Feast of Saints Philip and James – May 3rd
Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Philip and Saint James, known as “the lesser.” Very little is known about James, and no one is really sure why he is called the lesser: tradition gives a number of possible motives. It might be because he was called later in life, or because he was physically shorter than Saint James the Greater, or because he was younger.
Whatever the reason might be for the name, it seems that both of today’s saints are perhaps less important or less prominent than the other apostles. For instance, little is known about Philip, except that he preached the good news in what is now Greece, Syria, and Turkey and was certainly martyred.
Likewise, it seems that our James, for whatever reason he is called the lesser, is also less in the sense of being less important than James the Greater. The Greater was privileged to witness the raising of Jairus’s daughter (Mk 5:37; Lk 8:51); James the Lesser was probably hanging out outside the house, surprised to see everyone get coming out once Jesus kicked them out of the room. Saint James the Greater was at the Transfiguration (Mk 9:1; Mt 17:1; Lk 9:28); James the Lesser was probably left in the city, maybe wishing he could go and climb the mountain. Saint James the Greater was near Jesus during the agony in Gethsemane; James the Lesser was, well, asleep, but further away.
Yet, even if our saints perhaps less important or prominent, that doesn’t mean that he was any less loved by God, or that he didn’t need to try to become holy. Holiness consists, not necessarily in doing great things, or being present for the miracles, but in humbling carrying out God’s will, even if that doesn’t seem spectacular or important. Although we know little about James from the Bible, the early fathers of the Church tell us that “he prostrated so much in prayer, that the skin of his knees and forehead was hardened like camels’ hoofs.” James was quite serious about praying, and, perhaps because he was less important, he was even more willing to be humble before God and others. As he writes in his letter “the brother in lowly circumstances should take pride in his high standing,” that is, his high standing as an adopted son of God, called to greatness and holiness.
Today, let us pray, through the intercession of Saints Philip and James and Mary, Queen of the Apostles, for the grace to strive to be humble and seek the will of God in all things, imitating both the saints of today and our Lady.
Saturday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time – Lk