A Cross On the Threshold of Advent
The feast of Saint Andrew the First–Called, coinciding with the First Sunday of Advent, and commemorated in the Divine Office and at Holy Mass, marks the threshold of the new liturgical year with the sign of the Cross. We are accustomed to thinking of the Cross in the context of Lent and Paschaltide. The advent of the Lord is, nonetheless, entirely illumined by the mystery of the Cross. An ancient responsory says, “This sign of the Cross shall be in heaven when the Lord comes to judge. Then shall the secrets of our hearts be made manifest” (Office of May 3rd, Invention of the Holy Cross). By showing us the Cross today, the liturgy points through Advent to Christ’s passion, resurrection, and second coming. The whole economy of salvation bears the luminous imprint of the Cross.
Friend of God
The liturgy calls Saint Andrew “the good teacher and the friend of God” (Responsory). Saint Andrew is a good teacher because he preached the wisdom of God in the word of the Cross (cf. 1 Cor 1:18, 24). Saint Andrew is the friend of God because the wood of his cross bound him to Christ our God in an everlasting friendship, even as Christ Himself was bound to the Father and made over to Him once and for all by the sacrifice of the Cross.
O Wonderful Cross!
The Apostle Andrew does not mislead us with the “artificial sweeteners” of so many religious teachers, nor does he fill our minds with a preaching “emptied of its power” (1 Cor 1:17). In the end, Saint Andrew preached the cross by embracing it, and by stretching His body over its four arms. The liturgy sings that “When Andrew saw the cross, he cried, saying, ‘How wonderful art thou, O cross! O cross, how loveable art thou! O cross, thy bright beams enlighten the darkness of the whole world! Welcome a follower of Jesus, that, as by thee He died to redeem me, so by thee also He may take me unto Himself” (Responsory).
Through the Cross
Saint Andrew’s cross was not that of his Master in its form. Tradition is that Saint Andrew was put to death on an X-shaped cross. Though outwardly different from the cross of Jesus, Saint Andrew’s cross became for him a sacrament of communion with Our Lord, a means of passing to the Father in the power of the Holy Ghost. On the First Sunday of Advent a single movement will run through the whole liturgy: out of self, and upward into the fullness of God. “Ad te levavi animam meam. . . . All my heart goes out to You, my God” (Ps 24:1). Today we see in Saint Andrew just how this movement is accomplished: through the Cross.
A Means of Passing Over to God
Outwardly our crosses do not have the form of the Cross of Jesus. Faith, however, sees in them a means of passing from ourselves to God. The cross of illness can be a means of passing over to God, provided that it is recognized and accepted as such. The crosses of weakness, of failure, of loneliness, depression, and loss can be for us sacraments of an encounter with God. The Cross allows us to experience God as the redeemer of all our failures, the companion of the lonely, the comforter of the depressed, the treasure of those who suffer loss. Apart from the Cross there is no way of knowing the healing mercy of God, no way tasting the sweetness of His love in bitterness, nor of passing out of darkness into His wonderful light.
O Precious Cross!
In the Antiphon that will be sung in today’s Advent Office to commemorate Saint Andrew, he sings to the Cross, something that, apart from a special grace of God, we are incapable of doing.
O bona crux! O precious cross, of a long time have I desired thee and now that thou art made ready for me, my soul is drawn to thee, and I come to thee in peace and gladness.”
“I come to thee in peace and gladness.” More often than not we come to our crosses in fear and heaviness of heart. Far from singing to them we approach them murmuring, or in the sullen silence of our unspoken resistances and inability to trust. Saint Andrew was able to sing a greeting to his cross; he was able to come to it in peace and gladness, because he recognized that by means of it he would pass over to God.
The Embrace of God
When the priest ascends the altar for the Holy Sacrifice, he represents the entire assembly of the faithful and, in a certain sense, carries them in himself to the Cross. When the host upon the paten and the wine mixed with water in the chalice are set forth upon the altar, we ourselves are set before God, ready to become His sacrifice, ready to pass by means of the Cross into the everlasting embrace of His mercy. What is done in mystery at the altar is carried out effectively in all of life. It is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that makes it possible to say to the Cross in whatever form it is prepared for us, “I come to thee in peace and gladness. In embracing thee I will know the embrace of God.”