Novena of Prayer in Honor of St. James the Apostle by Saint John Paul II (July 16-25)
This year, the Feast of St. James falls on a Sunday, making this a “Holy Year” in Santiago de Compostela. More than 100,000 pilgrims will walk the ancient camino to the Spanish town where the relics of St. James have been venerated for centuries. For us, it is a special year, too. This month, why not pray in these words, based on the prayer of Pope John Paul II when he visited Santiago de Compostela in the Holy Year 1989? If you would like to make this a novena of prayer in preparation for the feast on July 25, begin praying this prayer on July 16.
We come to you in eager pilgrimage.
We come as part of a great throng of pilgrims
who through the centuries have come to this place,
where you are pilgrim and host, apostle and patron.
We come to you today
because we are on a common journey.
Place yourself, patron of pilgrims,
at the head of our pilgrimage.
Teach us, apostle and friend of the Lord,
the WAY which leads to him.
Open us, preacher of the Gospel,
to the TRUTH you learned from your Master’s lips.
Give us, witness of the faith,
the strength always to love the LIFE Christ gives.
We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
The Call of James (Matthew 4:18-22)
As Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him.
He walked along from there and saw two other brothers, James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They were in a boat, with their father Zebedee, mending their nets. He called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him.
Mending their nets on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, James and John look up to see Jesus. And he calls them to do something totally new—to follow him; and to become something new as well—“fishers of men.” Why did Jesus choose fishermen for his first disciples? Perhaps because fishing takes strength, skill, persistence, and patience. Perhaps because fishermen live amidst the beauty and danger of the natural world, and understand their dependence on God. Perhaps because fishermen know when to work long, hard hours, and when to rest. An Apostle needs all these qualities as well.
When they hear the Lord’s call, James and John respond at once. They do not ask questions, finish the task at hand, or even consult with their father; instead, “immediately” they leave the old life behind and follow Jesus. For us, too, the call to discipleship usually comes in the midst of the humdrum patterns of our daily lives, when we are least expecting it. Are we ready to respond to the Lord’s call—to do something different; to become something new?
The Sons of Thunder (Luke 9:51-56)
When the days for his being taken up were fulfilled, Jesus resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem, and he sent messengers ahead of him. On the way they entered a Samaritan village to prepare for his reception there, but they would not welcome him because the destination of his journey was Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?”
Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they journeyed to another village.
Jesus gave Simon a special name – “Peter.” Jesus also gives James and John a special name, “Boanerges,” which means “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17). Scripture scholars tell us that the giving of a new name is a sign of an inner transformation: think of Abram, who became Abraham, and Jacob, who became Israel. James and John must have been full of zeal for the Kingdom to receive a name like “sons of thunder.”
We get a glimpse of that zeal for the Lord’s work in this passage from Luke. When the people of one town refuse to welcome Jesus, James and John offer to “call down fire from heaven,” to destroy them as Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed when they refused to receive the Lord. But Jesus “rebukes” them. That is not the way of the Kingdom. Jesus invites, but he does not command, and his disciples are to do the same.
How do we respond to rejection? With the “thunder” of James, or with the peace of Christ?
A Child Raised from the Dead (Luke 8:40-42, 49-56)
A man named Jairus, an official of the synagogue, came forward. He fell at the feet of Jesus and begged him to come to his house, because he had an only daughter, about twelve years old, and she was dying…. Someone from the synagogue official’s house arrived and said, “Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the teacher any longer.”
On hearing this, Jesus answered him, “Do not be afraid; just have faith and she will be saved.”
When he arrived at the house he allowed no one to enter with him except Peter and John and James, and the child’s father and mother. All were weeping and mourning for her, when he said, “Do not weep any longer, for she is not dead, but sleeping.”
And they ridiculed him, because they knew that she was dead. But he took her by the hand and called to her, “Child, arise!” Her breath returned and she immediately arose. He then directed that she should be given something to eat.
Her parents were astounded, and he instructed them to tell no one what had happened.
When Jesus raises the daughter of Jairus from the dead, he does not take all of his disciples with him. Only Peter, James, and John are in the room with the girl and her parents, when, with a word and a touch of the hand, Jesus restores her to life.
Jesus tells them all to keep silence about this great miracle. Only when Jesus himself is raised from the dead will the three Apostles understand what it is they have witnessed: the very power of God, triumphant over evil, over disease and sickness of every kind, over death itself. James, with Peter and John, is a special witness to resurrection. He will be able to speak to others the saving words of Christ: “just have faith.”
James, Witness to the Glory of Christ (Matthew 17:1-9)
Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him.
Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”
When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and do not be afraid.” And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone. As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, “Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
In the Gospel according to Matthew, the Transfiguration of Jesus comes immediately following his first prediction of his Passion. This is a hard teaching indeed: how can the Messiah, the Chosen One of God, the Savior, be crucified? Peter speaks for all of them when he says, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you” (Matthew 16:22). Jesus reply is harsh: “get behind me, Satan! You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” The disciples begin to understand that to follow Jesus is to carry the cross.
But there is more. Jesus allows Peter, James, and John a blinding glimpse of his heavenly glory. They see him shining brighter than the sun, speaking with Moses and Elijah; and they hear God’s voice, urging them to listen to what he says. In glimpsing the Transfiguration of Jesus, Peter, James and John are glimpsing the Resurrection. Jesus shows them this glimpse to help them understand that for all who follow Jesus, suffering and glory go hand in hand.
