Tuesday, July 25, 2006

St. James, Apostle, July 25, 2006

James, the Greater

James, from Bethsaida, was the son of Zebedee and the brother of John. He was one of the three disciples to witness the Transfiguration and the agony in the Garden besides other important events of our Saviour's public life. He and his brother's impetuous zeal caused the Lord to name them the Sons of Thunger.

James developed his apostolate in Judaea and Samaria. According to tradition he preached the Gospel in Spain. On his return to Palestine about the year 44, he became the first Apostle to suffer martyrdom, at the order of Herod Agrippa. His mortal remains were later brought to Santiago de Compostela, in Spain, which became a popular medieval pilgrimage site and a sanctuary of the Faith for all of Europe.

Benedict XVI: From the Wednesday Audience of June 21, 2006:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We are continuing the series of portraits of the Apostles chosen directly by Jesus during his earthly life. We have spoken of St Peter and of his brother, Andrew. Today we meet the figure of James. The biblical lists of the Twelve mention two people with this name: James, son of Zebedee, and James, son of Alphaeus (cf. Mk 3: 17,18; Mt 10: 2-3), who are commonly distinguished with the nicknames "James the Greater" and "James the Lesser".

These titles are certainly not intended to measure their holiness, but simply to state the different importance they receive in the writings of the New Testament and, in particular, in the setting of Jesus' earthly life. Today we will focus our attention on the first of these two figures with the same name.

The name "James" is the translation of Iakobos, the Graecised form of the name of the famous Patriarch, Jacob. The Apostle of this name was the brother of John and in the above-mentioned lists, comes second, immediately after Peter, as occurs in Mark (3: 17); or in the third place, after Peter and Andrew as in the Gospels of Matthew (10: 2) and Luke (6: 14), while in the Acts he comes after Peter and John (1: 13). This James belongs, together with Peter and John, to the group of the three privileged disciples whom Jesus admitted to important moments in his life. Since it is very hot today, I want to be brief and to mention here only two of these occasions. James was able to take part, together with Peter and John, in Jesus' Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane and in the event of Jesus' Transfiguration. Thus, it is a question of situations very different from each other: in one case, James, together with the other two Apostles, experiences the Lord's glory and sees him talking to Moses and Elijah, he sees the divine splendour shining out in Jesus.

On the other occasion, he finds himself face to face with suffering and humiliation, he sees with his own eyes how the Son of God humbles himself, making himself obedient unto death. The latter experience was certainly an opportunity for him to grow in faith, to adjust the unilateral, triumphalist interpretation of the former experience: he had to discern that the Messiah, whom the Jewish people were awaiting as a victor, was in fact not only surrounded by honour and glory, but also by suffering and weakness. Christ's glory was fulfilled precisely on the Cross, in his sharing in our sufferings.

This growth in faith was brought to completion by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, so that James, when the moment of supreme witness came, would not draw back. Early in the first century, in the 40s, King Herod Agrippa, the grandson of Herod the Great, as Luke tells us, "laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the Church. He had James, the brother of John, killed by the sword" (Acts 12: 1-2).

The brevity of the news, devoid of any narrative detail, reveals on the one hand how normal it was for Christians to witness to the Lord with their own lives, and on the other, that James had a position of relevance in the Church of Jerusalem, partly because of the role he played during Jesus' earthly existence.

A later tradition, dating back at least to Isidore of Seville, speaks of a visit he made to Spain to evangelize that important region of the Roman Empire. According to another tradition, it was his body instead that had been taken to Spain, to the city of Santiago de Compostela.

As we all know, that place became the object of great veneration and is still the destination of numerous pilgrimages, not only from Europe but from the whole world. This explains the iconographical representation of St James with the pilgrim's staff and the scroll of the Gospel in hand, typical features of the traveling Apostle dedicated to the proclamation of the "Good News" and characteristics of the pilgrimage of Christian life. Consequently, we can learn much from St James: promptness in accepting the Lord's call even when he asks us to leave the "boat" of our human securities, enthusiasm in following him on the paths that he indicates to us over and above any deceptive presumption of our own, readiness to witness to him with courage, if necessary to the point of making the supreme sacrifice of life.

Thus James the Greater stands before us as 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.

And, in the end, summarizing everything, we can say that the journey, not only exterior but above all interior, from the mount of the Transfiguration to the mount of the Agony, symbolizes the entire pilgrimage of Christian life, among the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God, as the Second Vatican Council says. In following Jesus, like St James, we know that even in difficulties we are on the right path.

