Today is the Feast Day of St. James the Greater. If you were to rank the original Twelve Apostles, St. James the Greater (not to be confused with St. James the Lesser) would easily be placed in second or third place. Personally, I would place him third behind St. Peter and St. John the Evangelist (Gospel writer). St. James the Greater is the biological brother of St. John the Evangelist. The two together are known as the “Sons of Thunder” because of their great zeal and tempers. (On a side note that caused laughter in class last school year, a few of my students confused their label and called them the “Thunder Brothers”). The name “James” derives from the term – Iakobos that comes from the Patriarch Jacob.
James the Greater, along with St. Peter and St. John the Evangelist are the three privileged Apostles that witness major events in the life of Christ. These three disciples witness Jesus’ Transfiguration and Jesus’ Agony in the Garden. During the Transfiguration, Peter, John, and James see firsthand the Lord in all his glory and splendor. They also witness Jesus speaking to Moses, who represents the Old law, and Elijah, the greatest of all the prophets. These two major Old Testament figures appear here because Jesus would bring to fulfillment both the Law and the Prophets in the New Covenant. During Jesus’ Agony in the Garden, James would see our Lord’s suffering and humiliation at the hands of the Temple guards who came to seize him. James, who would eventually suffer martyrdom in the years to come watched the Son of Man willingly and obediently give-up his life.
After Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension, James with the other Apostles received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Pentecost gave the Apostles the courage and words that were needed to go out into the world and preach the Gospel message. All of the apostles were martyred, including St. James the Greater, who was beheaded by King Herod Agrippa in 44 A.D. The only apostle not martyred but was exiled on the Island of Patmos (off the coast of modern day Turkey) was St. John the Evangelist. There is no doubt that watching Jesus’ Agony in the Garden and the graces from the Holy Spirit on Pentecost gave James and all the disciples the fortitude they needed to die in the name of Jesus Christ. In his book, The Spirit of Catholicism, Karl Adam says, “Twelve simple, uneducated fishermen revolutionized the world, and that with no other instrument than their new faith and their readiness to die for that faith.”
The tradition of the Church and St. Isidore of Seville claim that St. James the Greater made it to the region of Spain. Other traditions say that his body was taken to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela. This is the final destination of those who make a pilgrimage to the Camino or The Way of St. James. For us, St. James is a symbol of one who goes on pilgrimage. He is often depicted in art with a pilgrim’s staff (walking stick) and the Gospel book for he brought the Good News to Spain.
So what can we learn from St. James the Greater?
First, we need to accept God’s call and leave our human insecurities learning to trust more readily; second, we should show great passion for Jesus Christ, even when it’s uncomfortable to do so; third, be great witnesses’ of fortitude for Jesus Christ, even though we might be persecuted and suffer red or white martyrdom, and fourth, when we are faced with great suffering and conflict, we are going in the right direction for our Lord and the Apostles all endured persecution and strife.
Pope Benedict XVI says about St. James the Greater, “…[he] stands before us an eloquent example of generous adherence to Christ. He, who initially had requested, through his mother, to be seated with his brother next to the Master in his Kingdom, was precisely the first to drink the chalice of the passion and to share martyrdom with the Apostles.”
On this blessed day of St. James the Greater, let us invoke his intercession for our daily lives. St. James the Greater…Pray for Us!