St. James the Awesome (or the Greater, whatever…)

Statue of St. James the Greater at the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome
Statue of St. James the Greater at the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome

As we move on to the next of our apostles, we focus on St. James the Greater. He is usually called “the Greater” to distinguish him from the other St. James among the apostles. He was the son of Zebedee and the brother of St. John, and in fact, they were all together on the seashore when Jesus called James and John to follow him. St. James was part of the core group of the apostles, along with St. Peter and St. John, and was one of the few chosen to witness the Transfiguration.

The most noteworthy occasion where St. James finds his name in the Gospels was when he had the…ahem… *boldness* to request that he and his brother would stand at Jesus’ left and right in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus asked them, “Can you drink the chalice that I drink?” Now remember, this is the same chalice that Jesus asked would pass from him at Gethsemane before the Passion – the chalice of suffering. Confidently, James said he could! What a great and zealous faith! And of course, Jesus assured him that he would indeed share in that chalice.

Moving forward, according to tradition, St. James travelled to Spain to preach the Gospel after the Ascension. He may have been having a pretty tough time doing so (maybe he didn’t pay attention to his Spanish classes, although I guess Spanish didn’t exist yet). Near present-day Zaragoza, he had a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary on a pillar where she encouraged him and assured him that his efforts would not be in vain. Inspired, James returned to Judea, which speaking of that chalice…

James would drink the chalice of suffering, as he was the first of the apostles to share it and the glory that Christ promised along with it. The Acts of the Apostles relates that Herod Agrippa, the nephew of the Herod who had questioned Jesus, “killed James, the brother of John, with the sword.” (Acts 12:1-2)

Stjacquescompostelle1Supposedly, after his martyrdom, his body was claimed by his loving followers and returned to Spain, where he was buried at the site of the great Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. For over 1000 years, pilgrims have travelled to the cathedral to venerate St. James’ relics via the Way of St. James. There are several points of origin on this pilgrimage, but the Way of St. James is a minimum of 100 km, and has become one of the greatest Christian pilgrimages. In fact, the 2010 World Cup winners from Spain dedicated their win to St. James, and several of the players made the Way of St. James in gratitude!

Ultimately, I think the example of St. James invites us to think about how willing we are to drink the chalice of suffering offered to us by Christ. The Way of St. James can be an analogy for us in that sense. The journey of discipleship is long and hard, and we have to be sure we prepare ourselves well during this life. But after the suffering of the journey, we arrive at the fullness of joy at the end of the pilgrimage. For the Way of St. James, it’s the glorious cathedral and relics; for our pilgrimage of faith, it is the joy of heaven. Are we willing to drink the chalice of suffering in order to attain the overflowing chalice of joy?

(By the way, the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is known for it’s GIGANTIC incense thurible.  Check out the video below.  I asked our pastor if we could get one, but it might be out of our budget…for now…)


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