34th Saturday in Ordinary Time
Feast of St. Andrew
Rm 10:9-18; Mt 4:18-22
In preparing for this homily the thought of the Fountain of Youth popped into my head. Since grammar school, I had always associated that concept with Ponce de Leon, an early Spanish settler. My memory was that he had explored Florida in the hope of finding the Fountain of Youth which he had heard about from the natives. So I looked up Juan Ponce de Leon on Wikipedia. Turns out, any connection with him and the Fountain of Youth is unhistorical. But he was a very early explorer. He was part of Christopher Columbus’ second expedition in 1493, so that’s pretty early! In 1508 he was commissioned to explore Puerto Rico, and became its first governor. In 1513 he led the first known European expedition to “La Florida,” which he named during his first voyage to the area. He explored and charted large portions of Florida, then, finally, in 1521 he led the first large scale attempt to establish a Spanish colony in what is now known as the continental United States. Compare that to the Mayflower 100 years later in 1620. But the natives fiercely resisted their attempt and Ponce de Leon was seriously injured in a fight with them. The colony was abandoned and they retreated to Cuba, where Ponce de Leon died from his wounds.
Tales of the Fountain of Youth have been recounted around the globe for thousands of years, even as far back as 500 B.C. in writings by Herodotus. It seems to be sort of an archetype. To me, it represents man’s innate desire for immortality. Our eventual death and annihilation looms as such a tragedy. Our human nature and intellect naturally want to dream and fantasize about escaping it and living forever. And we wouldn’t want to stick around this earth as an old person, with all their aches and pains and inconveniences, but captured in the flower of youth with its nimbleness and zest for life.
But suppose you did find the Fountain of Youth — let’s spin out this fantasy. What would your reaction be; what would be your game plan; how would you proceed? Like the treasure in the field or the pearl of great price, would you sell all you have and obtain that piece of property? Would you think primarily of yourself and how you could capitalize on this opportunity of a lifetime? Or would you put others first and scheme how you could make this available for the greatest amount of people?
Today we celebrate the feast of St. Andrew, one of the first four apostles. Two of those apostles, James and John, tried to make the most of the opportunity by asking Jesus to sit at his left and right in his kingdom. But when we hear of Andrew it seems like he’s busy bringing others to Christ. In John’s Gospel, after discovering Jesus he hurries to tell his brother Simon Peter, “We have found the Messiah!” And he brought him to Jesus. In chapter 12 of John’s Gospel we see him bringing a group of Greeks to Jesus. And of course, after the death of Christ he spent the rest of his life as an apostle bringing the Good News to as many people as he could.
So back to the daydream of discovering the Fountain of Youth, think what a major discovery it would be! People would be coming from all over the earth to partake of its benefits. People would be willing to pay obscene amounts of money for its powers of reversal. If you tried to own it and hoard it, it would probably end up causing you all kinds of misery. Evil people and gangsters would constantly be trying to knock you off and wrest it away from you. But if you made it a state park and insisted that everyone have free access to it, it would make your heart rejoice. You would see the jubilant results of it everyday. You might even become an apostle to getting the word out, so that even more people would come and become rejuvenated.
Transitioning back from fantasy to reality, we are the inheritors of what Andrew preached. He discovered Something even better than the Fountain of Youth. No riches on earth can compare with it. As the last stanza of our Responsorial Psalm said this morning, “. . . more precious than gold, than a heap of purest gold; Sweeter also than syrup or honey from the comb.” Naturally, we want to share the good news with people we care about. We want to save as many people as we can from eternal death. But unfortunately, not everyone is interested in hearing what we have to say. It sounds too good to be true. It sounds like some myth that we can smuggly roll our eyes at. “I’m educated. You can’t expect me to believe that child fairy tale.”
So we have to keep offering it free of charge and try not to let ourselves get in the way of the message. The medium can be the message too, so if the results in our own lives are attractive enough, people will be wanting to know our secret. The Holy Spirit is the real Evangelizer, not us. We are only his instruments. It depends on his power, not ours. We just need to remain faithful, and always be open to sharing the Good News with people who are searching.