The Apostles and the Priesthood ~ Part 2
In the last Circular Letter, we began our meditation on the priesthood, giving particular attention to the Apostles upon whom the Church is founded. These great men and their successors serve down through the centuries as our bridge to the living Jesus. Through the Sacraments which they administer to us, Jesus, God-among-us, is made present in His Person and action. It is Jesus working in and through the priest who forgives our sins and nourishes our souls with His Body and Blood. Through the priest, Jesus consoles us with His word and directs our lives toward their eternal goal. St. Jean Marie Vianney stated, “Without the priest, the passion and death of Our Lord would be of no avail. It is the priest who continues the work of Redemption on earth… What use would be a house filled with gold, were there no one to open its door? The priest holds the key to the treasures of heaven: it is he who opens the door.”
St. Andrew, the “First Called”
Having meditated on the Apostles in general, as well as on St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles, we now turn to the other Apostles in the rather limited references to them in Scripture, history and tradition. St. Andrew, commonly known as the “Parakletos” or “first called”, is said to have founded the Church of Constan-tinople. Being also Peter’s brother, the Church of Constantinople and the Church of Rome, the See of Peter’s universal authority, have always seen themselves as “sister” Churches.
St. Andrew was first a disciple of John the Baptist, which already indicates his religious disposition and desire for the things of God. St. John the Evangelist relates that Andrew was one of the two disciples who heard John the Baptist cry out, “‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’” They followed Jesus and He turned 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.’” (Jn 1:35-39). The call to be with the Lord, to see His way of life, to give Him time, is the beginning of every vocation.
Having recognized Jesus as the Christ, Andrew immediately wanted to share the discovery with his brother, thus demonstrating his “apostolic” spirit; and “he brought him to Jesus” (Jn 1:42). In this sense, St. Andrew is a model for each of us. Called by Christ and baptized into His Mystical Body, we share in Jesus’ mission to evangelize those around us, to bring others to God. Though we may not be called to preach in public as in the ministerial priesthood, still, according to our common priesthood in Christ, we are called to bear witness to Him in our workplaces, in our families, etc, by the way we live and by the hope we have in Jesus. We can also evangelize with the help of the holy angels. When we come into contact with those who deny or scoff at Christ or Christian morals, we can ask our Guardian Angel to give them light. They can inspire us with the right word, or tell us when to be silent out of love. We can call on the angels to go all over the world, filling their hands, so to speak, with our small sacrifices and acts of love, to help missionaries and priests in their work and to open the hearts of peoples for the word of Christ.
When Jesus definitively called Peter and Andrew saying, “I will make you fishers of men” they “immediately left everything and followed Him” (Lk 5:11). St. Andrew was willing to detach Himself from all ties of this world for the sake of Christ, to follow Him in purity and openness for His word. Only in purity of heart, detachment and self-denial can we, too, be open for the will and word of God. These traits open us to follow the ways of grace.
St. Andrew also exhibited a youthful, trusting spirit. When a multitude had followed Him in the desert, Jesus asked His disciples, “How are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” (Jn 6:5). With all simplicity and in recognition of his own limitations, it is Andrew who answers, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what are they among so many?” (6:9). He was not afraid to present what he had, even though he knew it was insufficient. He trusted with childlike confidence that Jesus would know what to do with his poor gifts.
Apostle to the Greeks
Andrew (Andreas) is not a Hebrew but a Greek name, which indicates the cultural openness of his Hebrew family. Along with Phillip, the only other Apostle with a Greek name, St. Andrew served as a mediator between Jesus and the Greeks who came seeking Jesus shortly before His passion. When the two Apostles approached Jesus and told Him about the Greeks who wished to see Him, He gave them a puzzling answer: “The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified! Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12:23-24). The fact was, Jesus did not want to meet these men simply on a superficial level; He wanted to die for them, that they too might be saved.
For until then, the message of salvation had been reserved for the Jews, the Chosen People; but with His death, Jesus offered the grace of God’s forgiveness and election to all men. St. Paul writes to Gentiles who had become Christians, “Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the common-wealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph 2:12). After the death of Christ, however, “you who once were far off have been brought near in the Blood of Christ.… Through Him we both [Jew and Gentile] have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Eph 2:13, 18). Providentially, after Pentecost it is St. Andrew who is said to have brought this message of salvation to the Greek world, not only by word, but also, like Jesus, laying down his life for the Gospel.
Tradition holds that he was crucified in Patras. Like his brother, St. Peter, he also considered himself unworthy to die in the same manner as his Lord, and so requested to be placed on an X-shaped cross, which is now known as the Cross of St. Andrew, particularly efficacious in temptations against purity.
