Friday, 30 November 2018

Saint of the Month: St Andrew

by Luca McQuillan 

Saint Profile

Name: Saint Andrew
Status: disciple of Jesus, brother of Saint Peter
Feast day: November 30th
Patron: Of Scotland (also Greece and Russia)

Background into the life of St Andrew:

St Andrew was a fisherman from Bethsaida along with his brother, Simon Peter. He must have been a keen pursuer of the truth, as St Andrew was already a disciple of John the Baptist when he first came on the scene. One day while at work, his life changed dramatically as he met Jesus and became the very first disciple to be called by him. When Jesus called him, he instantly followed and stayed with him for the rest of the day, no doubt tirelessly listening to him speak. He finally found the fullness of the truth he had been looking for:

The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples; and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned, and saw them following, and said to them, “What do you seek?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying; and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. (Jn 1:35-39)

He then brought his own brother, the future Saint Peter, our first pope, to Jesus.

He first found his brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus”. (Jn 1:41-42)

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Apart from this, the gospels do not say much about St Andrew, in fact, despite being Peter’s brother and being the first to follow Jesus, he is never chosen specially like Peter, James and John. For example, he was not present at the Transfiguration. However, as a faithful follower of Jesus and one of the twelve apostles, he would have been with him for those three years of his apostolic life, hearing first-hand the words of Jesus, listening to his parables, witnessing countless miracles, growing in faith and all the virtues. He would have been instructed by Jesus, talked with him, dined with him and supported him during his earthly life. 

From the gospels we know that he asked Jesus questions (Mk 13:1-4) and as one of the few Greek speakers brought Greeks to Jesus and served as an interpreter together with Philip (Jn12:20-22). He was also the one who pointed out to Jesus the little boy with the fish and barley loaves that later served as the miracle of the feeding of the 5000 (Jn 6:8).

From tradition we know that while his brother Peter became the head of the See of Rome, he was the Apostle to the Greek world. (This is significant today, because the Church of the East and West were once united, literally as brothers, and even today Pope Francis has referred to the Patriarch of Constantinople as “my brother Andrew”)

St Andrew suffered for his faith extensively and eventually won the crown of martyrdom by being crucified. The Acts of St Andrew, an ancient manuscript preserved from the 6th century, gives an account of his martyrdom. Tradition also tells us his cross was X-shaped which is still preserved in Scotland’s flag.

How did you come to know Saint Andrew?

Despite spending many years growing up in Scotland where St Andrew is its patron saint, I didn’t know much about him. No one really talked about him, and even St Andrew’s day was just another day to go to mass or simply be a day of celebration. However, reflecting on my teenage years, I do believe that St Andrew had much to contribute in keeping the faith alive in little pockets throughout the country. For my own life, this too allowed me to keep the light of faith burning and strengthening as I grew older.

It was by coming to know the St Andrew Community, a group of young women in the process of becoming a new religious order in Scotland, that I was truly introduced to St Andrew; as their very way of life reflects his discipleship with Jesus. Although the community is still small and new, it has been a great blessing in my life for countless reasons and undoubtedly for many others who have come into contact with them.

St Andrew's Community

How has living in the St Andrew Community helped your journey of faith?

Having spent a year in close contact with the community, I’ve had the privilege of experiencing first-hand the true St Andrew spirit in which they live, centring everything on Christ. At all times, their first and most important work of the community is prayer; during my year there I spent more hours in adoration than I ever had before. They have set up adoration from 7am to 12am daily which is a feat that I have not been able to find elsewhere in Scotland.

In the gospels St Andrew stays with Jesus from 4pm to 6am, 14 hours. The rest of the day makes 10. The ratio of hours translated mathematically into months splits this exactly as 7 to 5. In this way, the Saint Andrew Community spend 7 months living a more contemplative life reflecting Andrew’s time with Jesus, giving them strength to then live the 5 months of an active life during the summer time when they bring people to him, particularly the youth just like St Andrew. These active months culminate in a long summer pilgrimage of around 80 young people which truly embraces the traditional concept of the word and is a time of great graces. This is their time of “bringing Peter to Jesus” as Saint Andrew did. Saint Andrew still is bringing many young people to Jesus through the community in this way.

An event that stands out during my time with the community is a visit to Amalfi whilst on pilgrimage in Rome. Amalfi is one of those famous and beautiful coastline tourist destination spots. On my visit, the town itself was littered with holidaymakers snapping endless pictures and honeymooning couples sipping glasses of wine. I remember making the 3 and a half hour drive from Rome with the Saint Andrew Community and the others in our group so that we could enter the Cathedral (which was also packed, with an additional lengthy queue to get in) in order to venerate the relics of Saint Andrew. Although we could only stay a few precious moments I remember thinking of the irony of the hundreds of tourists walking around sightseeing an old cathedral and our group kneeling in the midst of them by Saint Andrew, asking for intercession from a saint we love.

