In early times, the daily Chapter was a traditional feature of the monastic timetable. The monks left church at the end of the office of Prime and processed to a room near by, where a portion, or "chapter," of the Rule was read and the abbot commented upon it. It was also the natural occasion for announcements to be made affecting the life of the community and for a blessing to be given upon the day's work. Soon the room itself came to be called "the Chapter Room, or House" or simply "Chapter." Even today some form of this practice exists in many monasteries, including our own. Each month this page will feature a chapter talk given to the Community, as well as news and features. We hope you will visit us regularly.


 St Andrew

To continue with our talks on election: tonight we consider the Apostles and, to single one out as representative, we shall look at the call and destiny of St Andrew.

            The Apostles were simple men, yet called to a mission far beyond them.  They were to carry Christ’s message to the end of the world through countless trials; even to be a “standing authority” in the phrase of Bl John Henry Newman, for the truth of that message.  They were fitted for this work through belonging to the innermost circle of Christ’s followers and initiated into the secrets of the Kingdom.  A heavenly calling, an earthly work, yet first and foremost, they follow a Person.  In answer to Jesus’ question: Will you also go away?  Peter responds: To Whom shall we go?  Not: to what new doctrine or philosophy?  In fact, Jesus’ relationship with the apostles was one of friendship.  He taught and formed them, it is true, but in raising them to Himself, He treated them as equals.  Thus they were enabled to reveal to men, in a unique way, His nature, personality, attributes, will, sayings and deeds, in a word, Himself.

            The call to the Apostles, then, is personal; in John’s Gospel, it starts with the gaze of John the Baptist upon Jesus.  It is a spiritual gaze, purified by long waiting and bathed in the light of the Holy Spirit who, according to the Gospel, had newly descended on Jesus at His Baptism in the Jordan.  It is thus by the illumination of the Spirit that the Baptist sees with unparalleled depth; and also why his gaze is so “communicative of divine love” that Andrew and another unnamed disciple will leave him to follow Jesus (cf Corbon: Wellsprings of worship).  John’s lamp is outshone by the Light which Jesus is.  At that moment, however, the disciples are still under John’s tutelage.  They will go where he points with his finger, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, one of whose Names is “Finger of God”.  They will believe his testimony: “Behold, the Lamb of God” Ecce Agnus Dei.  God has entered human history in the lowly flesh of a man who is called, mysteriously, a Lamb.  The title recalls the Suffering Servant of Is 53 and looks forward to the Lamb slain, yet standing, of Rev 5:6, reminding the hearers also of the Passover Lamb of Jewish tradition.  In effect, it is this Man’s sacrificial love which will take away the sin of the world, because He is “of God”.

Such a glorious destiny is not yet apparent to the two disciples at that moment.  But, in following the Spirit-filled gaze of John, they come under the light of the Lord’s own gaze.  They hear his invitation to stay, abide with him, in the various strata of meaning, literal and spiritual, of that term.  Here we have a paradigm of the monastic life: the homely and the sublime; staying with others in all their nobility and humanity; persevering in our staying; becoming progressively more aware of the mutual indwelling - the “in-staying” - of the Trinity and the soul.  St Augustine favours the spiritual sense: “Let us also build a house in our heart where he may come and teach us and hold converse with us” (Tractate on John’s Gospel, 7, 9-10).

After Andrew’s responsiveness to the call, we note his love of sharing.  “He first found his brother, Simon Peter, and told him: We have found the Messiah’.  Then he brought him to Jesus” (Jn 1:41).  Since he had been looked upon by Christ, he must have communicated something of divine love.  His alacrity, remarks St John Chrysostom in his homily on the Gospel, showed his zeal and docility, as well as a spiritual joy and sincere fraternal affection.

This is again a programme for the coenobitic life.  There is an un-self-regarding generosity which wants others to share fully in the life of Christ, which desires their spiritual progress and happiness.  It rejoices at seeing others grow in stature and in the love of God.  This is a very pure love, because often our own spiritual consolation and impression of personal progress can seem in rather short supply.  Andrew, as we note from the Gospels, is the great introducer and in this he resembles his former master, John the Baptist.  He brings Peter, who in a sense will overshadow him, to the source of his own joy.  He testifies; he points out; he has learnt discipleship well.  It is a foreshadowing of heavenly communion.

The narratives in Matthew, ch 4, and Mark, ch 1, also recount the disciples’ promptness of response, with the additional nuance of the renunciation of their earthly possessions, modest though these may have been.  In his 2nd sermon for the Feast of St Andrew, St Bernard notes what underlines this alacrity.  It is a charity, he says, which alone gives value to the coin of obedience.

Our monastic portrait of Andrew tells us, finally, that he is a man of some authority, since he appears with Peter, James and John at the head of the list of Apostles.  The role of introducer, which we already noted and which appears again when some Greeks ask to see Jesus in Jn 12, may likewise be seen as an exercise of responsible initiative.  It is the approachable Andrew who brings, introduces to Jesus, the boy with the five loaves and two fish, with an implicit confidence in the Lord’s powers of transformation.  He is a man of faith.

