30 November 2009

Can we be stubborn and obstinate like Saint Andrew?

Saint Andrew ... a window in Saint Andrew’s Church of Ireland Parish Church in Malahide, Co Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

30 November 2009: Saint Andrew the Apostle

Isaiah 52: 7-10; Psalm 19: 1-6; Romans 10: 12-18; Matthew 4: 18-22.

May I speak to you in the name of + the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

At the moment I am re-reading Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Gate of Angels (1990), a novel set in Saint Angelicus, a fictional Cambridge college, near Christ’s Pieces at the back of Sidney Sussex College.

Penelope Fitzgerald came from a well-known family of Anglican and Roman Catholic theologians. So you can understand how early in the novel she throws in the delightful piece of historical information that Saint Angelicus in Cambridge, like St Andrews in Scotland, has no legal existence. They both received their founding charters from Pope Benedict XIII, one of the last antipopes in Avignon.

In reality, Benedict XIII (Pedro de Luna) was no Pope at all – even his own schismatic followers deposed him at Pisa in 1409 and the antipope party even threw him out of Avignon, forcing him into a delusory and arrogant exile in Aragon. He had no legal right to grant a charter to any college or university.

But Pedro de Luna – whether he was a lunatic or simply liked the idea of being a Pope – was caught up in the nets of his yesterdays and stubbornly continued to behave like a Pope. His stubborn behaviour gave rise to the Spanish saying seguir en sus trece (to stay in his/her 13), referring to people who refuse to change their minds, who stick to their stubborn and obstinate behaviour.

Eventually, no-one but the Scots recognised him as Pope. But he clung to the delusions of office, granting charters to universities, and in a series of bulls in 1413 and 1414 set up St Andrews four or five years after he was sacked.

Now, far be it from me, in front of Maurice or Lynne, to challenge the historical legitimacy of St Andrews, or its claims to antiquity. But in the past and in antiquity some interesting claims have been made too on behalf of Saint Andrew, the apostle we commemorate this morning.

Andrew was a fisherman, working on the Lake of Galilee with his brother Simon Peter. He was a disciple of John the Baptist when he heard the call of Christ to follow him. Andrew hesitated for a moment, not because he had any doubts about that call, but because he wanted to bring his brother with him. He went to Peter and, as Saint John’s Gospel tells us, he told him: “We have found the Messiah … [and] he brought Simon to Jesus” (John 1: 41, 42).

In answering our call to ministry and mission, we must not forget those who are closest to us, those in our families and those who have worked with us. But, at the same time, like Andrew, we must be happy about leaving behind the nets of yesterday and not getting caught up in them.

Tradition says Andrew was so obstinate and so stubborn at his martyrdom in Patras that he insisted on being splayed on an X-shaped cross as he said he was unworthy to be crucified on a cross the same shape as the one on which Christ was crucified.

Unlike the other disciples named in this morning’s Gospel reading – Peter, James and John – Andrew never gave his name to an Epistle, never gave his name to a Gospel. But Andrew, the first-called of the Apostles, truly took up his cross and followed Jesus. And he called others to do the same.

His stubborn and obstinate commitment to mission, to travelling for the Gospel, has made him the patron saint of mission work and the patron saint of Constantinople, Greece, Romania, Ukraine, Russia – and even Scotland.

That stubborn and obstinate commitment to Christ, to the point of a martyr’s death, makes Andrew an appropriate saint to start off the Church Year at the beginning of Advent. As yesterday’s Gospel reading (Luke 21: 25-36) reminded us, Christmas is meaningless without looking forward to the Cross, the Resurrection, and in Advent the coming of Christ again in glory.

This morning Saint Andrew, the first-called of the Apostles, reminds us of the meaning of our call to ministry and mission. When you leave here, casting aside the nets of study, assignments and exams, may you remain stubborn and obstinate – not like Benedict XIII but like Saint Andrew, the first-called of the Apostles, in your commitment to Christ, his Church and his mission.

And now, may all praise, honour and glory be to God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.


Almighty God,
who gave such grace to your apostle Saint Andrew
that he readily obeyed the call of your Son Jesus Christ
and brought his brother with him:
Call us by your holy Word
and give us grace to follow without delay,
and to tell the good news of your kingdom;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Offertory Sentence:

How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? (I John 3: 17).


In Andrew and all the saints
you have given us an example of godly living,
that, rejoicing in their fellowship,
we may run with perseverance the race that is set before us,
and with them receive the unfading crown of glory:

Post Communion Prayer:

may the gifts we have received at your table
keep us alert for your call
that we may always be ready to answer,
and, following the example of Saint Andrew,
always be ready to bear our witness
to our Saviour Jesus Christ.


God give you grace
to share the inheritance of Andrew and his apostles and his saints in glory:

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This sermon was preached in the chapel at the Eucharist on Monday 30 November 2009.

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