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St. James the Greater

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

St. James, the son of Zebedee and brother of St. John the Apostle, is sometimes called St. James the Greater to distinguish him from St. James, the son of Alphaeus and the author of the Letter of St. James which is included in the Christian Scriptures. He is one of three who is mentioned as a witness of several key events in the life of Jesus, including the raising of the daughter of Jairus, the Transfiguration, and the agony in the Garden of Gethsemani. He and his brother John are referred to as the Sons of Boanerges or the Sons of Thunder are said to have prompted a bit of anger in the other ten apostles by the request, made by their mother, to sit at the left and right hand of Jesus after his enthronement.

Though we have much more information about St. James than we do about some of the Twelve, a rather detailed tradition about St. James has also been developed about his preaching activity after the resurrection of Jesus. That tradition tells of his preaching in Spain after which he returned to Jerusalem where the Acts of the Apostles records that he was the first of the Twelve to be martyred. (He was beheaded by Herod Agrippa.) He is venerated as the patron of Spain, and his shrine at Compostella is the terminus of pilgrimages that have gone on since the Middle Ages.

The stories from the Gospels that tell us of St. James, his brother St. John, and their seemingly hot-headed personalities can be a source of great comfort for us as we strive to call the universal call to holiness. These rather ordinary fishermen, flawed and frail human beings, went on to become the men who laid the foundation of the Church through their efforts at evangelization and their willingness to shed their blood for the faith. Jesus purifies them of their pettiness and their ambition and invests them with his power and grace, just as he continues to do for us as we make our way to the Kingdom of God.

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