Catholics celebrate the feast day of St. James the Greater on July 25. For millennia, scholars have lacked detailed evidence on the career of this apostle except for a handful of passages in the New Testament. But what little is known still bears much fruit for men looking for a role model on how to live as a faithful follower of God.
Called on the job
St. James was a fisherman, at work on the Sea of Galilee with his brother John and their father, Zebedee, when we first meet him in the Gospel of St. Matthew. After Jesus had first called brothers Peter and Andrew, he walked further and saw the father and his two sons mending their nets. The Lord called to the brothers, and together James and John left their nets, the boat, their father, and followed Christ (cf. Mt 4:18-22).
Men today work longer hours than their counterparts did just a generation ago. Most working husbands and fathers look to fishing now more for relaxation rather than income. But regardless of their line of work, or how much it pays, Jesus calls all men to follow him always in what they do professionally. Men, like St. James, need only to listen and act to the call on the job.
Radiant high and sorrowful low
During his earthly ministry, Jesus forged a close bond with St. James. The Bible, in fact, states that Christ shared such a privileged intimacy of faith with only two of the other Apostles, Peter and John. We read about one of the brightest heights reached by this apostolic trio with the Transfiguration. High upon a mountain, James, Peter and John saw the face of Christ shine like the sun and his clothes radiate light (cf. Mt 17:1-2).
We also read about one of the darkest moments shared together by the three disciples. On the night of his betrayal, Jesus again singled out James, Peter and John to go with him, this time to Gethsemane. Christ urged the three apostles to keep watch with him as he prayed with sweat like blood in the garden a short distance away. Instead, they fell asleep not just once but three separate times (cf. Mt. 26:36-46).
How many men, in their own faith journey, climb upon peaks radiating joy and stumble into valleys plagued with sorrowful despair? Even so, men can always share a close relationship with Christ by praying daily. It is a hard path today, one tested by a culture saturated with sensory pleasures. Jesus taught James and the others a lesson at Gethsemane that men can still find useful in their faith journey: Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak (Mt. 26:41).
Death and questions
Herod Agrippa had James beheaded in Jerusalem around the year 44 A.D., which made him the first of the 12 to be martyred for Christ (cf. Acts 12:2). Debate still remains, though, even after his death. Scholars wrestle with the question of whether James ministered in Spain prior to his death.
We all will die. Still, men of faith ask: What will happen to me when I die, to my family, and to the world around me? We wont ever really know the answers for certain, a lot like our knowledge of the late apostolic career of St. James the Greater.
He traveled a privileged journey of faith. Men of all ages can relate to him in their life because he encountered Christ in his job, in the greatest and darkest moments of his life, and in his death.
St. James the Greater, pray for us!
* Jason Godin teaches U.S. history at Blinn College in Bryan, Texas, where he lives with his wife and two children.