St. James the Greater, Apostle
St. James, who is surnamed the Greater because he was called to the Apostolate earlier than the other Apostle of the same name, was born in Galilee. He was the son of Zebedee and of Mary Salome, and a brother of the holy Apostle, St. John, the Evangelist. One day, when he sat with his father and his brother in a boat, mending the nets, Christ passed by, and said to him and his brother only these few words: “Follow me!” Immediately obeying, James and John left the boat and their father, and followed Him, remaining constant to Him, until His bitter passion. St. Epiphanius testifies that St. James always lived in celibacy, and it is known from the Gospel that he was one of the most intimate disciples of the Saviour; for on several occasions, when no other Apostle was admitted, James was present with Peter and John; for instance, when Christ raised to life the daughter of Jairus; during His transfiguration on Mount Thabor, and when, at a distance from the others He performed His holy prayers in the garden of Gethsemane, sweating blood in His agony.
St. Mark relates that Christ called James and his brother, on account of the vehemence of their zeal, “Boanerges,” or children of the thunder, because they announced the Gospel with such earnestness, that their voices penetrated the hearts of men, like the rolling of the thunder, and moved them to recognize and receive the truth. St. Luke narrates that once, when the Samaritans would not allow Christ to enter into their city, James and John were so indignant at the insult offered to their beloved Master, that they said to Him: “Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But Christ, rebuking them, said: “You know not of what spirit you are. The Son of Man came not to destroy souls, but to save.” By these words, He intended to teach them that the spirit of Christianity and of the Gospel was no spirit of vengeance, but one of love and gentleness; more intent upon the salvation of men than upon their punishment.
In the Gospel of St. Matthew, we read that the mother of James and John had come to Christ, asking Him to place one of her sons on His right hand, the other on His left in His kingdom. The Saviour reproved the two Apostles for their ambition, saying: “You know not what you ask.” After this, He asked them: “Can you drink of the Chalice that I shall drink?” And they resolutely replied: “Yes, we can.” They verified their words by their deeds; for they suffered much for Christ’s sake, as is seen in their lives. St. James, soon after the ascension of the Lord and the coming of the Holy Ghost, preached at Jerusalem, at Samaria and in all Judaea. After this, he went to Spain and did the same with unabating zeal. How long he remained there, and how he succeeded in disseminating the Christian faith is not known. At Saragossa, they show a Church which, according to tradition, was built by this holy Apostle; and the cause of its erection is said to have been as follows:
The Saint one night left the city with his disciples and went to the banks of the river Ebro, to offer his prayer there undisturbed. Suddenly the Blessed Virgin, who at that time was still on earth, appeared to him, surrounded by many angels. James recognized her immediately, and, falling on his knees before her, honored her as the Mother of his Redeemer. She said to him: “Thou shalt build upon this place, a Church in my honor; for I know that the inhabitants of Saragossa will conceive an especial devotion to me, for which reason I will henceforth protect them.” James obeyed her words, and erected a Church which although small at the beginning, was afterwards enlarged and rebuilt in its present form. This Church is still called the “Church of the Pillar of St. Mary,” because the Blessed Virgin appeared to the Apostle on a pillar which yet remains.
After some years, St. James returned with several disciples to Jerusalem. Of the latter, seven became bishops in the course of time, and were sent back to Spain to convert the inhabitants of that noble land. He himself labored with great zeal, both at Jerusalem and in the surrounding country, for the conversion of the Jews. Many were brought by him to the Christian faith, while others became so enraged at him, that they determined to make away with him. The better to accomplish this, they took, to aid them, two magicians, Hermogenes and Philetus, requesting them to have a public discussion on religion with St. James and to disgrace him before the people. Should they, however, not succeed in this, they were to send some evil spirits to torment him. Philetus began; but was so convinced of his error by the Apostle, that he asked his pardon on bended knees, and became a convert to the Christian faith. Hermogenes, greatly incensed at this, conjured the devils by his magic and commanded them to bring the Apostle and Philetus to him in chains.
