Celebrating St. James, a gift for aspiring disciples

Archbishop Aquila

On July 25th, the Church celebrates the Feast of St. James the Apostle, whose journey from fisherman to evangelist should inspire and encourage us all.

Imagine that you are at work sitting at your desk, giving a presentation, or doing some manual labor and a man that you’ve admired and heard about approaches you and says, “Come follow me.” For most of us, taking that step would involve far more trust and willingness to pursue the truth than usual. But this is what James and his brother John did on the day Jesus called out to them as they fixed their fishing nets in their boat. Amazingly, they got up and followed Jesus, even leaving behind their father Zebedee.

Saint James the Apostle is not very familiar to most Catholics, so I am devoting this column to highlight how his example of holiness and authentic discipleship should inspire and encourage us.

What makes James stand out among the 12 apostles is that he, along with his brother John and Peter, were closest to Jesus. Only Peter, James and John were present for the glorious Transfiguration of Jesus, the raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead, and Jesus’ anguished prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. These three apostles were allowed to see Christ both in his glory and in his suffering.

Scholars speculate about the many reasons why Jesus chose these three followers to witness those pivotal moments, but it could be that he selected them for a trait they seemed to have in common. Peter, James and John all liked to make strong declarations, only to later realize their weakness and in humility repent.

When Jesus said after the Last Supper that all his apostles would desert him that night, Peter replied, “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you” (Mt. 26:33). Similarly, James and John asked to be seated at Jesus’ right and left hand in heaven, and when he responded that they would have to drink the cup he would drink, they confidently said, “We are able” (Mt. 20:22). James and John also strongly protested a Samaritan town’s refusal to welcome them by asking Jesus if they should call down fire from heaven to consume the town, earning a rebuke from the Lord. It’s no surprise that Jesus gave the two of them the nickname “sons of thunder.”

Saint James’ growth in faith is one that many of us can relate to. We begin our journey with great zeal, strongly declaring our love for Christ and the Church. Then things get difficult and we falter. We realize the truth that we cannot love others — especially our enemies — without God’s constant infusion of grace.

According to tradition, St. James traveled from Jerusalem to Spain in obedience to Jesus’s command to “make disciples of all nations.” After a short time there, he returned to Jerusalem in 44 A.D., where he was beheaded by Herod Agrippa to please the Jewish leaders. The historian Eusebius states that Clement of Alexandria shared an eye-witness account of St. James’ accuser being so moved by his final confession of the faith that he converted and was killed at the same time as James. What previously was a bold declaration for St. James became a reality. Instead of calling down fire upon Herod Agrippa, the son of thunder gave up his life.

His example throughout history has inspired hundreds of thousands of people to go on pilgrimage through Spain, following the Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James. After hundreds of miles, they arrive at the Cathedral of St. James, where the remains of the apostle are believed to rest.

His devotion, zeal and humility stand as towering examples of what it means to be an authentic disciple of Jesus. As we join the Church in celebrating his feast, may St. James intercede for us and our efforts to lead others to an encounter with Jesus Christ.

COMING UP: Our God-given dignity should shape our laws

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Recent news stories present us with immigrants and refugees whose God-given dignity is being disregarded or subject to a system of laws that fails to adequately take that dignity into account.

I’m sure that many of you were deeply saddened as I was to see the images of Oscar Martinez and his almost two-year-old daughter, Angie Valeria, drowned in the waters of the Rio Grande. And these Salvadoran immigrants are just two of the thousands who are often fleeing violence, crime, failed governments and crushing poverty in their homelands.

As Catholics, we should urge our elected leaders to treat these people in ways that respect their God-given dignity. When he describes the judgement of the nations, Jesus identifies himself with strangers like these who are in need. “I was a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me” (Mt 25:35-36).

The question that each of us as believers must face is, “How do I welcome the stranger in need that I encounter?” And since the immigration issue is also a legal issue, “How am I urging my political representatives to pass reforms that address the immigration crisis while respecting each person’s dignity and the legitimate needs of our country to control its borders?”

Most of us come from immigrant families. Our country has long benefited from the gifts and talents of immigrants and treating them with dignity and respect is a part of our faith. That our country’s laws for immigration and asylum haven’t changed in decades clearly shows how our political leaders in Congress, on both sides of the aisle, have drastically failed to fulfill their responsibilities. This failure in itself shows a lack of respect for the immigrants and refugees who come to us for help but also for the American citizens who bear the burden of their inaction. Without an appropriate response to this crisis, the safety of our fellow citizens in border regions and those who patrol our border is endangered.

Politicians on both sides of the aisle must put aside the blinders of their ideologies and politics, as well as the practice of adding things to bills that have nothing to do with the legislation.”

We cannot be indifferent to the suffering of our neighbors and fellow citizens. Christ calls us to be like the Good Samaritan who stopped and cared for the Jewish man who was beaten by robbers and left for dead. In an October 2016 general audience, Pope Francis offered us this guidance on responding to the plight of immigrants. “Dear brothers and sisters, do not fall into the trap of closing in on ourselves, indifferent to the needs of brothers and worried only about our own interests.”

“And to clothe the naked,” the Pope asked, “what is it but to restore dignity to those who have lost it? It is precisely to the extent that we open ourselves to others that life becomes fruitful, society regains peace and people recover their full dignity.”

Our country’s laws for legal immigration must be overhauled in a comprehensive manner. Politicians on both sides of the aisle must put aside the blinders of their ideologies and politics, as well as the practice of adding things to bills that have nothing to do with the legislation.

We have failed for well over 25 years to advance immigration laws that respect the God-given dignity of the human being. The current system is so complex and time-consuming that it encourages those faced with urgent threats to their safety or wellbeing to ignore it, sometimes with tragic consequences. Our elected representatives need to hear from us that the dignity of each person who comes to us must be respected because God gave us our dignity and we cannot take it away.

Colorado was witness to the heroic work of St. Frances Cabrini, who dedicated her life to helping immigrants in the United States, establishing schools, orphanages and hospitals to care for them in keeping with their God-given dignity. May she intercede for us and our elected officials as we try to respond to those strangers in need who have fled their homes.

Featured Photo by John Moore/Getty Images