July 25, 2021: ST. JAMES THE GREATER
July 25, 2021: COMMEMORATION OF ST. JAMES (THE GREATER), APOSTLE
“They shall deliver you up to their councils, and scourge you in their synagogues: and you shall be carried before kings and governors on my account, for a testimony to them and the Gentiles.”
(St. Matth, x. 17)
Sanctify, O Lord, and preserve thy people, that being assisted by the prayers of James thy Apostle, they may please thee in their conduct in life, and always serve thee with a stedfast faith. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
Let us, to-day, hail the bright star, which once made Compostella so resplendent with its rays, that the obscure town became, like Jerusalem and Rome, a centre of attraction to the piety of the whole world. As long as the Christian empire lasted, the sepulchre of St. James the Great rivalled in glory that of St. Peter himself.
Among the Saints of God, there is not one who manifested more evidently how the elect keep up after death an interest in the works confided to them by our Lord. The life of St. James after his call to the Apostolate was but short; and the result of his labours in Spain, his allotted portion, appeared to be a failure. Scarcely had he, in his rapid course, taken possession of the land of Iberia, when, impatient to drink the chalice which would satisfy his continual desire to be close to his Lord, he opened by martyrdom the heavenward procession of the twelve, which was to be closed by the other son of Zebedee. O Salome, who didst give them both to the world, and didst present to Jesus their ambitious prayer, rejoice with a double joy: thou art not repulsed; he who made the hearts of mothers is thine abettor. Did he not, to the exclusion of all others except Simon his Vicar, choose thy two sons as witnesses of the greatest works of his power, admit them to the contemplation of his glory on Thabor, and confide to them his sorrow unto death in the garden of his agony? And to-day thy eldest-born becomes the first-born in heaven of the sacred college; the protomartyr of the Apostles repays, as far as in him lies, the special love of Christ our Lord.
But how was he a messenger of the faith, since the sword of Herod Agrippa put such a speedy end to his mission? And how did he justify his name of son of thunder, since his voice was heard by a mere handful of disciples in a desert of infidelity?
This new name, another special prerogative of the two brothers, was realized by John in his sublime writings, wherein as by lightning flashes he revealed to the world the deep things of God; it was the same in his case as in that of Simon, who having been called Peter by Christ, was also made by him the foundation of the Church: the name given by the Man-God was a prophecy, not an empty title. With regard to James too, then, Eternal Wisdom cannot have been mistaken. Let it not be thought that the sword of any Herod could frustrate the designs of the Most High upon the men of his choice. The life of the Saints is never cut short; their death, ever precious, is still more so when in the cause of God it seems to come before the time. It is then that with double reason we may say their works follow them; God, himself, being bound in honour, both for his own sake and for theirs, to see that nothing is wanting to their plenitude. As a victim of a holocaust he hath received them, says the Holy Ghost, and in time there shall be respect had to them. The just shall shine, and shall run to and fro like sparks among the reeds. They shall judge nations, and rule over peoples; and their Lord shall reign for ever. (Wisd, iii. 6-8) How literally was this Divine oracle to be fulfilled with regard to our Saint!
Nearly eight centuries, which to the heavenly citizens are but as a day, had passed over that tomb in the North of Spain, where two disciples had secretly laid the Apostle's body. During that time, the land of his inheritance, which he had so rapidly traversed, had been overrun first by Roman idolaters, then by Arian barbarians, and when the day of hope seemed about to dawn, a deeper night was ushered in by the Crescent. One day lights were seen glimmering over the briars that covered the neglected monument; attention was drawn to the spot, which henceforth went by the name of the field of stars. But what are those sudden shouts coming down from the mountains, and echoing through the valleys? Who is this unknown chief rallying against an immense army the little worn-out troop whose heroic valour could not yesterday save it from defeat? Swift as lightning, and bearing in one hand a white standard with a red cross, he rushes with drawn sword upon the panic-stricken foe, and dyes the feet of his charger in the blood of 70,000 slain. Hail to the chief of the holy war, of which this Liturgical Year has so often made mention! Saint James! Saint James! Forward, Spain! It is the reappearance of the Galilæan Fisherman, whom the Man-God once called from the bark where he was mending his nets; of the elder son of thunder, now free to hurl the thunderbolt upon these new Samaritans, who pretend to honour the unity of God by making Christ no more than a prophet. (Battle of Clavijo, under Ramiro I, about 845.) Henceforth, James shall be to Christian Spain, the firebrand which the Prophet saw, devouring all the people round about, to the right hand and to the left, until Jerusalem shall be inhabited again in her own place in Jerusalem. (Zach, xii. 6)
And when, after six centuries and a half of struggle, his standard bearers, the Catholic kings, had succeeded in driving the infidel hordes beyond the seas, the valiant leader of the Spanish armies laid aside his bright armour, and the slayer of Moors became once more a messenger of the faith. As fisher of men, he entered his bark, and gathering around it the gallant fleets of a Christopher Columbus, a Vasco di Gama, an Albuquerque, he led them over unknown seas to lands that had never yet heard the name of the Lord. For his contribution to the labours of the twelve, James drew ashore his well-filled nets from West and East and South, from new worlds, renewing Peter's astonishment at the sight of such captures. He, whose apostolate seemed at the time of Herod III to have been crushed in the bud before bearing any fruit, may say with St. Paul: I have no way come short of them that are above measure Apostles, for by the grace of God I have laboured more abundantly than all they. (II Cor, xii. 11; I Cor, xv. 10)