Hail, O Cross! ...Before the Lord mounted you, you inspired an earthly fear. Now, endowed with heavenly love, you are accepted as a gift. Believers know of the great joy that you possess and of the multitude of gifts you have prepared…. Take me, carry me far from men, and restore me to my Teacher, so that, through you, the One who redeemed me by you may receive me. Hail, O Cross!
Whether or not this hymn was actually spoken by the Apostle, it expresses the purity of his martyr’s heart and his longing for Christ over all earthly things, being willing and even eager to depart this life by means of great sufferings in order to be united with his Lord and Master. In this way, he in turn, like His Lord, became the grain of wheat which, in dying, bore much fruit.
St. James the Lesser
In the list of Apostles there are two who bear the name of James. St. James the Lesser, or otherwise known as “the Younger”, was the “brother of the Lord” (Mk 6:3), which according to the Semitic language could mean that he was a near or distant cousin of Jesus. The historian Eusebius mentions that James the Lesser was the first bishop of Jerusalem and he is called, along with Peter, one of the “pillars” of that Church (Gal 2:9). He established a canonical order of priests which lasted centuries and from which St. Theotonius, the co-founder of the Order of the Holy Cross, is said to have learned the canonical way of life. He also played a prominent role in the first Council of Jerusalem, proposing the final solution for the question of whether Gentile Christians were bound by Jewish ceremonial laws (Acts 15:13-22).
Faith without Works is Dead
The Epistle of James is also attributed to this Apostle. It is a very practical, “catholic” letter written to no particular community of the time, such as Rome or Ephesus, but for all Christians. In it, St. James exhorts the reader to prove his faith by concrete good works, rather than by just an abstract profession. This living faith was expressed especially through persevering in trials and helping the poor. “For,” he says, “as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead” (Jas 2:26). Pope Benedict notes that this statement is often falsely set in opposition to the teaching of St. Paul who says “we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law” (Rom 3:28; cf. Gal 2:16). Yet, the Pope clarifies, the two statements are only apparently contradictory and must be interpreted within context:
St. Paul is opposed to the pride of man who thinks he does not need the love of God [i.e., grace] that precedes us; he is opposed to the pride of self-justification without grace, which is simply given and undeserved. St. James, instead, talks about works as the normal fruit of faith: “Every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit,” the Lord says (Mt 7:17). (Apostles, pp. 72-73)
Thus, St. James reminds us that all our pious thoughts and good intentions are of naught if we do not prove our faith in God by the love we show our neighbor, especially the poor and defenseless.
Martyrdom of St. James the Lesser
Eusebius mentions that St. James was well respected by all in the city of Jerusalem, even by the Jews who gave him the name, “James the Just”. Yet because he made so many converts, they tried to force him to repudiate Christ in the Jewish Temple. When he took the opportunity, however, to preach Christ instead, they were infuriated and dragged him out to kill him with stones and clubs. Like Pope John Paul II, many respected and esteemed him personally as a man, but were unwilling to accept the truth by which he lived if it contradicted their own sinful lifestyle.
St. James the Greater
James the Greater was one of the privileged three, along with Peter and John, whom Jesus called to witness important events of His life: the raising of a child to life (Mk 5:37), the Transfiguration and the Agony in the Garden. St. James was the brother of John, and together they were nicknamed by Jesus “sons of thunder” (Mk 3:17). This name was probably a reflection of their zealous and passionate nature, which was at first misguided and in need of orientation. Their thunderous manner can be seen on the journey to Jerusalem, to which Jesus was travelling to fulfill His mission through His death on the Cross. On the way they wanted to pass through a Samaritan town, which on hearing Jesus was headed for Jerusalem, would not receive Him (the Samaritans were Jews who had intermarried with pagans and were looked down upon by the Jews; the Samaritans likewise scorned Jews and refused to recognize the Jewish Temple at Jerusalem). “And when His disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do You want us to bid fire come down from heaven and consume them?’ But [Jesus] turned and rebuked them” (Lk 9:51-56).
