THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH
Her Doctrine and Morals
St. James the Apostle
25 July 2021
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Today we celebrate the feast of St. James the Greater. St. James, along with his brother St. John the Evangelist, were the sons of Zebedee. Their mother is said to be Salome. St. James was the first apostle that suffered martyrdom in Jerusalem. He was beheaded in Jerusalem in 42 AD on the orders of Herod Agrippa.
To distinguish James the Greater from James the Lesser, we present a few things about St. James the Lesser. The Apostle St. James the Lesser was the author of an Epistle. He is the son of Alpheus and is called the Brother of Our Lord. He was the bishop of Jerusalem. His mother is thought to have been Mary, sister to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and to have been married first to Alpheus, and afterward to Cleophas; to have had four sons, James, Joseph, Simon (or Simeon), and Jude. All these four, being cousins-german, are called "Brothers of Our Lord."
Returning to St. James the Greater, we see in today's Gospel passage that his mother petitioned Jesus to give her two sons, James and John, the first places next to Jesus in His Kingdom.
Jesus had just informed the Apostles that He should die and rise again. They conceived that He would immediately reign in Jerusalem with great glory and power. They had somehow dismissed or overlooked the part about suffering and dying and focused upon rising, glory, and power. Jesus instructs these Apostles and their mother that they must be willing to suffer and follow Him in death and sacrifice. He says to them: "Can you drink of the chalice that I shall drink?"
They, indeed, did drink of the bitter chalice that Jesus did. St. James was the first apostle that suffered martyrdom in Jerusalem (Acts 12, 2). St. John was put into a cauldron of boiling oil at Rome and banished to the island of Patmos.
Drinking the chalice of suffering and death to this world opens up the Kingdom of Heaven for them, but it does not give them the first place next to Jesus there. St. Jerome understands Jesus to tell them: "In your present state there is no exception of persons with God; for, whosoever is worthy of Heaven, shall receive it as the reward of his merits. Therefore, Christ answers them; it is not Mine to besow the Kingdom of Heaven upon you because you are not yet deserving, on account of your pride in seeking to have yourselves preferred before My other apostles. But be ye humble, and heaven is prepared for you, as well as for all others, who are properly disposed. Greatness in the next life will be proportioned to humility in this."
Jesus came to this world to serve, even though He now reigns in Heaven. If we desire to reign with Him in Heaven, we must learn to serve with Him on earth. To become less here on earth is to become greater in the Kingdom of Heaven. In the passages following today's Gospel reading, Jesus says to all the Apostles: "You know that the princes of the Gentiles lord it over them: and they that are the greater, exercise power upon them. It shall not be so among you; but whosoever will be the greater among you, let him be your minister. And he who would be the first among you shall be your servant."
There is no doubt that James and his brother John and St. Peter were special because they were shown the Transfiguration of Jesus and privileged to accompany Jesus to the Garden of Gethsemane. We could argue that they were granted these graces because of their merits, or we could say just the opposite, that they were given these graces because they were weak and needed strengthening. Pride rendered them spiritually weak, but faith brought forth merit. In either situation, it is obviously God's Holy Will that these were chosen and not others. There is to be no jealousy or envy among the followers of Jesus. Some receive more, some less, but all are given what they need to enter into the glory of Heaven. Far from competing against one another, we are to cooperate by supporting and lifting each other up. By humbling ourselves to one another, we indeed lift ourselves up higher.
I believe the lesson to be gleaned is that we must strive for the glory of Heaven and be bold enough to approach Jesus with this desire as well as to have the humble willingness to follow Jesus in self-denial, lovingly serving our fellow men as well as being willing to suffer and die to this world in order to obtain it.
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