Andrew, the First Called
The feast day of St Andrew (Nov. 30) often gets overlooked—squeezed in between the last Sunday of the Church year, Christ the King celebrations and the first Sunday of Advent—that it doesn't always get the recognition it deserves. It wasn't until I lived in a Glenmary mission parish named St. Andrew that its feast day had significance for me. It was there that I discovered how I was to live out my call to be a missionary brother.
I don't think my discernment to become a brother can really be compared to Andrew's following Jesus. Matthew's scriptural account of Andrew's calling highlights his faith, which led him to leave his nets "at once" and follow Jesus. The disciple Andrew is often identified as "the first called" because it was he who, in John's Gospel account, told his brother Simon Peter that they had "found the Messiah." (Jn 1:39-41) I, by comparison, was not as quick to respond; I had to talk to five different Glenmary vocation directors over the course of 10 years before my discernment led me to fill out an application to take the first step toward becoming a Glenmarian. But all these years later, I ask for St. Andrew's intercession and guidance to respond more decisively as I attempt to follow Jesus.
After finishing my formation with a degree in theology, my first assignment with Glenmary was to serve in the newly founded St. Andrew mission in Danville, Ark., working with then-pastor Father Neil Pezzulo. It was my first assignment, and I was Danville's first full-time brother. Even though I had been preparing for that assignment for about five years, I still felt uncertain how I was going to fit in and in what ways I could serve the growing community. But the best preparation I had was in learning not to enter into the mission with my own plans, but instead to "Come...and see," as Jesus said to St. Andrew.
The St. Andrew mission would not have existed without the faith and works of the people of the community. The community of Catholics in that mission responded to Christ by coming together and asking their bishop for a pastor and a church before Glenmary was ministering there. After this community's humble beginnings in a rented-house church, Glenmary came and helped lead the effort to build a permanent church and home.
While serving in the mission, I could see the Church not in the structure but in the congregation's works. The faithful took leadership in coming together and forming a community of worshipers who responded to the needs of the larger community. When a major factory in the area closed, the small St. Andrew mission community became the center for distribution of food and goods needed by hundreds of unemployed families.
They barely had enough for themselves, but they stepped up to share with the greater community. Their faith in God allowed them to know that they would be taken care of as well. My role as brother was to lead when needed, but more often than not, to walk with the people, to recognize Christ in them and to be a brother to all.
In this Year of Faith, St. Andrew's faith may be an example for us to follow our own call. By leaving his nets and his work behind, he emptied a space in his life that God filled with the true work he was called to do.
Emptying ourselves in our prayers during this time of Advent can be a way to allow our discernment questions to be answered with Christmas joy.