Jesus wanted to teach His Apostles that He came not to condemn or destroy, but to bring the knowledge of God along with His mercy, love and salvation. He was patient with us sinners, teaching us by humble example and the gift of Himself on the Cross, that sinners might not die, but be converted and live. This mercy must fill the hearts and temper the zeal of His followers as well, especially His ministers of the Gospel, who must always speak the truth with love. Regarding the role of bishops, it is stated in Vatican II: “Since it is the mission of the Church to converse with the human society in which it lives, it is especially the duty of bishops to seek out men and both request and promote dialogue with them. These conversations on salvation ought to be noted for clarity of speech as well as humility and mildness in order that at all times truth may be joined to charity and understanding with love. Likewise they should be noted for due prudence joined with trust, which fosters friendship and thus is capable of bringing about a union of minds” (Christus Dominus, 13).And to priests, Pope John Paul II writes, “Pastoral charity itself impels the priest to an ever deeper knowledge of the hopes, the needs, the problems, the sensibilities of the people to whom he ministers, taken in their specific situations, as individuals, in their families, in society and in history” (Pastores dabo vobis, 71). We, too, in bearing witness to Christ should always speak the truth in love and gentleness, praying to the Guardian Angel of our hearers, that we may be witnesses not only to the truth, but also to God’s merciful and compassionate love.
The Meaning of Glory in the Kingdom of God
James and John were also corrected for their ambition, though perhaps it was no greater than the other Apostles’. Again on the way to Jerusalem, on the way to Jesus’ Passion and Cross, they naively asked Him for the privilege of being seated one at His right and the other on His left in glory. Jesus was approaching His Passion, the great moment when He would lay down His life out of pure, self-giving love, while His closest disciples were still bickering about who was the greatest among them. “But Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?’” (Mk 10:38). The Apostles still needed to learn that discipleship was about service, about giving oneself out of love, not about ruling over others or temporal glory. Moreover, in the Kingdom of God on earth, glory is always related to suffering: Can you drink the cup?
As one of the three witnesses of the Transfiguration, Jesus revealed to James the glory of His divinity: “And He was trans-figured before them, and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became white as light” (Mt 17:2). Yet even as the splendor of His divinity shone out from Jesus, this glory was not separated from the mystery of the Cross: “And behold, two men talked with Him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His departure [death], which He was to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Lk 9:30-31). Glory comes only at the price of the Cross. St. John even goes so far to say that Jesus’ exaltation on the Cross was His moment of glory: for it is the moment of the greatest manifestation of divine love by the God-man. “Father, the hour has come; glorify Thy Son that the Son may glorify Thee” (Jn 17:1). There is no greater love than that a man lay down his life for his friends (cf. Jn 15:13). Yet Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners. Suffering without love is misery; but suffering united with love, offered up and united with the love of Jesus, is the greatest glory we can achieve in this life. For through suffering we are led to the selfless love of Christ and made participants in divine charity, interceding for others and their salvation.
Parallel to the Transfiguration, also on a mountain with the same three Apostles, was the Agony in the Garden. Here the three witnessed no longer the glory of Jesus’ divinity, but the weakness of His humanity. Jesus begs the disciples to keep Him company, to “Watch with Me!” (Mt 26:38), to persevere with Him in trial. “Could you not watch with Me one hour?” (Mt 26:40). Jesus begs our love and company; He seeks consolation from us, especially from those consecrated to Him, His priests. We can give Him this love especially in the Holy Mass and Eucharistic Adoration. We can console Jesus even now in His Agony for those who do not console Him, offering our Adoration hour especially for priests who no longer find the time to spend with Jesus in prayer.
Like the Master, many trials lay ahead of the disciples in the service of Christ. They would need the strength of prayer: “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mt 26:41). The Apostles, and every Bishop and priest after them, have become a particular target of wrath on the part of the devil, who sees in them the sacramental mark of Christ. In the priests, by tempting them to defile this mark, the enemy seeks to take revenge on Jesus, on God Himself. Moreover, the eternal destiny of thousands of souls depends upon the fidelity of the Apostles and all priests after them. By striking the shepherd, the sheep will also scatter. So we need to pray for our priests and bishops, that they have the strength to endure the trials and temptations of this world, that they may faithfully lead us through the storms of life to the joys of heaven.
After the Resurrection, St. James was privileged to be the first to lay down his life for Christ, to “drink the cup” offered to him. It is recorded, “About that time Herod the king laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the Church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword” (Acts 12:1). His body was transferred to Compostela, Spain where even today many receive graces through the merits of the life and martyrdom of St. James.
Supporting Our Priests
Especially in this Year for Priests, we pray for all good and faithful priests who are often the object of unjust persecutions, that they may bear witness to Christ in every situation. As Pope Paul VI would say, “modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses” (Evangelii nuntiandi, 41). We pray daily for our bishops, that they have the courage to bear witness by their lives and to speak out and confront the evils of our society, to defend the defenseless, especially the unborn and the aged. We ask our Blessed Mother to watch over her priests and to form them according to the Heart of her divine Son. We ask the holy angels to accompany our priests, to make their words effective and to strengthen them in their trials, that they may be faithful witnesses united with Jesus even to the end.