year, the Feast of St. James falls on a Sunday, making this a “Holy
Year” in Santiago de Compostela. More than 100,000 pilgrims will
walk the ancient camino to the Spanish town where the relics of St.
James have been venerated for centuries. For us, it is a special
year, too. This month, why not pray in these words, based on the
prayer of Pope John Paul II when he visited Santiago de Compostela
in the Holy Year 1989? If you would like to make this a novena of
prayer in preparation for the feast on July 25, begin praying this
prayer on July 16.
We come to you in eager pilgrimage.
We come as part of a great throng of pilgrims
who through the centuries have come to this place,
where you are pilgrim and host, apostle and patron.
We come to you today
because we are on a common journey.
Place yourself, patron of pilgrims,
at the head of our pilgrimage.
Teach us, apostle and friend of the Lord,
the WAY which leads to him.
Open us, preacher of the Gospel,
to the TRUTH you learned from your Master’s lips.
Give us, witness of the faith,
the strength always to love the LIFE Christ gives.
We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
The Call of James (Matthew 4:18-22)
As Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers,
Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net
into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, "Come after me,
and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets
and followed him.
along from there and saw two other brothers, James, the son of
Zebedee, and his brother John. They were in a boat, with their
father Zebedee, mending their nets. He called them, and immediately
they left their boat and their father and followed him.
Mending their nets on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, James
and John look up to see Jesus. And he calls them to do
something totally new—to follow him; and to become something new as
well—“fishers of men.” Why did Jesus choose fishermen for his first
disciples? Perhaps because fishing takes strength, skill,
persistence, and patience. Perhaps because fishermen live
amidst the beauty and danger of the natural world, and understand
their dependence on God. Perhaps because fishermen know when
to work long, hard hours, and when to rest. An Apostle needs
all these qualities as well.
When they hear the Lord’s call, James and John respond
at once. They do not ask questions, finish the task at hand, or
even consult with their father; instead, “immediately” they leave
the old life behind and follow Jesus. For us, too, the call to
discipleship usually comes in the midst of the humdrum patterns of
our daily lives, when we are least expecting it. Are we ready
to respond to the Lord’s call—to do something different; to become
The Sons of Thunder (Luke 9:51-56)
When the days for his being taken up were fulfilled, Jesus
resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem, and he sent
messengers ahead of him. On the way they entered a Samaritan village
to prepare for his reception there, but they would not welcome him
because the destination of his journey was Jerusalem. When the
disciples James and John saw this they asked, "Lord, do you want us
to call down fire from heaven to consume them?"
and rebuked them, and they journeyed to another village.
Jesus gave Simon a special name – “Peter.” Jesus also
gives James and John a special name, “Boanerges,” which means “sons
of thunder” (Mark 3:17). Scripture scholars tell us that the
giving of a new name is a sign of an inner transformation:
think of Abram, who became Abraham, and Jacob, who became Israel.
James and John must have been full of zeal for the Kingdom to
receive a name like “sons of thunder.”
We get a glimpse of that zeal for the Lord’s work in this
passage from Luke. When the people of one town refuse to
welcome Jesus, James and John offer to “call down fire from heaven,”
to destroy them as Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed when they
refused to receive the Lord. But Jesus “rebukes” them.
That is not the way of the Kingdom. Jesus invites, but he does
not command, and his disciples are to do the same.
How do we respond to rejection? With the “thunder” of James,
or with the peace of Christ?
A Child Raised from the Dead (Luke
A man named
Jairus, an official of the synagogue, came forward. He fell at the
feet of Jesus and begged him to come to his house, because he had an
only daughter, about twelve years old, and she was dying…. Someone
from the synagogue official's house arrived and said, "Your daughter
is dead; do not trouble the teacher any longer."
this, Jesus answered him, "Do not be afraid; just have faith and she
will be saved."
arrived at the house he allowed no one to enter with him except
Peter and John and James, and the child's father and mother. All
were weeping and mourning for her, when he said, "Do not weep any
longer, for she is not dead, but sleeping."
ridiculed him, because they knew that she was dead. But he took her
by the hand and called to her, "Child, arise!" Her breath returned
and she immediately arose. He then directed that she should be given
something to eat.
