasure chest is. Sure, I can read that Treasure Island map too, but it’s lacking in a few details, or didn’t you notice? How long have you been reading that map and you didn’t notice this?! Now, the Church knows where the treasure is buried, because She was there when the chest was put into the ground. And She was there when it ascended up into Heaven too.

She knows that the treasure resides in each and every one of us now, so the map isn’t a geographical one, see, but an internal one. As G.K. Chesterton explains so well,

The Catholic Church carries a sort of map of the mind which looks like the map of a maze, but which is in fact a guide to the maze. It has been compiled from knowledge which, even considered as human knowledge, is quite without any human parallel.

There is no other case of one continuous intelligent institution that has been thinking about thinking for two thousand years. Its experience naturally covers nearly all experiences; and especially nearly all errors. The result is a map in which all the blind alleys and bad roads are clearly marked, all the ways that have been shown to be worthless by the best of all evidence: the evidence of those who have gone down them.

Now back to my friend, who has a “give me liberty, or give me death” bent that would make even Patrick Henry seem squishy on the concept of freedom. Free will is a wonderful gift from God. Knowing that you can’t read maps and need help navigating is another one of those gifts. But wait, there is more.

In my little mind, the knowledge that Christ himself founded the Church and put a human being in charge of it while She is here on earth gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling inside. The kind of feeling I get when I think of my mother comforting me after the time when I had gotten lost at the county fair one year when I was little. When she found me, she gave me the biggest hug ever, and boy did I need that too! And to me this is similar to the kind of feeling I got when I was in the Marines and was serving under a great Commandant, or good commander. It is a feeling of confidence and joy that I am in good hands, even if the mission I was involved in might lead to my physical death.

Allison recently wrote a post about her search for answers about the Kingdom of God. I don’t know if my freedom loving friend thinks about the fact that this kingdom is not a representative democracy or not. But to be clear, it’s called a Kingdom, because there is a King. He is a wise and wonderful King, and a benevolent one too. But most certainly He is a King, and if I pledge my allegiance to Him, which I have, then I do so with full knowledge that I will have to do what he asks of me. I am submissive to Him, otherwise, I’m a rogue and a traitor.

This duty to obey requires discipline and grace, and in my short experience as a Catholic, the Sacraments of the Church, and Her teachings, which are God’s teachings (as you can easily discover), are what provide me the means to stay the course without getting lost. And I will continue to read maps to my hearts content. And I’m very happy because on this ship, I don’t have to decide everything either. Thank God!

The Church is the Ship and I have complete confidence in Her Captain’s ability to navigate the shoals of this world until the day His Majesty decides to come back aboard Her and brings us into port.

Semper Fidelis,

Update: Mark Shea on “Herding Cats On Sola Scriptura.

For the Love of Saint Andrew: A Christmas Novena, Day 7

Call me dangerously distracted, but not until I saw this lovely acrylic painting by Roger Hutchison, a parishioner at Trinity Episcopal Church in Columbia, South Carolina, did I realize why the Saint Andrew’s Christmas Novena also is a novena for couples trying to conceive. How obvious this now all seems.

Mary, a poor unwed teenager, spent the weeks before Christmas Day anticipating the birth of her son, a son conceived “by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary.”

As someone who struggled with infertility during her childbearing years, I can say the Christmas season is the worst of all. Everything is centered on a couple joyously awaiting the miraculous birth of their child. Plus, Christmas comes at the end of the calendar year and can be yet another reminder of one’s empty womb.

Please share this Christmas Novena with others. As we pray it, let’s keep in mind the couples who are longing to build their families. The Apostolate of Hannah’s Tears is a wonderful resource for Catholics struggling with infertility. Does your parish offer seasonal celebrations for all its members – for singles and childless couples – or only for families with children? What do we do in our parish to encourage families to consider foster parenting and adoption? What can we do to welcome all this Advent Season?

Because I’ve Been Struggling with “the Kingdom Of Heaven is At Hand”

Second Sunday of Advent

Dear readers,

I’m struggling with something. When you’re done reading my diatribe, will you let me know your thoughts?

Here we are, the second Sunday of Advent and the Gospel reading recounts how John the Baptist preached: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” I understand what this means on a chronological level. John is prophesizing that the Messiah is coming. But why does Christ then tell his Apostles to tell people the very same thing? “From that time Jesus began to preach and to say: ‘Do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ “

Is Christ saying the end of the world is coming? That we need to renounce the world and long for God’s heavenly kingdom? Or is Christ saying the Kingdom of Heaven is right in front of us? Or is Christ introducing both of these concepts at once?  I am troubled when Christians refer to our earthy lives as a “vale of tears” only to be endured because our true home is heaven. This doesn’t match my own experience. Maybe I’m missing something.