Let us now read the lines consecrated by the Church to his honour:
James, the son of Zebedee, and own brother of John the Apostle, was a Galilæan. He was one of the first to be called to the Apostolate together with his brother, and, leaving his father and his nets, he followed the Lord. Jesus called them both Boanerges, that is to say, sons of Thunder. He was one of the three Apostles whom our Saviour loved the most, and whom he chose as witnesses of his transfiguration, and of the miracle by which he raised to life the daughter of the ruler of the Synagogue, and whom he wished to be present when he retired to the Mount of Olives, to pray to his Father, before being taken prisoner by the Jews.
After the Ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven, James preached his Divinity in Judea and Samaria, and led many to the Christian faith. Soon, however, he set out for Spain, and there made some converts to Christianity; among these were the seven men, who were afterwards consecrated bishops by St. Peter, and were the first sent by him into Spain. James returned to Jerusalem, and, among others, instructed Hermogenes, the magician, in the truths of faith. Herod Agrippa, who had been raised to the throne under the Emperor Claudius, wished to curry favour with the Jews, he, therefore, condemned the Apostle to death for openly proclaiming Jesus Christ to be God. When the man who had brought him to the tribunal saw the courage with which he went to martyrdom, he declared that he, too, was a Christian.
As they were being hurried to execution, he implored James' forgiveness. The Apostle kissed him, saying: “Peace be with you.” Thus both of them were beheaded; James having a little before cured a paralytic. His body was afterwards translated to Compostella, where it is honoured with the highest veneration; pilgrims flock thither from every part of the world, to satisfy their devotion or pay their vows. The memory of his natalis is celebrated by the Church to-day, which is the day of his translation. But it was near the feast of the Pasch that, first of all the Apostles, he shed his blood, at Jerusalem, as a witness to Jesus Christ.
Another account of St. James, the Greater.
St. James, the brother of St. John Evangelist, son of Zebedee and Salome, and nearly related to Christ, was called the Great, to distinguish him from the other apostle of the same name, who was Bishop of Jerusalem, and is surnamed the Less, perhaps because he was lower in stature, or, more probably, because he was the younger. St. James the Great seems to have been born about twelve years before Christ, and was many years older than his brother, St. John. Salome is otherwise called Mary, and was sister to the Blessed Virgin, which some take in the strict sense of the word; others understand by it only cousin-german, according to the Hebrew phrase, and think that the Blessed Virgin was an only daughter.
St. James was by birth a Galilean, and by profession a fisherman with his father and brother, living probably at Bethsaida, where St. Peter also dwelt at that time. Jesus, walking by the lake of Genesareth, saw St. Peter and St. Andrew fishing, and he called them to come after him, promising to make them fishers of men. Going on a little farther on the shore, he saw two other brothers, James and John, in a ship, with Zebedee, their father, mending their nets, and he also called them; who forthwith left their nets, and their father, and followed him (St. Matth, iv. 22). Probably by conversing with St. Peter, their townsman, and by other means, they had before this call an entire conviction that Jesus was the Christ; and no sooner did they hear his invitation, and saw the marks of his divine will directing them to what was eminently conducive to his honour, but the same moment they quitted all things to comply with this summons. They held no consultation, made no demur, started no difficulties, thought of no consequences or dangers; and their sacrifice was most perfect and entire. Like Abraham, they preferred obedience to the divine command before all the endearments of their nearest relations, and forsook all they had, and all their hopes and prospects in the world, to become the disciples of Jesus. Zebedee, their father, seems to have approved of their resolution, and their mother, Salome, devoted herself heartily to the service of our Lord, as the gospels frequently mention. All fervent souls ought to be in the like dispositions of perfect sacrifice with these apostles, without the least inordinate attachment to any thing on earth, being most ready to renounce every thing, if God's greater glory should require it. With what boundless liberality does the Divine Spirit shower down his choicest treasures upon souls which thus perfectly open themselves to him! This the apostles, of whom we speak, happily experienced in themselves. But they, for some time, so followed Christ, and listened to his divine instructions, as still to return, from time to time, to their fishing trade for a maintenance. It was in the same first year of Christ's preaching that Peter and Andrew, at the command of their divine Master, took a prodigious shoal of fishes by a miraculous draught. James and John were their partners, though in another boat, and were called in to assist in hauling up the nets. Astonished at this manifestation of Christ's power, they entirely quitted their business, the more perfectly to attach themselves to him (St. Luke, v. 11).