were astounded, and he instructed them to tell no one what had
When Jesus raises the daughter of Jairus from the dead, he does
not take all of his disciples with him. Only Peter, James, and
John are in the room with the girl and her parents, when, with a
word and a touch of the hand, Jesus restores her to life.
them all to keep silence about this great miracle. Only when
Jesus himself is raised from the dead will the three Apostles
understand what it is they have witnessed: the very power of
God, triumphant over evil, over disease and sickness of every kind,
over death itself. James, with Peter and John, is a special
witness to resurrection. He will be able to speak to others
the saving words of Christ: “just have faith.”
James, Witness to the Glory of Christ
Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a
high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before
them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as
light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing
said to Jesus in reply, "Lord, it is good that we are here. If you
wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and
one for Elijah." While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud
cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said,
"This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to
disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid.
But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Rise, and do not be
afraid." And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one
else but Jesus alone. As they were coming down from the
mountain, Jesus charged them, "Do not tell the vision to anyone
until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead."
In the Gospel according to Matthew, the Transfiguration of Jesus
comes immediately following his first prediction of his Passion.
This is a hard teaching indeed: how can the Messiah, the
Chosen One of God, the Savior, be crucified? Peter speaks for
all of them when he says, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing
shall ever happen to you” (Matthew 16:22). Jesus reply is
harsh: “get behind me, Satan! You are thinking not as
God does, but as human beings do.” The disciples begin to
understand that to follow Jesus is to carry the cross.
But there is
more. Jesus allows Peter, James, and John a blinding glimpse
of his heavenly glory. They see him shining brighter than the
sun, speaking with Moses and Elijah; and they hear God’s voice,
urging them to listen to what he says. In glimpsing the
Transfiguration of Jesus, Peter, James and John are glimpsing the
Resurrection. Jesus shows them this glimpse to help them
understand that for all who follow Jesus, suffering and glory go
hand in hand.
With the Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane
They came to
a place named Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, "Sit here
while I pray." He took with him Peter, James, and John, and
began to be troubled and distressed. Then he said to them, "My soul
is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch."
He advanced a
little and fell to the ground and prayed that if it were possible
the hour might pass by him; he said, "Abba, Father, all things are
possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but
what you will."
returned he found them asleep. He said to Peter, "Simon, are you
asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray
that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing but the
flesh is weak."
again, he prayed, saying the same thing. Then he returned once more
and found them asleep, for they could not keep their eyes open and
did not know what to answer him.
He returned a
third time and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and taking your
rest? It is enough. The hour has come. Behold, the Son of Man is to
be handed over to sinners. Get up, let us go. See, my betrayer is at
The same three who witnessed Christ in glory – Peter, James, and
John – witness his sufferings in the Garden of Gethsemane. As
scripture commentator Marie Noonan Sabin observes, the contrasts
between the two scenes are poignant. There, Jesus shone with
dazzling light; here, all is darkness. There, Jesus stood
above the mountain; here, he falls to the ground. There, the
Father spoke words of love; here, Jesus asks his Father to take the
cup of suffering away from him.
In this last hour, Jesus does not want to be alone:
he wants his friends at his side. But these friends, who will
scatter when Jesus is arrested, have already begun to abandon him:
they cannot even stay awake to keep him company.
Peter, James, and John will become pillars of the
Church, preaching the Good News far and wide. Jesus wants
these Apostles to be witnesses, not just of the divine signs and
wonders he performs, but of his humanity and his suffering. He
wants them to be aware of his weakness—and their own. Perhaps
that is why the sacrament of penance is such an important part of
our faith. In becoming more aware of our own weakness, we
become more compassionate and understanding towards others.