The evil spirits, however, by order of the Almighty, seized Hermogenes, and dragged him, in spite of all his blasphemy, to St. James. Just at the time, Philetus was there. The Apostle requested the latter in the name of Jesus Christ to break the chains of his former teacher, which was accordingly done. Astonished at this, Hermogenes burned all his books of magic, and embraced the Christian faith.
When the enemies of the Apostle perceived that they did not succeed in their project, they consulted two Roman Centurions, Lysias and Theocrates, whom, by promising a large sum of money, they had bribed for their plans. They wished to cause a disturbance among the people while the Apostle was preaching, and the two officers, pretending they had come to quiet the people, should seize the Saint and bring him to King Herod. All was done as they had planned. St. James preached with his usual zeal, and proved clearly to the assembled Jews, that Jesus Christ, Whom they had so ignominiously put to death on the Cross, was the Messiah, so long promised by the Almighty. According to the agreement, the enemies of the Apostle, not willing to listen any longer to his convincing arguments, stirred up the people, and one of them, a scribe, named Josiah, threw a cord around St. James’ neck, when the two Centurions hastened forward, seized him, and brought him to King Herod. They accused him of having instigated the people to rebel, and this was sufficient for King Herod, who, to please the Jews, desired to put him to death.
Nothing more agreeable could happen to the Apostle than to give his life for Christ’s sake, and the joy he felt in his heart was perceptible in his countenance. He repeated publicly the confession of his faith and again announced that Christ was the true Messiah and Saviour of the world. When he was sentenced to be beheaded, he declared himself ready, not only for this manner of death, but for any other, however painful. The above-mentioned Josiah was deeply touched by the Saint’s fearlessness, and not only repented of having apprehended him, but also confessed openly the faith of Christ; and casting himself at the feet of the Apostle, when the latter was led away to be executed, he humbly begged to be forgiven. The Saint, embracing him kindly, said: “Peace be with you!” The Jews, still more embittered at this, importuned Herod so long that at length he ordered Josiah to be beheaded. On his way to the place of execution, St. James met a man who had the palsy, and immediately restored him to health in the name of Jesus Christ. Arrived at the place, he gave thanks to God for having vouchsafed him the grace to die for the faith of Christ, and cheerfully received the fatal stroke, ending his life shortly before Easter. He was the first of all the Apostles who gave his blood for Christ, and is the only one whose death is mentioned in Holy Writ. His body was buried by the Christians with due solemnity, but was afterwards transported by his disciples to Compostella, where he is honored by the whole Christian world. Spain regards and esteems him as its mighty protector. It is known from authentic sources, that he appeared several times visibly at the head of the Spanish army, which, led by him, gained glorious victories over the barbarians.
No sooner was James called by Christ to follow Him, than unhesitatingly he left home and everything and followed the Saviour. If he had not done so, or if he had delayed, who knows if a second call would have reached him, and if he would not have gone to eternal destruction? God calls you already so long to follow Him, to do penance, to correct your life, to manifest greater fervor in His service, to avoid all occasions of evil, to break off all sinful associations, to confess your evil deeds, to restore what you have no right to possess, to repair the reputation of your neighbor, which you have injured by your slanders, etc. He calls you by an inner, voice, and by your confessor, or through sermons. Why do you not follow Him? Why do you delay from day to day? Oh! take heed, that the menace of God be not verified in you: “I called and you refused: I stretched out my hand and there was none that regarded. You have despised all my counsel, and have neglected my reprehensions. I will also laugh at your destruction. (Prov. i.)” If you do not wish to become yourself an example of this dreadful menace, resolve to-day to follow the call of your God, and to act according to His exhortations. Delay not longer, or He may cease to invite you, and you will go to destruction.
Lives of the Saints: Compiled from Authentic Sources with a Practical Instruction on the Life of Each Saint, for Every Day in the Year by Rev. F. X. Weninger. Permissu Superiorum. New York: P. O’Shea, Publisher, 67 Barclay Street and 42 Park Place. 1876.