The Feast of St James the Apostle: July 25th
He was the son of Zebedee, the brother of John, a fisherman from Galilee, one of the 12 apostles, one of the inner circle of three who were the only ones to witness the raising of Jairus’ 12 year old daughter, the Transfiguration of Jesus and who were specially called to ‘keep watch’ in prayer at Gethsemane. He became the first bishop of Jerusalem and was also the first of the Apostles to die a martyr’s death – by beheading. St Paul called him a ‘pillar of the church’. His relics are traditionally associated with the famous Spanish pilgrimage site of Santiago de Compostela. St James’ Gate in Dublin – associated with Guinness Brewery – was the setting off point for pilgrims to Santiago in the Middle Ages. The pilgrimage route or ‘Camino’ to the place where his relics lie is also known worldwide and it is on many a Christian’s wish list to walk the pilgrimage.
St James letter is in the New Testament and contains important themes. We would do well to read it today: these themes include: keeping a positive attitude, the importance of doing and not just listening, letting faith be seen in what we do, taming the tongue, handling quarrels and pride, using money properly, the importance of patience, praying and anointing the sick.
In today’s Gospel we see that while James’ mother wants to out in a good word for her sons so that they can have the best places in the kingdom. How often mothers in the past have been intercessors with prospective employers to get their sons and daughters a job, by having a good word with them. We see that her perception of the kingdom is a business firm or a lucrative organisation where fame and fortune and notoriety and glory await her sons. She is thinking in purely worldly terms, probably because her two boys have left the fishing trade behind them and she may be concerned for her own welfare in her advancing years. The qualification for the kingdom, on the other hand, is to consume the cup of suffering that Jesus will drink in His Passion, and we see that James will end up being the first of the apostles to die for Christ. He is providentially within earshot of Jesus’ words at Gethsemane: ‘Father let this cup pass me by, but not as I will, but as you would have it’.
To be a disciple therefore is to face up to the cross and to suffering. Like James at the moment of his calling, we cannot see what lies ahead, but are willing to do as Christ asks. How often as a disciple, looking back over the years, I could not have predicted some of the scenarios and situations of difficulty I would find myself in. But Christ has given me the strength to endure them.
Little did the wife of Zebedee would get her wish – but at what cost – and to know that her sons would achieve worldwide fame and remembrance as disciples and Apostles who would become the foundation of the Catholic Church.