My confusion and anger began on All Soul’s Day, when I tried to read the Liturgy of the Hours. The second reading was a sermon on man’s mortality by Saint Cyprian, a bishop. Let me be blunt: I just don’t “get” his sentiments. I was on board with his first sentence “Our obligation is to do God’s will” but he lost me by the sermon’s end. He talks about how Christians should not go kicking and screaming into our deaths. Okay, I get that. Here is where he and I part ways. “Why then do we pray for the kingdom of heaven to come if this earthly bondage pleases us? What is the point of praying so often for its early arrival if we would rather serve the devil here than reign with Christ? The world hates Christians so why give your love to it instead of following Christ, who loves you and has redeemed you?”

Living is not de facto serving the devil. Using the gifts with which God has blessed us is a privilege and a responsibility. Following Christ need not happen only when we die. Isn’t Christ about how we live, too? The world might hate Christians, but God loves the world and everyone in it.

Dualistic thinking restricted my spirituality for much of my life. I used to see the Church over here and the world over there. I used to fear the world outside my comfortable life of family and parish. I couldn’t understand the Church infuses the world. Saint Cyprian tells us we must wish to meet the glorious band of apostles.“Let all our longing be to join them a soon as we may,” he preaches. 

That’s not what I long for. I long to learn to love my husband and our sons more fully each day. I believe Christ brought them to me. I believe He is uses my struggles, past and present and future, to draw me closer to Him. I believe the love we share among family and friends and neighbors is beautiful because it give us a glimpse of the love Christ pours out to us. I believe I am supposed to be looking for the face of Christ everywhere – in the stories my students tell me of damaged lives, in the struggles I see in our small town, and so on, because He lives.

To refer to our lives here as “bondage”  feels ungracious. One could argue that Saint Cyprian’s sermon only applies to early Christians or those who live under fear of torture and persecution, such as our brothers and sisters in Iraq. But I don’t think he was limiting his remarks. And then this weekend when I started reading “Teacher Man” a magnificent book  by  the late Frank McCourt about  teaching in New York City public schools  I wondered again about how Christ wants us to envision ourselves in this world. Frank McCourt’s  his description of growing up Roman Catholic in Limerick, Ireland caught my breath. Among those McCourt forgives for his miserable childhood are “the bishop of Limerick, who seemed to think everything was sinful.” He continues: “I had spent childhood and adolescence examining my conscience and finding myself in a perpetual state of sin. That was the training, the brainwashing, the conditioning and it discouraged smugness, especially among the sinning class.” Is this Christ’s message? Is this how we want to pass on the faith to our children? I don’t believe so.

I’m not interested in arguing the particulars of Frank McCourt’s childhood or his issues with the Church because I know his was a common experience. How many adults, given the responsibility of instructing the faith, failed spectacularly? Our own sons endure CCD classes that are dull, uninspired and focused solely on rules and consequences. They receive not a word of guidance about developing  interior lives of prayer and faith.

This exasperates me. How do we learn and teach the truth of the faith in all its richness? I always discerned “the Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand ” means it is within our grasp, that we can encounter Christ here and now. I asked myself: Is this just a remnant of my post-Vatican II, felt-banner, not-so-Catholic childhood?

So I looked it up. I went to a source that I consider official. It turns out I’m not so unorthodox.  The Catholic Encyclopedia’s entry for “The Kingdom of God”  fits my perceptions.

 “The various shades of meaning which the expression bears have to be studied. In the mouth of Christ the “kingdom” means not so much a goal to be attained or a place — though those meanings are by no means excluded; cf. Matthew 5:3; 11:2, etc. — it is rather a tone of mind (Luke 17:20-21), it stands for an influence which must permeate men’s minds if they would be one with Him and attain to His ideals.” 

 I’m going to keep praying and waiting for the Christ Child, who is with us. Right Now.
(photo courtesy of Karen Horton, whose husband’s blog is here)

For the Love of Saint Andrew: A Christmas Novena, Day 6

As a lifelong Catholic, I have heard a lot and read a lot about Christ calling his apostles, ordinary Jewish fishermen plying their trade on the Sea of Galilee, to be “fishers of men.”

The vocations of apostles, such as Saint Andrew, and their successors, our priests, are to draw us to Christ. But in many corners of the globe, including the Philippines, Brazil and in the United States, the Church faces a dire shortage of priests even as the Church on this planet numbers beyond one billion.

