Feast of St. James the Greater - Patron of the Knights Republic
Justin Haggerty | The Daily Knight
"Be Thou, O Lord, the Sanctifier and Protector of Thy people: so that defended by the aid of Thine Apostle James, they may please Thee in their manner of life, and serve Thee in peace of soul. Through our Lord." (Collects, Roman Catholic Daily Missal, 1962)
On July 25th, a special day for the Sacred Military Order of Knights of the Republic and the Most Victorious Heart of Jesus, we celebrate the feast of our patron Saint James the Greater, Apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Apostle, found as a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee by our Lord, exemplified a very zealous and sacrificial life before and after the Crucifixion. Along with his brother John, the Apostle, the two were known as the 'Sons of Thunder' for their zeal and ambition, which is tested by Jesus in Matthew 20:20-23:
"At that time, the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with her sons, worshipping, and asking something of Him. Who said to her: What wilt thou? She saith to Him: Say that these my two sons may sit, the one on Thy right hand, and the other on Thy left, in Thy kingdom. And Jesus answering said: You know not what you ask. Can you drink the chalice that I shall drink? They say to Him: We can. He saith to them: My chalice indeed you shall drink; but to sit on My right or left hand is not mine to give to you, but to them for whom it is prepared by My Father." (Matthew 20:20-23)
Our Lord recognizes the martyrdom that James and John will offer, bloody and unbloody for the Faith, but rebukes their man-centered ambition that is infinitely subordinate to the Divine Will that is "prepared by My Father." However, the 'thunderous' zeal of James, like all of ours, fails to deliver him at the foot of the Cross. John is present, in defense and protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom our Lord commands him "disciple: behold thy mother" (John 19:11), but James is in hiding, abandoning his faith in fear of his life.
The life of priestly service and sacrifice of St. James the Greater is one that many Catholics can relate to. There are moments of courage and zeal, weakness and fear, glory and grace, and failure and darkness. St. James was often blessed with amazing circumstances by our Lord, being only one of three Apostles present at the Transfiguration on Mount Thabor and witnessing the foretelling almighty splendor of His Resurrection and Ascension:
"At that time Jesus took Peter and James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into a higher mountain apart: and He was transfigured before them. And His face did shine as the sun: and His garments became white as snow. And behold there appeared to them Moses and Elias talking with Him. And Peter answering said to Jesus: Lord, it is good for us to be here: if Thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles, one for Thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. And as he was yet speaking, behold a bright cloud overshadowed them. And lo, a voice out of the cloud, saying: This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased: hear ye Him. And the disciples hearing, fell upon their face and were very much afraid. And Jesus came and touched them, and said to them: Arise, and fear not. And they lifting up their eyes saw no one, but only Jesus. And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying: Tell the vision to no man till the Son of man be risen from the dead." (Matthew 17:1-9)
Again, Sts. Peter, James, and John were brought with our Blessed Lord, on the night that He was betrayed, to the Garden of Gethsemani on the Mount of Olives to pray and keep watch after the Last Supper:
"At that time Jesus and His disciples came to a farm called Gethsemani. And He said to His disciples: Sit you here while I pray. And He taketh Peter and James and John with Him, and He began to fear and to be heavy. And He saith to them: My soul is sorrowful even unto death; stay you here, and watch. And when He was gone forward a little, He fell flat on the ground: and He prayed that, if it might be, the hour might pass from Him. And he saith: Abba, Father, all things are possible to Thee, remove this chalice from Me: but not what I will, but what Thou wilt. And He cometh and findeth them sleeping. And He saith to Peter: Simon, sleepest thou? Couldst thou not watch one hour? Watch ye, and pray that you enter not into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. And going away again, He prayed, saying the same words. And when He returned, He found them again asleep (for their eyes were heavy), and they knew not what to answer Him. And He cometh the third time and saith to them: Sleep ye now, and take your rest. It is enough: the hour is come: behold the Son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise up: let us go. Behold he that will betray Me is at hand." (Mark 14:32-48)
Surrounded with such grace and blessings, like many of us are during our daily pilgrimage through this world, St. James' faith is easily subjugated by temporal pressures; failing to keep watch, to pray to avoid temptation, and to sacrifice himself for the Lord upon being betrayed, assaulted, and arrested. "Then His disciples leaving Him, all fled away." (Mark 15:44) Sts. Peter and John would later return, one to deny the Lord and one to embrace Him through His mother, while St. James was nowhere to be found.
Jesus Christ acknowledged St. James' zealous character or He would not have identified it in the Gospel ad labeled him one of the 'Sons of Thunder.' St. James was no coward, but suffered from the temptations of this world and the weaknesses of our fallen nature that we all face as Christians. Everything in the world is driving us away from the Cross, and it is extremely difficult for a human, in all our faults, weaknesses, and fallen nature, to embrace the Crucifix and unit it to our own will for martyrdom; to die for and in Christ; and, to die to sin and to live in Christ. The story of St. James illustrates tat we can't be victorious alone, that only through Christ and His Sanctifying Grace, in unity with the Father and the Holy Ghost, can we embrace the Cross.
St. James the Greater would witness and confess the Risen and Living Lord, and His glorious Ascension into Heaven. He would be consecrated by the Holy Ghost on Pentecost, and launch his apostolate into the pagan world, spreading the Gospel through Judea, Samaria, and to Spain. Our Blessed Mother, in her first Apparition of Our Lady of Pillar (before her death and via bi-location), requested St. James to return to Jerusalem to address the violent persecutions of Christians by Herod. In consequence for his defense of the Faith, he was beheaded by Herod in 42 A.D., and angels later conveyed his body to Compostella in Spain, where thousands of pilgrims have venerated him by traveling "The Way" to Compostella. Pilgrims would humbly enter the Cathedral on the knees to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in his honor. St. James, for his service to Our Lady, defense of Holy Mother Church, and martyrdom in the Holy Land, is often viewed as the first Catholic Knight, knighted by the Mater Dei. In fact, our Patron was named 'Santiago de Moramortos,' 'St. James the Moorslayer,' for his apparition over a thousand years later, when he appeared on a white stallion, emblazoning a red cross, and riding into battle to defend Christianity against the Islamic Moors.
Sancte Jacobe, ora pro nobis.
In Christ Crucified and the Most Victorious Heart of Jesus.