Homily for July 25, Feast of St James, Apostle
When we think of saints, sometimes we let our idea of them be formed by the typical statues and holy cards we see all the time. They make the saints look perfect, noble, sometimes heroic, sometimes melting with sweetness and piety. Certainly, those characteristics belong in varying degrees to the saints, but it’s only a partial and sanitized picture. The saints are also real people, who built their virtue in the struggle to overcome both external obstacles and their own sinfulness and character defects.
St James, whom we celebrate today, was a great example of this. On one hand, he was one of Our Lord’s three closest apostles. He witnessed the Lord’s greatest miracles, His Transfiguration, and His agony in the garden of Gethsemane. He was prominent in the church in Jerusalem, and the first Apostle to die for Christ. On the other hand, he had a nasty temper. He and his brother St. John, whom Jesus called the “sons of thunder”, wanted to call down fire to destroy the towns of Samaria that rejected the Lord. St James was ambitious and impulsive, and initially didn’t understand Christ’s mission, as we hear in the Gospel reading today, when he and St John try to use their mother’s intercession to get the highest places of authority in Christ’s earthly kingdom. Jesus helped James and John to channel that enthusiasm into zeal to be a servant of the Gospel, and a willingness to accept suffering out of love for God.
St James also knew that he was weak, and trusted in God’s power to transform him into a faithful and holy Apostle. In the first reading today, he acknowledges that we are all like rustic clay pots carrying the golden treasure of God’s message. It is God who gives value and power to the things we do in His name, who gives us strength in all our suffering, and who keeps us from breaking apart. When we join our weakness and suffering to that of Christ, we receive His strength in return, and the promise that we will rise again with Jesus.
May St James intercede for us today and help us to follow his example. Like him, may we recognize our human limitations, and thus grow in our humility and our loving trust in God who desires to do great things through us and bring us into His kingdom of love and self-giving.