by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio
My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
In a few days, we will celebrate the Feast of St. James the Great, Apostle and patron of the Cathedral Basilica of Brooklyn. It has been suggested to me that in the summer months I might highlight and speak of some of our great saints. It is good that we begin this series with St. James.
James is the brother of John, and together they are called the “boanerges,” which means the sons of thunder. They seemed to have earned this title, as recorded in the Gospel, because James and John were furious when Jesus was rejected in a Samaritan town. As we find in Luke 9:54, the brothers said, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from Heaven to burn them up?” To this Jesus responded, “The Son of Man comes not to destroy mens lives, but to save.”
The life of James in the New Testament reminds us that he is present at all of the important events in the life of Jesus, from the Transfiguration to the Agony in the Garden, and also present after the Resurrection. How important it is that we recognize in the life of James the great shift from suffering to glory. He comes to understand the life of Jesus in a special way.
Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, in one of his general audiences, had this to say about James: “On the other occasion, he finds himself face-to-face with suffering and humiliation; he sees with his own eyes how the Son of God humbles himself, making himself obedient unto death. The latter experience was certainly an opportunity for him to grow in faith, to adjust the unilateral, triumphalist interpretation of the former experience: He had to discern that the Messiah, whom the Jewish people were awaiting as a victor, was in fact surrounded not only by honor and gory, but also by suffering and weakness. Christ’s glory was fulfilled precisely on the Cross, in his sharing in our sufferings.”
James becomes, in contrast to the other Apostles, a symbol of hope in the face of the cross. It has been said that Peter symbolizes faith, John love, and James hope. It is James whose example testifies to the existence of hope. How important that virtue is in the face of so many difficulties in the world and in the Church. We cannot lose sight of the future glory and promise for those who remain faithful. Hope is a virtue characterized by resoluteness, by forcefulness and activity. All of these characteristics are found in the life of James and are worth meditating on in our own life.
It is interesting to note how our Cathedral Basilica, established first as a parish church, bears the name of St. James, since it was dedicated on his feast day in 1822. Sometimes St. James is mistaken to be the patron of the Diocese of Brooklyn. However, our patroness is Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. Certainly, St. James figures closely in the emblem of the coat of arms of the diocese, which is the pilgrim shell. As all of the Apostles, St. James is clouded in a certain mystery. It is not clear if St. James actually traveled to Spain in Compostela, or if his remains were later transported there sometime after his death. Whatever is the case, St. James is certainly honored in Compostela and “The Way of St. James” (El Camino de Santiago), often followed by many pilgrims, brings them to plumb the depths of the virtue of hope so important to our lives. The Way of St. James indicates the pattern of his own following of Christ from Mt. Tabor to Calvary.
For all of us who follow that pattern in our lives, we are asked to put out into the deep, recognizing the sacrifices required by a true Christian life. We also recognize that these sacrifices bring us to another shore where the glory for the resurrection awaits us.