With the Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-42)
They came to a place named Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took with him Peter, James, and John, and began to be troubled and distressed. Then he said to them, “My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch.”
He advanced a little and fell to the ground and prayed that if it were possible the hour might pass by him; he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will.”
When he returned he found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”
Withdrawing again, he prayed, saying the same thing. Then he returned once more and found them asleep, for they could not keep their eyes open and did not know what to answer him.
He returned a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough. The hour has come. Behold, the Son of Man is to be handed over to sinners. Get up, let us go. See, my betrayer is at hand.”
The same three who witnessed Christ in glory – Peter, James, and John – witness his sufferings in the Garden of Gethsemane. As scripture commentator Marie Noonan Sabin observes, the contrasts between the two scenes are poignant. There, Jesus shone with dazzling light; here, all is darkness. There, Jesus stood above the mountain; here, he falls to the ground. There, the Father spoke words of love; here, Jesus asks his Father to take the cup of suffering away from him.
In this last hour, Jesus does not want to be alone: he wants his friends at his side. But these friends, who will scatter when Jesus is arrested, have already begun to abandon him: they cannot even stay awake to keep him company.
Peter, James, and John will become pillars of the Church, preaching the Good News far and wide. Jesus wants these Apostles to be witnesses, not just of the divine signs and wonders he performs, but of his humanity and his suffering. He wants them to be aware of his weakness—and their own. Perhaps that is why the sacrament of penance is such an important part of our faith. In becoming more aware of our own weakness, we become more compassionate and understanding towards others.
James, one of the Twelve (Matthew 10:1-10)
Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out and to cure every disease and every illness. The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon called Peter, and his brother Andrew; James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew, Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddeus; Simon the Cananean, and Judas Iscariot who betrayed him.
Jesus sent out these twelve after instructing them thus, “Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town. Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons. Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give. Do not take gold or silver or copper for your belts; no sack for the journey, or a second tunic, or sandals, or walking stick. The laborer deserves his keep.”
Jesus gives the Apostles a mission. They are to drive out demons, cure the sick, and proclaim the Kingdom of God: in other words, their mission is Christ’s mission.
The Apostles have an incredible gift to give: freedom, healing, life. But they are to give this gift as freely as they have received it. They are to travel not like rich people, with horses, chariots, and retinues, but like homeless wanderers: alone, unarmed, without so much as a change of clothes. They are given great “authority,” but they must also become totally vulnerable, accepting the hospitality and generosity of others. They are to be, in short, like Jesus, who “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, and coming in human likeness.” (Philippians 2) The Church is called to do the same.
Their Mothers’ Request (Matthew 20: 20-23)
The mother of the sons of Zebedee approached Jesus with her sons and did him homage, wishing to ask him for something. He said to her, “What do you wish?”
She answered him, “Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your kingdom.”
Jesus said in reply, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?”
They said to him, “We can.”
He replied, “My cup you will indeed drink, but to sit at my right and at my left, this is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”
In the Gospel according to Mark, James and John come to Jesus and ask for seats at his right and left—seats of honor and power—in the Kingdom. In Matthew’s Gospel, it is their mother who makes the request. It is ironic, to say the least, that this request comes immediately after Jesus tells his disciples, for the third time, what awaits him: crucifixion and death; and after a whole series of parables with the theme “the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:16)! Jesus responds honestly but gently to the ambition of the two brothers. They will indeed drink his cup – James was the first of the Apostles to suffer martyrdom – but only the Father knows who will sit at his right and left in the Kingdom of heaven. The only thing Jesus promises the brothers is suffering.
Response of the Other Apostles (Matthew 20: 24-28)
When the ten heard this, they became indignant at the two brothers. But Jesus summoned them and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
The disciples have listened as Jesus teaches them in parables – parables that speak of the topsy-turvy logic of God – the first last, and the last first. In asking to sit at the right and left of Jesus in the Kingdom, James and John become a parable. Do not jockey for position, Jesus warns his followers. Do not be ambitious. Instead, if you want to be great, become a servant; if you want to be first, take the last place. Why? Because that is what Jesus did.
James, Witness to the Resurrection (Matthew 20: 16-20)
The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted. Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
“Apostle” means “one who is sent.” In calling James and the others to be his Apostles, Jesus is sending them forth to continue the work he himself has begun, baptizing the nations, teaching, and proclaiming the Kingdom. How did James live this call? We know that he became a leader of the Church in Jerusalem (Paul referred to him as one of the “pillars” [Galatians 2:9]). We know that he preached the Gospel – tradition tells us that he journeyed as far as Spain, the “ends of the earth.” And we know that he was the first of the Apostles to suffer death for Christ (Acts 12:2). We are not all called to be Apostles, but we can all make the pattern of James’ life our own: listening to Christ, living for Christ, and dying for Christ.
Let Catholics rejoice!
Let the citizens of Heaven be glad
Let the priest with beautiful songs
And with chants busy himself
This is the praiseworthy day,
Noble with divine light,
When James to the palace
Of the Heavens ascended
Conquering Herod’s sword,
He received the reward of life
Therefore without end
Let us bless the Lord
To the great Father in Heaven
Let us offer thankful praises
A medieval song in honor of St. James from the Codex Calixtinus