Monsignor Charles Burns, from the Diocese of Paisley, has celebrated 60 years of priestly ministry this year and as one of the jubilarians at St. Andrew’s Day Mass in the Scots College, preached to the community.
Very Reverend Rector and Faculty, Very, very Revered – indeed Venerable Jubilarians and Concelebrants, Ambassador and Distinguished Lay and Clerical Guests, Holy Franciscan Sisters. And above all – Dearly beloved alumni of this Pontifical Scots College. Happy Feast of St. Andrew!
In the year of Our Lord One Thousand Nine Hundred and Eighty Two there was a superb summer in Scotland. It peaked in the month of June and coincided perfectly with the pastoral visit of Pope John Paul II, the first Pope ever to tread on the holy ground of our beloved homeland. For weeks afterwards, one could distinguish the Catholics from the Protestants simply by their sunburn and the tan of those unforgettable days. It was an epic event: never in the past history of the Scottish nation had so many people assembled in the one place at the same time. They gave His Holiness a tumultuous welcome. The famous Archbishop Marcinkus – who organised those papal visits – told me later that he had never witnessed anything comparable during his long experience in the pontificate of Pope Paul VI or that of the then reigning pontiff. “Fantastic” was what he said.
On 1st June, during the solemn celebration of Mass at Bellahouston Park, in his homily to the Catholic Community of Scotland, the Holy Father wasted no time, but came immediately to the point: this is what he said.
“Sacred Scripture bears eloquent witness to the unshakable faith which one generation of mankind to the next placed in God. From the time of Abraham onwards through the centuries, that truth remained firmly founded on God’s promise to send a Saviour who would deliver his people.”
And he continued:
“Of all the expressions of faith none was more spontaneous than that uttered by Andrew, the fisherman of Galilee; “We have found the Messiah” (John 1:41). So profound was the impression Jesus made upon him at their first encounter that “early next morning Andrew met his brother and said to him: “We have found the Messiah” – which means the Christ – and he took Simon to Jesus. Jesus looked hard at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John; you are to be called Cephas – meaning Rock” (John 1: 41-42)
And then the Holy Father exclaimed:
“It was Andrew, the heavenly patron of your beloved Scotland, who introduced Peter to Jesus!”
There was rapturous applause! What an encounter that was. It has influenced and shaped the lives of each and everyone of us present here today. Moreover, it expresses in few words what is the essential, the fundamental meaning of vocation to the Priesthood – to introduce your brothers and sisters to Jesus. That they too may know Him, love Him, serve Him in this world and be happy with Him forever in the next.
Fortunately St. John included another very interesting detail in the narrative, that is, Andrew’s first encounter with Jesus the previous day
“…as John (the Baptist) stood there with two of his disciples, Jesus passed and John stared hard at him and said, “Look there is the Lamb of God.” Hearing this, the two disciples followed Jesus. Jesus turned round, saw them following and said, “What do you want?” They answered, “Rabbi… where do you live?” “Come and see,” he replied; so they went and saw where he lived, and stayed with him the rest of the day. One of those two who became followers of Jesus after hearing what John had said was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter.” (John 1: 35-40)
And we know now the rest of the story, what happened the next morning. Would it not be wonderful, if we too could share those hours at home with Our Blessed Lord, getting to know Him better, beginning to love Him more personally, ever more eager and ready to enter His service?
But surely is that not why you are here! The time spent in Rome must be seen as time spent at home with Jesus. Like Andrew, becoming lifelong followers of Jesus. Don’t waste a single moment of such precious time, whether at the Angelicum, at the Gregorian, here in the College, wherever. Make room in your hearts and in your minds for the Messiah!
During a summer vacation with my family – my mother and sister, who at that time was a doctor in a general hospital near Glasgow, my brother, his wife and their two kids – we spent a happy day together in Rothesay. We were looking for a suitable restaurant somewhere along the busy esplanade, when a girl cried out from the crowd “Oh Doctor, Doctor Burns, I owe my life to you!” It struck us like a thunderbolt. Milly stopped and chatted affectionately with her patient, Margaret, delighted to see for herself what a remarkable recovery the lassie had made from a life-threatening illness. Later at lunch my sister explained to us the risks and complications of the case. Obviously, Milly had done her best, but God did the rest. Without her professional contribution, would He have intervened directly, miraculously?
To return to Saint Andrew and Pope John Paul II in Scotland. In his address to the youth of Scotland “…the pride of your beloved country and the promise of its bright future.” Pope John Paul chose another moment in the life of Andrew as the key-note of his inspiring message.
“There is an episode in the life of St. Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland. Jesus had been teaching a crowd of five thousand people about the Kingdom of God. They had listened carefully all day, and as evening approached He did not want to send them away hungry, so He told his disciples to give them something to eat. He said this really to test them, because he knew exactly what he was going to do. One of the disciples – it was Saint Andrew – said “There is a small boy here with five barley loaves and two fishes: but what is that between so many?” Jesus took the loaves, blessed them and gave them out to all who were sitting waiting; he then did the same with the fish, giving out as much as was wanted. Later the disciples collected twelve baskets of the fragments that were left over.” (cf John 6: 1-14)
Undoubtedly, that was the best ‘fish-supper’ that anyone ever enjoyed. That however was not the Pope’s comment, it is mine!
Let’s listen carefully to what this saintly Pope did have to say – his words are stamped with all the authority of the Petrine Office:
“Now the point I wish to make is this: Saint Andrew gave Jesus all that there was available, and Jesus miraculously fed those five thousand people and still had something left over. It is exactly the same with your lives… What I say to you is this: place your lives in the hands of Jesus. He will accept you, and bless you, and he will make such use of your lives as will be beyond your greatest expectations! In other words: surrender yourselves like so many loaves and fishes, into the all powerful, sustaining hands of God and you will find yourselves transformed with ‘newness of life’ (Romans 6:4) with fullness of life (John 1:6)
In other words – Try to do your best. God will do the rest!
O glorious Apostle Andrew, pray for us and protect each and every one of us not only today, but always. Amen.