In the year 31, St. James was present with his brothers, St. John and St. Peter, at the cure of St. Peter's mother-in-law, and at the raising of the daughter of Jairus from the dead. This same year Jesus formed the college of his apostles, into which he adopted St. James and his brother St. John. He gave these two the surname of Boanerges, or Sons of Thunder, probably to denote their active zeal. When a town of the Samaritans refused to entertain Christ, they suggested that he should call down fire from heaven to consume it; but our Blessed Redeemer gave them to understand that meekness and patience were the arms by which they were to conquer (St. Luke, ix.). Christ distinguished St. Peter, St. James, and St. John by many special favours above the rest of the apostles. They alone were admitted to be spectators first of his transfiguration, and afterwards of his agony and bloody sweat in the garden. The instructions and example of the Son of God had not fully enlightened the understandings of these apostles, nor purified their hearts, before the Holy Ghost had shed his beams upon them; and their virtue was still imperfect, as appeared in the following instance:—Mary Salome, the mother of James and John, relying upon their merit, and her relation to Christ, and imagining that he was going to erect a temporal monarchy, according to the notion of the carnal Jews concerning the Messias, presented to him a request that her two sons might sit, the one on his right hand, and the other on his left, in his kingdom. By this example we are put in mind how often the fondness of parents renders them the spiritual murderers of their own children, and makes them blindly excuse, flatter, and encourage their secret vices and passions. At the same time we are taught how formidable an enemy ambition is, which could find admittance in the breasts of two apostles (though yet novices) before the descent of the Holy Ghost. They doubtless disguised their vice under the cloak of a reasonable desire, and a virtuous emulation of preferment, with a design of serving their Master by it. Only the children of light discover the deceit and snare of this enemy; only profound humility discerns and condemns the specious pretences of subtle pride and covetousness. The two sons of Zebedee seem to have spoken by the mouth of their mother; wherefore Christ directed his answer to them, telling them they knew not what they asked; for in his kingdom preferments are attainable, not by the most forward and ambitious, but by the most humble, the most laborious, and the most patient. He therefore asked them if they were able to drink of his cup of suffering. The two apostles, understanding the condition under which Christ offered them his kingdom, and glowing with ardour and courage to suffer, answered peremptorily, they were able to do it. Our Lord told them, they should indeed have their portions of suffering; but for the honours of his kingdom, he could make no other disposal of them than according to his decrees in conjunction with his Father, in proportion to every one's charity and patience in suffering.
The virtue of the most fervent novices in the service of God is very imperfect, so long as entire self-denial, and a great assiduity and spirit of prayer have not yet prepared their souls for, and called down upon them a plentiful effusion of the Holy Ghost, who fills their understanding with a clear and new heavenly light, and by the ardour of his charity consumes the rust of the affections, and fills them with his fervour. In this state even the moral virtues acquire an heroic and infused degree of perfection. Humility now gives the soul a much more clear and feeling knowledge of her own infirmities, baseness, and imperfections, with much stronger sentiments of a just contempt of herself; and the like is to be said of divine and fraternal charity and all other virtues; so that she seems to herself translated into a region of new light, in which by continual heroic acts of these virtues, and especially of prayer and contemplation, she makes daily and wonderful advances. This perfection the apostles received in a more miraculous manner by the descent of the Holy Ghost upon them, when he not only engraved the law of love deeply in their hearts, but also bestowed on them the external graces and gifts of prophecy and miracles, and qualified them for the execution of the great commission they had received from Christ.
