Feast of Saint James the Greater – July 25th – Mt 13:18-21
Today we celebrate the feast of Saint James the Greater, so-called the greater to distinguish him from Saint James the Lesser, a distinction perhaps based on height. It is this James the Greater who was the brother of Saint John, both of them two sons of Zebedee, and also known as the Sons of Thunder. He is also the one venerated at Santiago de Compostela, since tradition holds that he went to preach the Gospel in Spain and his body was returned there after his martyrdom in Jerusalem (which is, incidentally, the only martyrdom of an apostle recorded in the New Testament, found in Acts 12:1-2). The name Santiago comes from Santos and Iacobus, and Compostela from campus stellae, field of stars, since, according to tradition, the saint’s relics were lost for many years, until their resting place was pointed out by strange lights over a field.
As with all the saints, there’s a great deal that could be said about the life of Saint James, but we can focus on two elements: first, his humble beginnings, and, second, his discouragement. Regarding the first, when Mark recounts the calling of James and John, he tells us that the two were “in a boat mending their nets.” Mending the nets was a long and boring task: fishermen often spent as much time repairing their damaged nets as they did fishing. In the midst of this task, a boring one, Jesus called these men to draw near to Him, to follow Him.
The same happens with us, and in a particular way with those of us who are in religious life: Christ is constantly calling us to draw nearer to Him. Sometimes, He calls in the midst of exciting tasks and challenges, where it’s easy for us to revel in the joy of His call. Yet, much more often than that, Christ calls us through the boring, everyday tasks. We need to be attentive.
Secondly, tradition holds that Saint James was privileged to receive the first Marian apparition. As James sat on the banks of the Ebro River in what is now Zaragoza, Spain, he felt discouraged at the lack of response and conversions among the people of Hispania. Ready to abandon his efforts, on January 2nd, 40 A.D., our Lady appeared to Him on top of a stone column or pillar. She encouraged him and assured him that conversions would be forthcoming, and that their faith would be as strong as the pillar on which she stood.
This too is a lesson for us; while we probably won’t see the Blessed Virgin appearing to us each time we are discouraged, it’s reassuring to know that even the saints sometimes struggle when they don’t see the results of their work. Our Lady, too, is always there to give us her support and strength.
Let us ask, through the intercession of Mary, Our Lady of the Pillar and the Queen of the Apostles, for the grace to serve Christ with all whole hearts, as Saint James the Greater did, and to listen for His voice in the midst of all our daily activities and even in the midst of discouragements.