Even though today is the Fourth Sunday of Easter, May 3, is the Feast Day for one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ – Saint James the Lesser. This is a monumental day for my writing since it is my 1000th blog post on TomPerna.org. From this day forward, May 3 will also hold a special place in the hearts of our family since we have designated this day at the feast day for our first-born son who shares his name with this great Apostle. Also celebrated on this day is Saint Philip the Apostle.
Saint James the Less is “the son of Alphaeus” (Mt 10:3; Mk 3:18; Lk 5; Acts 1:13). It is believed that his mother, Mary, was either a sister or a very close relative to the Blessed Virgin Mary. She was such a close relative that she was at foot of the Cross when Jesus was crucified. He was from Nazareth, the town in which our Lord lived, and more than likely a very close relative to Jesus. For this reason, it is also believed that Saint James is often referred to as the “brother of the Lord.”
As we read in Acts of the Apostles, Saint James the Lesser held a very important role in the early Christian community of Jerusalem. Saint Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, speaks highly of Saint James. He says that he was a witness to the Resurrection of Christ; he was a “pillar” of the Church, on par with Saint Peter, and he was someone that St. Paul used as an advisor when preaching the Gospel (1 Cor 15:7; Gal 2:9). According to Sacred Tradition, Saint James the Lesser was the first Bishop of Jerusalem. He was present at the Apostolic Council held in that city around the year 50 A.D.
Sacred Tradition has always recognized Saint James the Lesser as the author of the Catholic Letter that bears his name and is listed in the Canon of Scripture. In the letter, he is not “the brother of the Lord”, but a “servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” In regards to the writing of the letter, the language, style, and teaching points to the author as a Jew who has studied the Old Testament and a Christian who has a good grasp of the Gospel. Scholars differ on the date it was written – someplace around it 49 A.D., someplace around it 57-58 A.D., however, most consider it written somewhere between 60 to 62 A.D.
Since the author was both a Jew and a Christian, Judeo-Christians veered him as their primary point of reference. Pope Benedict XVI says,
“His most important act was his intervention in the matter of the difficult relations between the Christians of Jewish origin and these of pagan origin: in this matter, together with Peter, he contributed to overcoming, or rather, to integrating the original Jewish dimension of Christianity with the need not to impose upon converted pagans the obligation to submit to all the norms of the Law of Moses.”
In the letter, Saint James writes to the “twelve tribes that are in the Dispersion”, these individuals are Christians who live outside of Palestine, however, the letter does not suggest that he is thinking only of Jewish Christians. As a spiritual father of these people, Saint James knows the temptations these individuals have with paganism. His main goal is to lead them in the Christian faith – he exhorts them to practice good Christian living. Pope Benedict XVI says,
“…St. James’ Letter shows us a very concrete and practical Christianity. Faith must be fulfilled in life, above all, in love of neighbor and especially in dedication to the poor. It is against this background that the famous sentence must be read: ‘As the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.’”
The Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, speaks about the martyrdom of Saint James in his work, Jewish Antiquities. Through good timing because of the transitional changes of the Roman procurator in Jerusalem (from Festus to Albinus), the High Priest Ananus, a son of Ananias, who we read about in the Gospels, handed over the Apostle for an illegal stoning. Saint James the Lesser was martyred in 62 A.D.
As we celebrate this feast of Saint James the Lesser, let us remember that his letter speaks to us in many ways today. He is a great teacher for this modern our culture when he says, “If the Lord wills.” It is here that he teaches us to live our lives autonomously but to always make room for the will of God, who truly understands what is best for us.
Saint James the Lesser…Pray for Us
This blog post is dedicated to my first-born son. Daddy loves you. You have brought so much joy to our lives. We are excited to watch you grow physically, mentally, and spiritually. May the Lord Jesus Christ through Saint James the Lesser be with you now and always.