What’s at stake? No priests, no sacraments, no Church.  “Who’s going to give the sacraments for the next generation?” one priest asks in a powerful video called “Fishers of Men.”

This 18-minute video was produced by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Vocations and Priestly Formation. If your family hasn’t seen this video – our two sons watched it during CCD class last year – please do.

And as we pray the Christmas Novena together, let’s reflect on whether we’re raising our sons to realize, as one priest in the video puts it: “it’s not natural to be a priest; it’s supernatural.”

For the Love of Saint Andrew: A Christmas Novena, Day 5

Andrew, who recognized Christ as the Messiah, immediately shared this revelation with his brother Peter. The Gospel of John says simply: “And he brought him to Jesus.

Both brothers – Saint Andrew and Saint Peter – became Apostles. Could they have imagined then that they both would be martyred for their faith?

How did this meeting happen? What was it about Andrew that drew Peter to Christ? How do we Christians attract nonbelievers to Christ? We can’t do it by lecturing them on our doctrines, shaming them into belief, or condemning the world we inhabit.

Instead, I believe that no matter where our days take us, no matter how banal the tasks before us seem, we must strive to exude love, the kind of forgiving merciful love saints personify, the kind of powerful unquenchable love that comes only from Christ.

When he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, The Holy Father (considerably more literate than I) said this about the attractiveness of the Christian path:

Is there anyone who does not know Dostoyevsky’s often quoted sentence. ‘The Beautiful will save us?’ However, people usually forget that Dostoyevsky is referring here to the redeeming Beauty of Christ.

We must learn to see Him.

If we know Him, not only in words, but if we are struck by the arrow of his paradoxical beauty, then we will truly know him, and know him not only because we have heard others speak about him. Then we will have found the beauty of Truth, of the Truth that redeems. Nothing can bring us into close contact with the beauty of Christ himself other than the world of beauty created by faith and light that shines out from the faces of the saints, through whom his own light becomes visible.

Let us consider how we can be the hands, feet and face of Christ to others as we pray the Christmas Novena today.

For the Love of Saint Andrew: A Christmas Novena, Day 4

What’s in a name? Upon Our Lord’s first meeting with Andrews’ brother Simon, in John chapter 1, He says Simon’s name will be changed. This is how the scene unfolds,

The next day again John (the Baptist) stood, and two of his disciples. And beholding Jesus walking, he saith: Behold the Lamb of God. And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. And Jesus turning, and seeing them following him, saith to them: What seek you? Who said to him, Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, Master,) where dwellest thou? He saith to them: Come and see.

They came, and saw where he abode, and they stayed with him that day: now it was about the tenth hour. And Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the two who had heard of John, and followed him. He findeth first his brother Simon, and saith to him: We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ. And he brought him to Jesus. And Jesus looking upon him, said: Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is interpreted Peter.

Yes, Jesus knew who he was, sight unseen. To keep things straight for us readers, St. John calls St. Peter Simon Peter often throughout his version of the gospel. Even though the “Peter” part wasn’t declared yet. And when he calls him Simon only, he clarifies it, like this from John 6:14 (all of these citations are from the Douay-Rheims version of the Bible):

Simon, whom He (Jesus) surnamed Peter, and Andrew his brother, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew,

Biblical name changes are no small matter. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, the significance is weighty. For example, Abram (which means high father) becomes Abraham, or father of multitudes. His wife’s name, Sarai (which means my princess) is changed to Sarah, which means mother of nations. Very ironic for a women who was barren? Miraculous, is what it is.

Another major name change in the Old Testament occurs to Jacob. Jacob’s name, which originally means heel or leg-puller is changed to Israel, which means persevere with God. And later on, in the Acts of the Apostles, A Pharisee named Saul will have his named change as well.

The foreshadowing of the name change for Simon in John’s first chapter, feeds the drama of Our Lord’s statement in the 16th chapter of Matthew when he asks the Twelve “Who do the people say I am?” and more importantly, “who do you say I am?” And that is the hugely significant prelude to the recognition of who Peter is, and who he is to become.

Ponder the plan God has for each of us in your heart as you pray the Christmas Novena today.

For the Love of Saint Andrew: A Christmas Novena, Day 3

Two brothers were hard at work in their fishing boats in the Sea of Galilee. Maybe they were mending their nets. Maybe they were bickering over who had done more work the day before. A man walks along the shoreline. Do they know him? Maybe. After all, he’s a carpenter. Maybe he had helped them repair their boats. Or maybe he is a stranger to them. We do not know. The man calls to them.

“And Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the two who had heard of John and followed him. He finds first his brother Simon and said to him: We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ. And he brought him to Jesus. And Jesus looking upon him, said: You are Simon the son of Jona. You shall be called Cephas, which is interpreted Peter.”

