There is a famous observation regarding the Cross of Christ as a cosmic contradiction, where the violent intersection of two lines forms a crisis of collision together with arms that extend outward to embrace the four corners of the world. This paradox lies next to the Catholic heart, and it is one that only faith, hope, and charity can reconcile, even as it reconciles the puzzlements of salvation, such as a virgin giving birth, or God becoming man, or a lowly fisherman becoming exalted as the first-called of Christ.
It is that fisherman-turned-apostle who flung the shadow of his cross over the world, as though he was marking the whole earth and its peoples with that X that marks the treasure. And though the X may require pain and suffering, the reward it foretells is the greatest that can be imagined by any man, be he pirate or prelate.
Whereas his fisherman brother, Peter, was crucified upside-down, Andrew, whose name means “manly and brave,” was stretched on an X-shaped cross, achieving the glory won by the cross without assuming the same gibbet their master had made sacred. But Andrew’s cross is participation in Christ’s cross, and he teaches us all likewise to participate with our own.
When the Lord ascended into heaven, Andrew set forth with as much determination as he left his fishing nets behind, through the province of Scythia, with tackle to catch souls. His way through foreign parts, preaching to foreign men, proved turbulent. But though Andrew brought the good news to deaf ears and was constantly repulsed in his mission, on and on he went, undeterred along the coast of the Black Sea, bolstered in the fire of his faith. To those who could hear, Andrew brought peace, truth, and healing of body and spirit. As many legends have it, he restored sight to the blind and brought the dead to life.
Arriving in Achaea, a region of Greece, Andrew went about his mission of converting the people and building churches for Christian worship, even baptizing the woman Maximilla, the wife of Aegeus, who was provost of the district. Aegeus was angered by this outrage and betook himself to the town of Patras to renew the dread and devotions of what were fast becoming a dying breed of gods.
There Aegeus met Andrew. The apostle looked Aegeus in the eye and pointed out that since Aegeus was a judge, it was only right that he should come to know the Almighty Judge—and realize that to know him was to worship him and abandon the idols there abandoned by the people.
Aegeus railed against Andrew, accusing him of being entangled by the seductions of a false god repudiated by the highest authorities of Rome. Andrew replied that the devil, who is the prince of the world, had these princes in his clutches, pressing them to his hollow minions of wood, stone, and metal, preparing them for nothing but the nakedness of sin when all was said and done.
Aegeus countered that this was a foolish position for one to hold whose God was fool enough to be nailed naked to a tree. Then it was that Andrew gave his thunderous five reasons for the cross, which the Golden Legend recounts as follows:
The first is this: Forasmuch as the first man that deserved death was because of the tree, in breaking the commandment of God, then is it thing convenable that the second man should put away that death, in suffering the same on the tree.
The second was that, he that was made of earth not corrupted, and was breaker of the commandment, then was it thing convenable that he that should repel this default, should be born of a virgin.
The third; for so much as Adam had stretched his hand disordinately to the fruit forbidden, it was thing convenable that the new Adam should stretch his hands on the cross.
The fourth; for so much as Adam had tasted sweetly the fruit forbidden, it is therefore reason that it be put away by thing contrary; so that Jesu Christ was fed with bitter gall.
The fifth; for as much as Jesu Christ gave to us his immortality, it is thing reasonable, that he take our mortality. For if Jesu Christ had not been dead, man had never been made immortal.
But all the reasons in the world were not reason enough for the raging Aegeus. He proclaimed that if Andrew was so devoted to the cross, then upon his own cross he would die. After being beaten by twenty-one men, Andrew was lashed to a cross shaped like an X, even as the townsfolk ran through the streets crying out that the provost was murdering an innocent man.
Even as the people stormed, Andrew commanded them not to interfere. As he hung in agony from those beams for three days, he preached the faith of Christ to twenty thousand who gathered around him to witness his martyrdom. As the crowd grew and called for Aegeus’s death for this injustice, Aegeus himself appeared. He stood before Andrew, moved with fearful pity and remorse, and ordered that his victim be released.
But Andrew was prepared for a different salvation. He gave his own order, bound captive that he was, that he remain on his cross and that no one take him down from it. Strength fell away from those present as a blinding light fell from heaven and bathed the tortured body of the saint, giving Andrew glory and peace as he committed his spirit into the hands of the Father as the Son had done before him.
Andrew went to heaven, marking the spot of his salvation, and it became an insignia of grace and victory to those who brought their prayers to him to bring to the Lord. This patronage was especially inspired when the ninth-century Scottish king, Angus MacFergus, saw the clouds form the great white saltire against the blue sky, the cross of St. Andrew, blessing him before battle at Athelstaneford.
By his cross that resembles a crossroads, the faithful can hear Andrew’s famous cry, “We have found the Messiah!”, leading us along the true path. It is this call of the first-called that we remember as Advent begins and we come along to find the Christ for ourselves, reciting in our anticipation the St. Andrew Prayer:
Hail and blessed be the hour and moment
in which the Son of God was born
of the most pure Virgin Mary,
at midnight, in Bethlehem, in piercing cold.
In that hour vouchsafe, I beseech Thee,
O my God, to hear my prayer and grant my desires
through the merits of our Savior Jesus Christ,
and of his blessed Mother.
To those who, in a spirit of penance and praise, recite this beautiful meditation fifteen times every day from St. Andrew’s feast on November 30 to Christmas Day, special favors, even miracles, are granted by the apostle-saint who embraced his cross to come to Christ.