Relics of St Andrew in St Andrew's Cathedral in Amalfi

Since learning more about St Andrew, how has his life inspired you?

From the Gospels and the Acts there are three things that inspire me about him:

1. His complete conviction and immediate following of Jesus 

St Andrew doesn’t wait for another person to follow Jesus first, he doesn’t hesitate, doesn’t look for approval or test the waters. He recognises the truth instantly: Jesus is the Messiah, and he follows him straight away.

This direct, open and willing attitude is truly uplifting. It is an all too common trap to hold back and give in to irrational fears about the opinions of other people, we always want to “make sure”. This is all just an excuse when we know the truth deep down. St Andrew shows us that we must act on our relationship with God immediately, no matter what people think of us, even if we are the only one around who is following him.

2. His willingness to follow Jesus at any cost 

Recently on two occasions I was asked to take part in reading the Acts of St Andrew. One of these readings was in a performance at New Dawn Scotland, which takes place in the well-known and fitting town of St. Andrew’s, where it was acted out alongside the narration, preserving St Andrew’s inspirational story in a more visual way.

After reading the Acts, I realised how much St Andrew was a true follower of Jesus; even till death. He was crucified for his faith, just like Jesus, and he even rejoiced in this because his heart was so united to his Messiah; reaching even to his executioners and praying for them. No threat of torture or suffering could keep him from following Jesus; no one could make him fear even pain and death.

This is truly inspirational and is helpful to remember in situations where we are inclined to sin, especially when we are tempted not to witness to the truth of the faith. Often I remember the words of Jesus that when we don’t bear witness to him, neither will he bear witness to us in front of the Heavenly Father (Mt 10:32-33). This helps me remember that every situation in which I can witness to the truth I should grasp fully and use for the glory of God. I should fear nothing in my witness, except offending Him.

3. His apostolic spirit

St Andrew “first found his brother Simon”. As soon as he was a follower of Jesus he wanted to give the most precious thing anyone can give to another, God Himself. This led him to bring his own brother to Jesus, and he didn’t stop there. Even though he doesn’t have the consolation of being as close to Jesus as some of the others including his own brother, this doesn’t hinder his apostolic spirit which gives generously. He brought Greeks to Jesus, he brought the little boy with the loaves and fish to him, and who knows how many other people that are not recorded in the Gospels.

I know for certain that St Andrew doesn’t stop bringing people to Jesus, and we should ask for his intercession from heaven more frequently as it is surely what he is good at! It is true discipleship to bring those we love to God and St Andrew is a great model. When the love for God is ignited in our souls it seems to me almost simultaneous that the flame of sharing it starts to grow. If God is love, isn’t it the ultimate act of charity to bring people to experience the very source of love itself?

There are so many people who do not know the love of God yet. There is no person too small, or unworthy or “needing too much work” to bring to Jesus. He looks for these people, and he rewards us by miracles. Look at St Peter! We, too, should bring others to Him, no matter who they are.

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Novena on the Feast of St Andrew

To end this reflection, I would like to share a novena that I learned a few years ago and have been praying since. It is called the Christmas Novena, for it begins TODAY on the feast of St. Andrew and leads up to Christmas.

Hail, and blessed be the hour and moment
At which the Son of God was born
Of a most pure Virgin
At a stable at midnight in Bethlehem
In the piercing cold
At that hour vouchsafe, I beseech Thee,
To hear my prayers and grant my desires
(mention request here).

Through Jesus Christ and His most Blessed Mother.



Friday, 23 November 2018

Worship song of the Month (Nov): Good to Me

by Miriam David

What worship song has been on your heart this month and why?

Good to Me - by Audrey Assad 

I started listening to worship music when I arrived at university and started seeking out my faith for the first time. We all have certain songs that remind us of a good summer, our childhood, or our favourite year in secondary school. In the same way, I can categorise certain worship songs into sections of my spiritual journey since then. For example, ‘Come As You Are’ by Crowder will always remind me of many evenings spent walking across the Exeter campus to the Catholic Chaplaincy, full of trepidation and repentance and determination to renew my relationship with God.

When I heard ‘Good to Me’ by Audrey Assad for the first time, I knew there was no one part of my spiritual journey to which it related: past, present or future. It related to them all. Its lyrics are perennially relevant, because God is always good. Yet the more I have listened to it, especially this month, the more truths it has revealed to me.