Ascetical Consideration:

1) Great external difficulties in the apostolate should not discourage us. St. Josemaria Escriva wrote in “The Way” #586: “God is ever the same. What is lacking are men of faith. Supply that need and there will be a renewal of the wonders we read of in the Gospel. Ecce non est abbreviata manus Domini: God’s arm, his power, has not grown weaker!”

2) Nor should our internal weakness and betrayal: The recent exegesis of John 21 by Benedict buoys us. I repeat its apposite portion:
'In Greek, the word "fileo" means the love of friendship, tender but not all-encompassing; instead, the word "agapao" means love without reserve, total and unconditional. Jesus asks Peter the first time: "Simon... do you love me (agapas-me)" with this total and unconditional love (Jn 21: 15)?
Prior to the experience of betrayal, the Apostle certainly would have said: "I love you (agapo-se) unconditionally". Now that he has known the bitter sadness of infidelity, the drama of his own weakness, he says with humility: "Lord; you know that I love you (filo-se)", that is, "I love you with my poor human love". Christ insists: "Simon, do you love me with this total love that I want?". And Peter repeats the response of his humble human love: "Kyrie, filo-se", "Lord, I love you as I am able to love you". The third time Jesus only says to Simon: "Fileis-me?", "Do you love me?".
Simon understands that his poor love is enough for Jesus, it is the only one of which he is capable, nonetheless he is grieved that the Lord spoke to him in this way. He thus replies: "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you (filo-se)".
This is to say that Jesus has put himself on the level of Peter, rather than Peter on Jesus' level! It is exactly this divine conformity that gives hope to the Disciple, who experienced the pain of infidelity.
From here is born the trust that makes him able to follow [Christ] to the end: "This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God. And after this he said to him, "Follow me'" (Jn 21: 19).
From that day, Peter "followed" the Master with the precise awareness of his own fragility; but this understanding did not discourage him. Indeed, he knew that he could count on the presence of the Risen One beside him.
From the naïve enthusiasm of initial acceptance, passing though the sorrowful experience of denial and the weeping of conversion, Peter succeeded in entrusting himself to that Jesus who adapted himself to his poor capacity of love. And in this way he shows us the way, notwithstanding all of our weakness. We know that Jesus adapts himself to this weakness of ours.
We follow him with our poor capacity to love and we know that Jesus is good and he accepts us.

As Peter, when his loyalty was unchallenged, would have said “possum” to the question of Christ, “Simon, do you love me more than these” (Jn. 21, 15)?, so also, James and John protest, possumus, that they will be able to drink from the cup that Christ is about to drink.
Gregory the Great comments:

“The sons of Zebedee press Christ: Promise that one may sit at your right side and the other at your left. What does he do? He wants to show them that it is not a spiritual gift for which they are asking, and that if they knew what their request involved, they would never dare make it. So he says: You do not know what you are asking, that is, what a great and splendid thing it is and how much beyond the reach even of the heavenly powers. Then he continues: Can you drink the cup which I must drink and be baptized with the baptism which I must undergo? He is saying: `You talk of sharing honors and rewards with me, but I must talk of struggle and toil. Now is not the time for rewards or the time for my glory to be revealed. Earthly life is the time for bloodshed, war and danger.’

“Consider how by his manner of questioning he exhorts and draws them. He does not say: `Can you face being slaughtered? Can you shed your blood?’ How does he put his question? Can you drink the cup? Then he makes it attractive by adding: which I must drink, so that the prospect of sharing it with him may make them more eager. He also calls his suffering a baptism, to show that it will effect a great cleansing of the entire world. The disciples answer him: We can! Fervor makes them answer promptly, though they really do not know what they are saying but still think they will receive what they ask for.

“How does Christ reply? You will indeed drink my cup and be baptized with my baptism. He is really prophesying a great blessing for them, since he is telling them: `You will be found worthy of martyrdom; you will suffer what I suffer and end your life with a violent death, thus sharing all with me. But seats at my right and left side are not mine to give; they belong to those for whom the Father has prepared them.’ Thus, after lifting their minds to higher goals and preparing them to meet and overcome all that will make them desolate, he sets them straight on their request.

