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St. Andrew the Apostle:
A Model for Us
Address to the California Class of 2023
By Dr. Paul J. O’Reilly
President, Thomas Aquinas College
May 17, 2023
As you approach your graduation and your “return to the world,” it will serve you well to have a good example to follow. Tonight, I want to propose to you to look to St. Andrew the Apostle as your guide. My thoughts have been formed by reading a sermon of Cardinal Newman and St. Thomas’s commentaries on the Gospels of John and Matthew.
St. Andrew is rarely mentioned in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. When he is, it is often as one of a list of Apostles. But in the Gospel of John there are three details about Andrew not found in the other Gospels: when Andrew first becomes a disciple of Jesus, Andrew’s role in the miracle of the loaves and fishes, and his role in bringing Greeks to see Jesus.
Let’s look at those details one at a time, starting with Andrew’s becoming a Disciple of Jesus:
On the following day, John (the Baptist) was standing with two of his disciples. And seeing Jesus walking by, he said: Behold the Lamb of God. And the two disciples heard him speaking, and they followed Jesus … And Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the two who had heard of John, and followed him. He first found his brother Simon and said to him: We have found the Messiah. And he brought him to Jesus (Jn. 1:35-42).
St. Thomas comments on this passage:
The disciple (Andrew) is [mentioned by] name in order to show his privilege: for he was the first to be perfectly converted to Christ, but also proclaimed Christ. So, as Stephen was the first martyr after Christ, so Andrew was the first Christian.
St. Andrew was the first Christian and, right after being called by Jesus, he brings his brother Simon Peter to Jesus. Yet despite being first, and despite his zeal for his brother’s soul, he is barely mentioned in the Gospels.
Next, let’s look at Andrew and the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes:
After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee … And a multitude followed him, because they saw the signs which He did on those who were diseased. … Lifting up His eyes, then, and seeing that a multitude was coming to him, Jesus said to Philip, “How are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” This He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of the disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what are they among so many?” (Jn. 6:1-9).
What should we make of the test that Jesus makes of Philip? He asks him about the cost of providing food for the multitude, even though He has a plan to provide them food without cost. Philip answers in terms of the world: This is how much it would cost. But Andrew brings the boy who has five loaves and two fish to Jesus, and Andrew asks: “What are these among so many?” — what can you do with so little? St. Thomas suggests that “St. Andrew … seems to sense that a miracle is going to take place” [#853].
And there is a likeness to this miracle at the wedding feast of Cana. (By the way, that remarkable miracle is only recorded in the Gospel of John, just as this detail concerning the multiplication of the loaves and fishes is only found in John.) At Cana, Our Lady points out that they have run out of wine, and Jesus responds “What is that to you and Me, My hour has not yet come.” Mary takes the initiative: she asks the servants to do whatever He tells them to do.
In this passage, Andrew is taking the initiative. Jesus asks about the cost of providing food for the multitude, and Andrew responds by bringing Him a boy with five loaves and two fish. He seems to be inviting Him to perform the miracle when He asks, “What are these among so many?”
And that brings us to Andrew’s introducing Greek pilgrims to Jesus:
Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So they came to Philip … and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew went with Philip, and they told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of God to be glorified …” (Jn. 12: 20-23).
Just as in the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, Philip and Andrew are the key disciples in this encounter recorded by John. It seems as if Philip is aware that Andrew has a deep sense of how to approach Jesus. So rather than bringing these gentiles to Jesus, or turning them away, Philip seeks Andrew. And Andrew, along with Philip, bring the Greek gentiles to Jesus.
So, six lessons can be learned from Andrew:
- We should not seek reputation but goodness;
- We should desire to share that good with others;
- We should be open to the truth (even if it will turn our lives upside down);
- We must be zealous about our faith;
- We, too, should follow the example of Jesus’s mother;
- We, too, should have courage about and confidence in our Christian faith so that we are always willing to approach Jesus.
I am very much persuaded by Cardinal Newman’s appreciation of Andrew’s virtues and how they should inspire us. To paraphrase Cardinal Newman:
Those men are not necessarily the most useful, not the most favored by God, who make the most noise in the world, who make their mark in history; on the contrary, “even when we are able to point to a certain number of men as … real instruments of … great blessings … [our relative estimation] of them …is often very erroneous.”
To quote Cardinal Newman further:
If we would trace truly the hand of God in human affairs, and pursue His bounty as displayed in the world to its original sources, we must unlearn our admiration of the powerful and distinguished, our reliance on the opinion of society, our respect for the decisions of the learned or the multitude, and turn our eyes to private life … It has been remarked that some of the most eminent Christians have been blessed with religious mothers, and have in after life referred their own graces to the instrumentality of their teaching. Augustine has preserved to the Church the history of his mother Monica; but in the case of others, even the name is denied to us of our great benefactress, whosoever she was, and sometimes, doubtless, the circumstance of her service altogether.
That is the way of Providence, and you should not expect otherwise. We can be impressed with prestige and honor, but those who do the most good are “unknown to the world.” Think about the good that mothers and fathers do in their families, in their parishes, and in their neighborhoods. That is likely what you are called to: a hidden life that can be productive of great good.
These words should be a great consolation to us, especially to the mothers among us, and those who will become mothers. To all here present, your formation at TAC has given you, I think, something quite rare: a good beginning in the intellectual and spiritual life. You have acquired real talent, and I see that whenever I meet our alumni.
Despite the challenges you may encounter; despite the way the world will tug at you; and in light of your desire to do something worthwhile for God and neighbor; you should be comforted to know that the Apostle Andrew can be your guide.
Says Cardinal Newman: “Andrew is scarcely known except by name … and is not God Himself, the author of all good, hid from mankind at large, partially manifested and poorly glorified, in a few scattered servants here and there?”
And that is our calling: to be God’s servants, not to make a name for ourselves.
St. Andrew the Apostle, pray for us.
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