Are there any particular verses in the song that remind you or lead you to scripture?

The best worship songs always use scripture and lead us to a deeper understanding of it; and this song does just that. Throughout this song there are several lines directly relating to Scripture:

Verse 1:

I put all my hope
On the truth of Your promise
And I steady my heart
On the ground of Your goodness

What is the truth of His promise? On what grounds do I steady my heart? There are more, but here are the scriptural verses that first spring to mind: ‘You will be my people and I will be your God’ (Jeremiah 30:22) and ‘I will be with you always; yes, to the end of time’ (Matthew 28:20).

Verse 2:

When I’m bowed down with sorrow
I will lift up Your name
And the foxes in the vineyard
Will not steal my joy

The foxes in the vineyard’ is a reference to the Song of Solomon (Song of Songs 2:15). In the context of the song, the author describes the love God expects of His people, but the obstacles created by those who seek to undermine fidelity to God.

Those who tell us not to ‘go’, those who give us occasion to sin, those (and this can include ourselves!) who do little things to steal our joy, seek to prevent our continual return to God in repentance and trust. This verse reminds me that joy is a fruit of Christian life, but even in sorrow I must praise He who desires only my love.

In what moments has this song helped you?

I used this song at my Chaplaincy Adoration evening this month, and there’s a particular verse that always comes to mind during my adoration of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament:

And I lift my eyes
To the hills where my help is found
Your voice fills the night
Raise my head up and hear the sound

It is in those evenings that I lift my eyes to gaze on Him, where I look to for help, and in the silence I hear His voice fill the night.

What I like about this song is that I can be in the middle of an existential crisis, floods of tears, lonely, or filled with contentment, fellowship and a sense of purpose, and I will sing these words just the same. Depending on my situation, they are hope for the future, or affirmation of the present. Equally, regardless of my situation, they are always true.

What do you think is the song’s biggest message?

In understanding the true message of the song, I’ve realised its chronology is important for me; it puts the truth of God’s promise first and the experience of His goodness second.

In my journey of faith, I had to recognise His truth before I could open my heart to Him. I had to know that Jesus was God, before I could allow Him to change my life. Through the sacraments, we are given concrete examples of God’s goodness as often as we please to participate in them, but if we do not acknowledge them to be true, then we cut ourselves off from their graces. He was good to me long before I hoped in His promise, but I had to recognise His truth before I could open myself up to experience His goodness and mercy.

Your goodness and mercy shall follow me
All my life
I'll trust in Your promise
And your goodness and mercy shall follow me
All my life
I'll trust in Your promise
Your goodness and mercy shall follow me
All my life
I will trust in Your promise

Because of these words, I think the song’s biggest take away is that God cares about your personal situation, He wants you to bring that to Him. But He does not change. That is why we can trust Him. He is always good. Much like the song, when I place my hope in this truth of His promise, his goodness seems never-ending. That goodness is what I need to bring everything in my life into perspective.

Because You are good to me, good to me
You are good to me, good to me
You are good to me
You are good to me, good to me
You are good to me, good to me
You are good to me
You are good to me, good to me
You are good to me, good to me
You are good to me

Who would you recommend this song to, and are there other songs you would recommend on the same theme?

I would recommend this song to anyone who has struggled praying, or going to Adoration, recently. There can be a lot of pressure to feel a certain way when we talk to God or meet Him face-to-face. I hope this song brings home the fact that our faith is based on truth, not feeling. He promised He would be with us always. He has been good to us. Whether we are joyful or sad, whether we feel like He can hear us or not, our primary call is to acknowledge His mercy and goodness. The feelings will follow.
I recommend pretty much all of Audrey’s Assad music for further listening.

Prayer to end on:

Dear Lord,

Allow us to place all our trust and hope in You and Your promises for our lives. May our eyes be open to your goodness all around us. May we lift your name in sorrow and in joy. May we bear witness to the fact that life is good and proclaim that truth to the world.


Monday, 12 November 2018

Bringing Jesus to University

Throughout secondary school I always had my heart set on going to university. The course I wanted to do changed goodness knows how many times, but regardless I knew that going to university was the next step I needed to take in my life. I’m around 8 weeks into my first semester and I feel like I’m now in the position to speak about the experiences I’ve had so far, and share the reminders that have helped me cope with the vast amount of changes I’ve gone through already.

1. Jesus is your best friend

Okay, we all know this, but keeping it at the forefront of my mind has helped me so much since starting university. My family lives in a small village, so moving away from everything I had known into a bustling city was very scary at the start. Whilst a couple of my old schoolmates are at the same university as me, I’ve gone from being surrounded by people I grew up with to knowing only a handful of other students. 