Christ found Andrew, engaged in the often-monotonous work of making a living. He sought him to be his first follower. Christ didn’t seek out a political leader. He sought an ordinary man.

Christ continues to journey to us. He’s always waiting for us to turn to him, to feel his loving gaze on us. We can encounter Christ through a workmate, a dear friend, or in the face of a stranger. When we start looking, we will find Him everywhere.

And then, as Fr. Julian Carron writes: “Here begins the drama, because I am called to answer. It is the drama that unfolds between us and the Mystery, through certain facts, certain moments, in which the Mystery imposes itself with this evidence. These are facts that we cannot put in our pocket, which we cannot reduce to antecedent factors.”

The Christmas Novena prayer is here.

Glad with Morning Light (A Few Words for Wednesday)

Within Charles Dickens’ searing, socially realistic novel, The Old Curiosity Shop, he offers us luminous writing about the beauty of the natural world. The story he tells is tragic; it’s the tale of a young and virtuous orphan, Little Nell, who dies on a journey with her grandfather to escape their misfortune in London. Soon after she dies, her grandfather does too. Because it now is Advent, I am drawn to images of light. This  passage, from Chapter 15, speaks to me because we all journey.

The town was glad with morning light; places that had shown ugly and distrustful all night long, now wore a smile; and sparkling sunbeams dancing on chamber windows, and twinkling through blind and curtain before sleepers’ eyes, shed light even into dreams,

 and chased away the shadows of the night. 

Birds in hot rooms, covered up close and dark, felt it was morning, and chafed and grew restless in their little cells; bright-eyed mice crept back to their tiny homes and nestled timidly together; the sleek house-cat, forgetful of her prey, sat winking at the rays of sun starting through keyhole and cranny in the door, and longed for her stealthy run and warm sleek bask outside. The nobler beasts confined in dens, stood motionless behind their bars and gazed on fluttering boughs, and sunshine peeping through some little window, with eyes in which old forests gleamed–then trod impatiently the track their prisoned feet had worn–and stopped and gazed again. 

Men in their dungeons stretched their cramp cold limbs and cursed the stone that no bright sky could warm. The flowers that sleep by night, opened their gentle eyes and turned them to the day. The light, creation’s mind, was everywhere, and all things owned its power.

. . . Near such a spot as this, and in a pleasant field, the old man and his little guide (if guide she were, who knew not whither they were bound) sat down to rest. She had had the precaution to furnish her basket with some slices of bread and meat, and here they made their frugal breakfast.

The freshness of the day, the singing of the birds, the beauty of the waving grass, the deep green leaves, the wild flowers, and the thousand exquisite scents and sounds that floated in the air–deep joys to most of us, but most of all to those whose life is in a crowd or who live solitarily in great cities as in the bucket of a human well–sunk into their breasts and made them very glad. The child had repeated her artless prayers once that morning, more earnestly perhaps than she had ever done in all her life, but as she felt all this, they rose to her lips again. The old man took off his hat–he had no memory for the words–but he said ‘Amen,’ and that they were very good.”

For the Love of Saint Andrew: A Christmas Novena, Day 2

Sacred scripture tells us little of the life of Christ’s first disciple. Perhaps this is a good thing. Instead of being handed a long narrative about this holy man, we are left to wonder, to contemplate on the man who was the first to follow Christ.

Before he became devoted to Christ, Saint Andrew was a follower of Saint John the Baptist, a cousin of and the Precursor to Christ and the last of the prophets. (Here is Renaissance master Raphael’s painting of Saint John the Baptist preaching)  John the Baptist was a charismatic preacher who had lived in the desert the life of an ascetic and during his public ministry rebuked the leaders of the Pharisees and Sadducees for their hypocrisy and sin. And so we understand that Andrew, like many who followed the Baptist, was a man in search of truth.

Unlike many false prophets of that time John the Baptist never said he was the Messiah; instead he told the followers he baptized in the River Jordan:

I indeed baptize you with water; but there shall come one mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to loose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire: whose fan is in his hand and he will purge his floor; and will gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 

Scripture tells us that John the Baptist was a holy man who had spent time in the desert before emerging for his public ministry. His preaching was intense: he rebuked those living in sin and his words carried weight because he lived austerely. We come to understand then, that Saint Andrew was unafraid of those who critiqued the society in which he was living; he was seeking an understanding of the world beyond its temporal powers.

As we await the coming of Our Savior, Jesus Christ, let’s give thanks to God, who willed Saint Andrew into being.

See the original post for the Christmas novena prayer.