Feast of St. James the Apostle 2021

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus, we are blessed today to celebrate the Feast of St. James the Apostle. As the Patron Saint of Spain, whose remains are held in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, the veneration of St. James is often colored by the cultural trappings of heroic medieval Christianity. Martyred by King Herod Agrippa in 44 A.D., after having introduced the faith to the brethren in Iberia, he was an early symbol of pious and courageous defiance of tyranny, and so centuries later the Spaniards living under the boot of the Moors rallied to righteous war under the Cross of St. James. As he had been already emblematically identified with the scallop shell, the Cross of St. James features a hilt surmounted by the shell, a reminder that sometimes the fisherman for Christ must first clear the waters of foreign predators before farming the fish. In championing him as Santiago Matamoros, St. James the Moor Slayer, the Spaniards caught up in the rush of what would come to be known as the Spanish Reconquista painted him as their iconic war hero, a medieval Superman whose ghost miraculously led them to victory over the Infidels in the mythical Battle of Clavijo. Nicknamed in the New Testament as one of the two “Sons of Thunder,” the other being his brother, St. John the Divine, St. James the Apostle very likely had an irascible personality, the kind of pious fire that would have caught the unwanted attention of a tyrant King. His is a life colored brilliantly by legend, and yet the deeper truth is not lost in the orchestral score of history. Set aside the bombast of medieval warfare, and the deeper truth may be made clear like a scallop shell swept free from the sand. The truth is this: Man’s life may be short and brutish, or it may be long and genteel, but regardless there will be moments where the man must make a choice. Does he choose Christ, even when it is apparent that nothing else but hardship and possible ruin will accompany him down that path? Or does he choose the path of least resistance, the excuse of the moment, the allure of the fashionable point of view, and the pacified conscience that comes from studiously avoiding the world as it really is? Does he die for Christ, or does he live for himself? The Christian is martyred the very moment he chooses Christ above all else. The physical death may not happen for many years, but in choosing for Christ he is already martyred. He is marked already by the Cross, and he is forging his path already to Calvary. Seen in this way, the celebrated Christian martyr is an icon of the Christian life, for we the faithful in Christ Jesus are brothers and sisters in sufferings, in persecutions, in fighting off temptations, and in raising our collective battle cry against sin and death. St. Paul reminds us that we are all at war with powers and principalities. We are caught up in a struggle that surpasses this world and whatever strength of will and temperament we bring to the fight. Without Christ Jesus, we are doomed to fail. With Christ Jesus, our struggles, no matter how small or weak they may appear from the perspectives of this world, are heroic, larger than life, the stuff of legend. The lore surrounding St. James the Apostle, the celebrated Moor slayer, may seem fantastical, more myth than fact, more bedtime story than hard truth, but remember what St. Paul writes in his First Epistle to the Corinthians: “Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise.” Embrace the faith, and I suspect the naysayers will view your life as they do the life of St. James, which is to say as impossibly fantastical, driven, defiant, courageous, and free. For them, this is all foolishness. For us, this is life when the Father’s Kingdom is our home.

In today’s Gospel reading we see the mother of John and James asking for Our Lord to place her beloved sons on his left and right hand. She is a good Jewish mother, but she does not know the hard reality underlying her request. Christ Jesus asks her, “Are you able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized of the baptism that I am baptized with?” To some extent, He is asking if her sons will be able to undertake the struggle, the hardship, and the estrangement from the world that He is experiencing even then. On a deeper level, He is also asking her if her sons will be able to endure a world turned upside down from their own expectations. For God’s ways are not man’s ways, and to drink of the cup that Christ drinks, and also to be baptized of the baptism with which Christ is baptized, means to be in total conformity with God’s ways. In the Father’s Kingdom, the least shall be first, and the first shall be last. In the Father’s Kingdom, the greatest among them will be the servants, and the poor will be exalted. This defies the rule by which men live out their lives in this fallen world. Indeed, from the perspective of this world, this is foolishness. Are they willing to be fools for Christ? That is the real question He poses, for in many ways it is easier to suffer and to die when heralded as a Great Man, than to be scorned a fool. Especially among the Spaniards, St. James the Apostle is much heralded. He is one of the Great Men captured in poems and in works of art, but consider the poor pilgrims over the many years who have literally walked on their knees to his shrine in Galicia. Do they struggle for him because he was a man of war, or because he was a fool for Christ? Do they scar their knees and beat their breasts because he was a Superman, or because he was a man who like them walked the hard and the straight path with Our Lord? Let us pray that like these pilgrims on the way to Santiago de Compostela we too see in St. James a fellow martyr for Christ Jesus. Dead to all sin, alive in grace, and champions of our Father’s Kingdom in how we live out our lives in this world.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Published by Michael Sean Erickson

I write, act, and produce films in Los Angeles. Everything else is conjecture.

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