We celebrate our parish’s patron saint with the feast day of St James, the Greater, the Apostle. Jesus called James and his brother the Sons of Thunder – we can only imagine that it had to do with their fiery temperaments. Today, James’ mom asks Jesus if her sons can sit at his side when he arrives in his Kingdom. Jesus tells them that they do not know what they are asking, even though they say that they are willing to accept the consequences of drinking out of the same cup as Jesus.
Tradition has it that James traveled all the way to the Iberian peninsula, to the present day countries of Spain and Portugal, to bring Jesus’ Good News to the World. There are many legends associated with St James. It is interesting that in the Medieval times in Europe, the pilgrimage to James’ final resting place in Spain attracted the faithful from all over the world. Charlemagne, St Francis of Assisi, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, and St Bridget of Sweden were among the notables to make the pilgrimage at that time. George Bush’s daughter Jenna, actors Shirley MacLaine, Anthony Quinn, and Martin Sheen, Brazilian author Paolo Coelho, and Canadian singer Loreena McKennitt are amongst those who have traveled in modern times. Back in the Middle Ages, it was believed that through touching and seeing sacred relics or earthly remains of holy people that the pilgrim could transfer part of the sacredness to himself. Back in 2003 when I first made the pilgrimage of St James, about 74,000 official pilgrims arrived in Santiago. Last year, it was 192,000, with three current members of this parish having made the journey that year. The spirit of St James is so much alive in our modern world today, touching lives of not only the Catholic faithful throughout the world but also the lives of many others who are seeking out some sort of adventure or spiritual journey.
Almost any Christian or Catholic magazine that I pick up today has an article wondering how we the faithful are going to approach the signs of our times. How do we exist and flourish in this Age of Skepticism, this Age of Secularism, this Age where our very faith and traditions are being questioned and derided and ridiculed? Perhaps James gives us some sort of answer, of how he and his pilgrimage accepts people for where they are at on their journey as he draws them to the faith. He does so out of love and out of compassion, not out of fear or anger. When the pilgrim arrives in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, one of the first things he does is hug the statue of St James behind the altar. Almost 2,000 years after he lived here on earth, the spirit of this great Apostle is alive and well.
Many pilgrims get asked if we really believe that it is St James’ remains buried there in the Cathedral. There can be evidence cited to support this theory or to refute it. But, to me, the most important thing is that St James is carried in the hearts of the pilgrims as they journey on his pilgrimage to his holy city. The spirit of James lives in the love and the faith of the pilgrims – that is all that ultimately matters. In that sense, it really is St James who is alive there no matter what anyone says.