Making friends has always been a bit of a struggle for my introverted self, but reminding myself that Jesus is constantly by my side has allowed me to put myself out there more and speak to anyone and everyone, just as He would have done. It is also a great reassurance in general; no matter how alone or isolated I may feel at times, I can turn to my best friend at any hour of the day and He will always be there to listen to and comfort me. In the midst of so much uncertainty, Jesus is my true north, my stronghold, my ‘cornerstone’ (Psalm 118: 22).

The best way for me to keep growing in this friendship with Jesus during University has been through prayer. As soon as I wake up in the morning, I'll make the sign of the cross to invite Him into my day, and I’ll constantly ask Him for guidance and give thanks to Him for little things throughout the day. That way, through both the big and small moments, I know Jesus is walking right beside me.

Having a best friend who loves me so unconditionally has also helped me to love others, especially when it is challenging to do so. I've quickly realised that University can be a stressful environment, and it can be so easy to take your frustration out on others, but Jesus has helped me to (try and) spread love to those around me instead. In this way, I’m hopefully giving the people I meet just a tiny glimpse of the immense love that Jesus has for them.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. (1 John 4:7)

2.  Allow yourself to feel

This might also seem like an obvious one, but it’s something I’ve really had to focus on lately. I’m a highly emotional individual, and going through so much turbulence of change has sent my emotions into even harder overdrive than normal. I have a bad habit of keeping them under lock and key until there’s no capacity left for anything else, and then they tend to explode in a rather messy manner. 

However, I am slowly but surely learning to acknowledge my feelings when I feel them, rather than ignore them until they start to overflow. If I find myself getting overwhelmed, I try to take a few minutes to speak to God and ask Him to take away all of the anxiety, stress and fear I’m experiencing at that particular moment. 

Going to adoration has also been an incredible way to connect with Jesus - in the Blessed Sacrament, He’s right there in front of me - and so I'll bring everything weighing down my heart to Him. In those moments, I'll also ask the Holy Spirit to work through me and use me as the Lord’s instrument; when I’m doing what God wants me to do rather than what I think I need to do, I've seen that everything tends to go a lot more smoothly. 

As Matthew writes in his gospel, 

‘With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’ (Matthew 19:26).

3. Get involved with your university/college chaplaincy

This has honestly done absolute wonders for my faith since starting University. The vast majority of people I’ve encountered have been so lovely and welcoming, but the young Catholics I’ve met have somehow been even more so! They’re so filled with joy and peace, and this rubs off on me whenever I have a conversation with one of them or hear them play music at mass (they also use some classic Y2K songs, so I feel right at home).

I made myself known at the chaplaincy as soon as I could, and when the parish priest welcomed me immediately with such open arms: I knew I was where God wanted me to be. As well as attending the evening mass every Sunday, I’ve also been to a few of the talks and events that the chaplaincy runs on a weekly basis and this has been an amazing opportunity to learn about my faith in a warm and informal setting. Seeing so many young people brought together by Jesus fills me with so much happiness, and really reaffirms that God has an amazing plan for all of us, both as individuals and as different members of the same body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12). 

It’s also slowly giving me more confidence to talk to my peers about my faith; especially with those who don't believe or are currently content with a life without knowing God - which can sometimes be a daunting conversation to start at University. However, I had my first faith-based discussion with my flatmates the other week after they’d asked me a few questions, and it was a really positive and encouraging experience. I've realised how important it is to not be afraid of spreading Jesus' message; as it allows my peers to learn of the love He has for each and every one of them, and is desperately waiting for them to know. They might disagree with what I have to say, but if I can share the good news with them, that’s all that matters to me. God will do the rest.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19)

4.  Keep trusting in God’s goodness: He is present

If I’ve learnt anything over the past 8 weeks (aside from my coursework, obviously) it would be that God is forever constant and will never, ever waver. He is always by your side and will help you over each hurdle that stands in your way. It’s a long process – no one expects you to have your life together immediately after it’s been flipped upside down – but you simply have to trust in God and everything else will fall into place. You will stumble, you will hurt, and if you’re anything like me you will definitely cry. But that’s okay. God knows we’re not perfect, and He doesn’t want us to be. He just wants us to try our best and put our total faith in His plan. He will provide. He always has and always will.

To finish off this post I'll leave you with one more Bible quote that has become one of my absolute favourites. It’s a constant reminder that everything I’m feeling is totally natural, and that God is patiently waiting for me to give it all to Him. With God in front of you, Jesus at your side and the Holy Spirit working through you, you can do anything. Just you wait and see.

‘Do not be afraid, only believe’ – Mark 5:36.

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