Also this summer, we celebrate St. James the Apostle, the
brother of John the Evangelist, on July 25. The two were called by Jesus as they worked with their father in a fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had already called another pair of brothers from a similar occupation: Peter and Andrew. "He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They too were in a boat mending their nets. Then he called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him." (Mark 1:19-20).
James was one of the favored three who had the privilege of witnessing the Transfiguration, the raising to life of the daughter of Jairus, and the agony in Gethsemani.
Two incidents in the Gospels describe the temperament of this man and his brother. Saint Matthew tells that their mother came (Mark says it was the brothers themselves) to ask that they have the seats of honor in the kingdom. "Jesus said in reply, 'You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?' They said to him, 'We can.'" (Matthew 20:22)
Jesus then told them they would indeed drink the cup and share his baptism of pain and death, but that sitting at his right hand or left was not his to give; it "is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father." (
20:23b). It remained to be seen how long it would take to realize the implications of their confident "We can!"
The other disciples became indignant at the ambition of James and John. Then Jesus taught them all the lesson of humble service: The purpose of authority is to serve. They are not to impose their will on others, or lord it over them. This is the position of Jesus himself. He was the servant of all; the service imposed on him was the supreme sacrifice of his own life.
The way the Gospels describe the apostles is a good reminder of what holiness is all about. There is very little about their virtues entitling them to heavenly reward. Rather, the great emphasis is on God giving them the power to proclaim the Good News. As far as their personal lives are concerned, there is much about Jesus' purifying them of narrowness, pettiness, fickleness.
May God's blessings be upon you, as you help to strengthen our commitment to the sanctity of life. And may you and your family enjoy a happy and safe Fourth of July!