Various accounts of Andrew’s later life are fragmentary and legendary.  In one of these legends, he incurred the enmity of the proconsul at Patras in Achaia and was bound to a cross where he remained two or three days preaching to the people who came to watch him, before he died.  The sublime aspect of Andrew’s vocation now comes into focus: his love of the Cross.  The liturgy for the feast puts on his lips unparalleled terms of endearment, reverence, welcome for the Cross.  Seeing the Cross at a distance he exclaims: “O good Cross so long desired and ready now at last for the soul that pines for thee!  Behold I come to you with confidence and joy, do thou also embrace me with gladness, a disciple of him who hung upon thee.”  The Latin of the glorious Magnificat antiphon for Vespers is more familiar to us: O bona crux, diu desiderata et iam concupiscenti animo præparata: securus et gaudens venio ad te: ita et tu exsultans suscipias me, discipulum eius qui pependit in te.

We observe first of all, that he loves the Cross because Christ hung upon it.  He loves it only because of Christ; it is not primarily an instrument of torture but, as St Bernard puts it, a tree, a tree that bears the fruit of salvation.  A life-giving tree, then.  Otherwise, asks Bernard, “How should it have been allowed to occupy the earth of the Lord’s Body, that most noble earth, to which it was firmly rooted by the fastenings of the nails?”  Andrew begs not to be taken down from this cross; he wills to be fixed to it.  On this rock of the Cross, he is raised above the world’s transience; he is concealed as in a cleft, where the glory of the Lord will be seen; he drinks the living water from the side of Christ Our Rock, when it is struck by the lance.

Bernard contrasts Andrew’s imperturbability with Our Lord’s agony and distress.  It was a fruit won for him by Christ’s suffering:

"I recognise in the physician the voice of the patient.   I behold the mother bird sharing the weakness of her little ones.  It was in truth because he was so merciful that the Lord did not meet his Passion with the same unflinching fortitude as the blessed Andrew."

In other words, Christ’s solidarity in human weakness comes from the free choice of His will.  “So should thy fears fortify us, thy sadness rejoice us, thy agitation calm us, thy desolation console us.”  Our Lord shows us here the pattern of our hope.

"I recognise the accents of my own voice in the speech of the Saviour and shall I despair of my salvation?  No, certainly not; but rather in my patience 1 shall possess my soul."

If Christ’s example gives us hope, Andrew’s urges us to emulation.  In him we see transfigured weakness, graced fortitude.  Bernard urges us not to be pusillanimous, and at the same time, to avoid presumption.  “No one reaches the summit all of a sudden; it is in climbing not in flying that one reaches the top of the ladder.”  Nemo repente fit summus; ascendendo, no volando, apprehenditur summitas scalæ.  The laborious ascent, he says, is made by the two feet of meditation and prayer, that is, it is made by love, since love is the essence of prayer.  We pray because we love and we love because we pray.  It is this love, steeped in prayer, which makes the Cross light.  We bear the Cross of Christ or mount it and are fastened to it not only for him but with him.  The Fathers say we are protected from all evil by the four arms of the Cross.  Andrew has all the simplicity of a little child, carried on the arms of the Cross, beseeching that he should not be put down.

His sacrifice, the sacrifice of all the martyrs and our own spiritual sacrifices on the altar of our hearts, are all included in the one sacrifice of the Lamb.  This is what John the Baptist was pointing towards ultimately: the Pasch of the Lord and the Mass which, after the Ascension, will re-present the holy sacrifice.  In the latter, the priest will again point to the lowly form of bread and repeat the same words: Ecce Agnus Dei.   It is the same call to adoration, on earth as it is in heaven: Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing (Rev 4:12).  Our response to his call to gaze at the Lamb is: Domine, non sum dignus, but we continue with confidence: Sed tantum dic verbo et sanabitur anima mea.  “Only say the word and I shall be healed” and not only healed and restored but transformed through communion in the very Flesh and Blood of the Lamb; transformed so as to become transparent to the divine light and communicative of God’s life and light to others.  This is our high vocation every day.  We follow the Lamb wherever he goes on a path prepared for us by the Apostles.

“Monastic life is a deposit of lived faith through which we touch the life of Jesus with His apostles.  This is the kind of life that Jesus lived and taught, because it expresses his own experience of transparency to the Father and total dependence on the Holy Spirit … the revelation in Christ of God’s truth and love needs to be continuously poured out once the different elements of monastic living, like baptismal water or the silent work of Jesus transforming the insipid water of Cana into good wine.”

We follow the Lamb to the Wedding Feast and exclaim in faith: Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and his bride has made herself ready (Rev 20:7).

Previous Chapter Talks