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St, James the Apostle, Patron of Spain

Jose Maria Vegas, cmf - Sun, Jul 25th 2021

25th July - St. James the Apostle

He said to them, "My cup you shall drink; but the place at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, it is for those for whom my Father has reserved it."  Whoever wishes to be great among you, let him be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you, let him be your slave. Even as the Son of man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many." 

The throne and the cross

 The solemnity of St. James the Apostle in Spain is often the subject of controversy as to whether it should be a bank holiday, whether the offering to the Apostle should be made (as is tradition) by the civil and political authorities, or whether, on the contrary, given the non-confessional nature of the State (which some interpret in an extreme way as radical secularism) these spheres should be completely separated. Without denying the timeliness, even the necessity of such debates, it is inevitable to discover in them the lingering presence of the Christian faith in society as a form of power. And while Christians should aspire to inform society with Christian values as essential to the fullness of human good (which means nothing less than salvation), Jesus does not endorse a form of influence based on power (social, political, economic), but exhorts us to humble service.

The Word of God clearly illuminates the itinerary of James (and of the other Apostles) which goes from an initial ambition for power, censured by Christ, to a form of service which leads him precisely to confront those powers to which he aspired, and which arrives at the giving of his own life as a witness to the Gospel. This Word tells us that the temptation to spread the Gospel by the way of power is, in a certain sense, natural, which is why the Apostles also felt it so strongly, and why Christians of all times continue to feel it. But Christ's admonition and the witness of Peter and John, and the subsequent martyrdom of James, teach us that it is possible to convert, to learn, to accept and to follow the path proposed by Christ, the path of service, even to the point of giving one's own life as the supreme Christian witness. We are, as the second reading says, "earthen vessels", limited and weak, but which, through faith, bear a great treasure. Yes, from that weakness, which is reflected in today's Gospel in the ambition for power (the fruit of a misunderstanding of Christ's messianism), Jesus teaches his disciples the strange messianism of the Cross, to which we prepare ourselves by the way of service, and which the apostles learned very well. In the same way, we could extend that transformation of the clay pots that we are, of our most natural inclinations, by the action of Jesus' Word, of his teaching: the desire for pleasure can be transformed into the will to please others in what is just and honest; and the desire to have and accumulate, into the generosity of sharing, especially with those most in need.

The courageous witness of Peter and John, in words, before the Sanhedrin, and of James with his blood, also show us that we must overcome another possible temptation: that of excessive prudence in order to avoid problems and persecutions. Perhaps if Peter and John had been more "prudent", less daring, in their testimony before the Sanhedrin, the martyrdom of James, so succinctly narrated in the first reading, could have been avoided. Perhaps, but it is also probable that without that "imprudence", without that clarity of words, without that courage to obey God without bowing to the pressures of human powers, the Gospel would not have reached us and would have become a marginal sect of Judaism. "I believed and therefore I spoke", says Paul, quoting Psalm 115. The true believer cannot remain silent, even if this entails risks. But in following Christ we understand that there are defeats that are victories, deaths that are a source of life, that even though we may be squeezed, pressed, harassed or struck down, we are not crushed, despairing, abandoned or finished off, because the death of Christ is at work in us, and so the extraordinary power of God is also manifested in our earthen vessels, in our mortal bodies, the new life of the Risen One.

So, if we really want to celebrate the Apostle James, regardless of whether it is celebrated civilly in one way or another, what we have to do is put ourselves at the service of our brothers and sisters and proclaim the joy of the Gospel without fear, with clarity, without excesses of prudence, taking the risks that this sometimes entails, ready, like James, to shed our blood as the supreme witness to the Truth. 

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