How St. James was employed in preaching and promoting the gospel after Christ's ascension, we have no account from the writers of the first ages of Christianity. It appears that he left Judӕa some time after the persecution that was raised at the martyrdom of St. Stephen,… and was returned again ten years after, when he suffered martyrdom. The addition to St. Jerom's catalogue of illustrious men tells us, that he preached the gospel to the twelve tribes of the Jews, in their dispersion up and down the world. Though the apostles, during the first twelve years preached generally in the neighbourhood of Judӕa, yet St. James might in that interval make a voyage to Spain, and preach some time in that country, as Baronius observes. F. Cuper, adds that his martyrdom happened above a year after the dispersion of the apostles, in which space he had the fairest opportunity of visiting Spain. That he preached there, is constantly affirmed by the tradition of that church, mentioned by St. Isidore, the Breviary of Toledo, the Arabic books of Anastasius, Patriarch of Antioch, concerning the Passions of the martyrs and others. Cuper the Bollandist, traces this tradition very high, and confirms it from St. Jerom, St. Isidore, the ancient Spanish office, &c, and from many corroborating circumstances. St. Epiphanius says, that St. James always lived a bachelor, in much temperance and mortification, never eating flesh nor; that he wore only one coat, and a linen cloak, and that he was holy and exemplary in all manner of conversation. He was the first among the apostles who had the honour to follow his divine Master by martyrdom, which he suffered at Jerusalem, whither he was returned, in the eleventh year after our Lord's ascension.
Agrippa, the grandson of Herod, by Aristobulus, was author of this persecution. Being brought up at Rome in the reign of Tiberius, he, basely flattering Caligula in his passions, gained the confidence of that monster, who was no sooner placed on the imperial throne than he gave Agrippa the title of king, with the tetrarchies of Philip and Lysanias, which were then vacant. Claudius, in the year 41, enlarged his dominions, giving him also Jerusalem and all the rest of Judӕa, Samaria, and whatever other provinces had been possessed by his grandfather Herod. He gave also to his younger brother Herod the little kingdom of Chalcis in Syria, near Mount Libanus. Agrippa reigned with great state and magnificence. Being very fond of pleasing the Jewish nation, when he came from Cӕsarea to Jerusalem to keep the Passover in the year 43, he began to persecute the Christians; and the first who fell a victim to his popular zeal was St. James the Great, whom he caused to be apprehended and beheaded there a little before Easter, in the year 43, about fourteen years after the death of Christ. Clement of Alexandria, and from him Eusebius, relate that his accuser, observing the great courage and constancy of mind wherewith the apostle underwent his trial, was so affected with it, that he repented of what he had done, declared himself publicly a Christian, and was condemned to be beheaded with St. James. As they were both led together to execution, he begged pardon of the apostle by the way for having apprehended him. St. James, after pausing a little, turned to him, and embraced him, saying, “Peace be with you.” He then kissed him, and they were both beheaded together. The body of the apostle was interred at Jerusalem; but not long after carried by his disciples into Spain, and deposited at Iria Flavia, now called El Padron, upon the borders of Gallicia. The sacred relics were discovered there in the beginning of the ninth century in the reign of Alphonsus the Chaste, King of Leon. By the order of that prince they were translated to Compostella, four miles distant, to which place Pope Leo III, transferred the episcopal see from Iria Flavia. This place was first called Ad St. Jacobum Apostolum, or Giacoma Postolo, which words have been contracted into the present name, Compostella. It is famous for the extraordinary concourse of pilgrims that resort thither to visit the body of St. James, which is kept with great respect in the stately cathedral. F. Cuper the Bollandist proves the truth of the tradition of the Spanish church concerning the body of St. James having been translated to Compostella, and gives authentic histories of many miracles wrought through his intercession, and of several apparitions by which he visibly protected the armies of the Christians against the Moors in that kingdom. The military order of St. James, surnamed the Noble, was instituted by Ferdinand II in 1175.
The church, by the martyrdom of St. James, lost in her infancy one of her main pillars; but God was pleased that his name should be glorified by so illustrious a testimony, and that it should appear he was the immediate supporter and defender of his church. For when it was deprived of its chief members and pastors, it remained no less firm than before; and even grew and gathered strength from the most violent persecutions. The apostle with confidence committed his tender flock to God, and commended to them his own work, whilst he rejoiced to go to his Redeemer, and to give his life for him. We all meet with trials; but can we fear or hesitate to drink a cup presented to us by the hand of God, and which our Lord and Captain, by free choice, and out of pure love, was pleased himself to drink first for our sake? He asks us whether we can drink of his cup, he encourages us by setting before our eyes the glory of heaven, and he invites us by his own divine example. Let us humbly implore his grace, without which we can do nothing, and take with joy this cup of salvation, which he presents us with his divine hand.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year - Time after
Pentecost, Vol. IV, Dublin, Edition 1901;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. II; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806.
St. James, the Greater, pray for us.