James, one of the Twelve (Matthew 10:1-10)
summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean
spirits to drive them out and to cure every disease and every
illness. The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon
called Peter, and his brother Andrew; James, the son of Zebedee, and
his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew, Thomas and Matthew the tax
collector; James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddeus; Simon the
Cananean, and Judas Iscariot who betrayed him.
out these twelve after instructing them thus, "Do not go into pagan
territory or enter a Samaritan town. Go rather to the lost sheep of
the house of Israel. As you go, make this proclamation: 'The kingdom
of heaven is at hand.' Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse
lepers, drive out demons. Without cost you have received; without
cost you are to give. Do not take gold or silver or copper for your
belts; no sack for the journey, or a second tunic, or sandals, or
walking stick. The laborer deserves his keep.”
Jesus gives the Apostles a mission. They are to drive out
demons, cure the sick, and proclaim the Kingdom of God: in
other words, their mission is Christ’s mission.
The Apostles have an incredible gift to give:
freedom, healing, life. But they are to give this gift as
freely as they have received it. They are to travel not like
rich people, with horses, chariots, and retinues, but like homeless
wanderers: alone, unarmed, without so much as a change of
clothes. They are given great “authority,” but they must also
become totally vulnerable, accepting the hospitality and generosity
of others. They are to be, in short, like Jesus, who “emptied
himself, taking the form of a slave, and coming in human likeness.”
(Philippians 2) The Church is called to do the same.
Their Mothers’ Request (Matthew 20: 20-23)
The mother of
the sons of Zebedee approached Jesus with her sons and did him
homage, wishing to ask him for something. He said to her, "What do
him, "Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and
the other at your left, in your kingdom."
Jesus said in
reply, "You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup
that I am going to drink?"
They said to
him, "We can."
"My cup you will indeed drink, but to sit at my right and at my
left, this is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been
prepared by my Father."
In the Gospel according to Mark, James and John come to Jesus
and ask for seats at his right and left—seats of honor and power—in
the Kingdom. In Matthew’s Gospel, it is their mother who makes
the request. It is ironic, to say the least, that this request
comes immediately after Jesus tells his disciples, for the third
time, what awaits him: crucifixion and death; and after a
whole series of parables with the theme “the last will be first, and
the first will be last” (Matthew 20:16)! Jesus responds
honestly but gently to the ambition of the two brothers. They
will indeed drink his cup – James was the first of the Apostles to
suffer martyrdom – but only the Father knows who will sit at his
right and left in the Kingdom of heaven. The only thing Jesus
promises the brothers is suffering.
Response of the Other Apostles (Matthew
When the ten heard this, they became indignant at the two brothers.
But Jesus summoned them and said, "You know that the rulers of the
Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority
over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever
wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes
to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man
did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a
ransom for many."
The disciples have listened as Jesus teaches them in parables –
parables that speak of the topsy-turvy logic of God – the first
last, and the last first. In asking to sit at the right and
left of Jesus in the Kingdom, James and John become a parable.
Do not jockey for position, Jesus warns his followers. Do not
be ambitious. Instead, if you want to be great, become a
servant; if you want to be first, take the last place. Why?
Because that is what Jesus did.
James, Witness to the Resurrection
(Matthew 20: 16-20)
The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus
had ordered them. When they saw him, they worshiped, but they
doubted. Then Jesus approached and said to them, "All power in
heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make
disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all
that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until
the end of the age."
“Apostle” means “one who is sent.” In calling James and
the others to be his Apostles, Jesus is sending them forth to
continue the work he himself has begun, baptizing the nations,
teaching, and proclaiming the Kingdom. How did James live this
call? We know that he became a leader of the Church in
Jerusalem (Paul referred to him as one of the “pillars” [Galatians
2:9]). We know that he preached the Gospel – tradition tells
us that he journeyed as far as Spain, the “ends of the earth.”
And we know that he was the first of the Apostles to suffer death
for Christ (Acts 12:2). We are not all called to be Apostles, but
we can all make the pattern of James’ life our own: listening
to Christ, living for Christ, and dying for Christ.
Feast of St. James
Let Catholics rejoice!
Let the citizens of Heaven be glad
Let the priest with beautiful songs
And with chants busy himself
This is the praiseworthy day,
Noble with divine light,
When James to the palace
Of the Heavens ascended
Conquering Herod's sword,
He received the reward of life
Therefore without end
Let us bless the Lord
To the great Father in Heaven
Let us offer thankful praises
A medieval song in honor of St. James from the