“Then the other ten become angry at the two brothers. See how imperfect they all are: the two who tried to get ahead of the other ten, and the ten who were jealous of the two! But, as I said before, show them to me at a later date in their lives, and you will see that all these impulses and feelings have disappeared. Read how John, the very man who here asks for the first place, will always yield to Peter when it comes to preaching and performing miracles in the Acts of the Apostles. James, for his part, was not to live very much longer; for from the beginning he was inspired by great fervor and, setting aside all purely human goals, rose to such splendid heights that he straightway suffered martyrdom.”

Gregory underscores the point: `You talk of sharing honors and rewards with me, but I must talk of struggle and toil. Now is not the time for rewards or the time for my glory to be revealed. Earthly life is the time for bloodshed, war and danger.’

We saw recently, “the secret of the desert is learning to lose. When you know how to lose, you also know how to love! In some ways, every moment in our life is a gradual refinement so that we are prepared to encounter death… `Stay in your cell,’ they [the desert fathers] advise us. Because so often we are tempted to move outside, to stray away from who and what we are. Learning to face who and what we are – without any façade, without any make-up, without any false expectations – is one of the hardest and at the same time, one of the finest lessons of the desert. Putting up with ourselves is the first and necessary step of learning to put up with others.”

John Henry Newman translates this call to bloodshed, war, danger, loss as “ventures” or “risk” of faith:

“They say unto him, `We are able.’’ (Matthew 20, 22).
“These words of the holy apostles James and John were in reply to a very solemn question addressed to them by their divine master. They coveted, with a noble ambition, though as yet unpracticed in the highest wisdom, untaught in the holiest truth – they coveted to sit beside him on his throne of glory.. They would be content with nothing short of that special gift which he had come to grant to his elect, which he shortly after died to purchase for them, and which he offers to us. They ask the gift of eternal life; and he in answer told them, not that they should have it (though of them it was really reserved), but he reminded them what they must venture for it: `Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able.’ Here then a great lesson is impression upon us, that our duty as Christians lies in this, in making ventures for eternal life without the absolute certainty of success.”

Newman continues:

“Who does not at once admit that faith consists in venturing on Christ’s word without seeing? Yet in spite of this, may it not be seriously questioned whether men in general, even those of the better sort, venture anything upo his truth at all?

“Consider for an instant. Let everyone who hears me ask himself the question, What stake has he in the truth of Christ’s promise? How would he be a whit the worse off, supposing (which is impossible), but, supposing it to fail? We know what it is to have a stake in any venture of this world. We venture our property in plans which promise a return; in plans which we trust, which we have faith in. What have we ventured for Christ? What have we given to him on a belief of his promise? The Apostle said that he and his brethren would be of all men most miserable if the dead were not raised. Can we in any degree apply this to ourselves?... This is the question, What have we ventured? I really fear, when we come to examine, it will be found that there is nothing we resolved, nothing we do, nothing we do not do, notching we avoid, nothing we choose, nothing we give up, nothing we pursue, which we should not resolved, and do, and not do, and avid, and choose, and give up, and pursue, if Christ had not died, and heaven were not promised us. I really fear that most men called Christians, whatever they may profess, whatever they may think they feel, wherever warmth and illumination and love they may claim as their own, yet would go on almost as they, neither much better nor much worse, if they believed Christianity to be a fable.”

John Paul II from Santiago (1982): to Europe, and therefore to us:

“I, John Paul, son of the Polish nation which has always considered itself European by its origins, traditions, culture and vital relationships, Slavic among the Latins and Latin among the Slavs; I, Successor of Peter in the See of Rome, a See which Christ wished to establish in Europe and which he loves because of its efforts for the spread of Christianity throughout the whole world; I, Bishop of Rome and Shepherd of the Universal Church, from Santiago, utter to you, Europe of the ages, a cry full of love: Find yourself again. Be yourself. Discover your origins, revive your roots. Return to those authentic values which made your history a glorious one and your presence so beneficent in the other continents. Rebuild your spiritual unity in a climate of complete respect for other religions and other genuine liberties. Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God. Do not become so proud of your achievements that you forget their possible negative effects. Do not become discouraged for the quantitative loss of some of your greatness in the world or for the social and cultural crises which affect you today. You cab still be the guiding light of civilization and the stimulus of progress for the world. The other continents look to you and also hope to receive from you the same reply which James gave to Christ. `I can do it.’”
[1] From a homily on Matthew by Saint John Chrysostom: Homily 65, 2-4: PG 58, 619-622. Breviary III, Ordinary Time, Weeks 1-17, Office of Reading for James, Apostle, July 25: pp. 1551-1552
[2] John Henry Newman, “Parochial and Plain Sermons,” Ignatius (1987) 917-918.