My Camino Saint

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of St. James, apostle and martyr.

There are several references to James and his brother John in the Gospel in which he doesn’t appear so admirable. One is today’s Gospel reading where his mother approached Jesus with her sons asking that they “sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your Kingdom,” causing the other apostles to become “indignant at the two brothers.” Another is when he wants Jesus to call down fire from heaven to destroy a Samaritan town that failed to offer them a proper reception, perhaps one of the incidents that caused Jesus to call him and his brother Boanerges – “Sons of Thunder.”

But James responded to Jesus’ call, dropping everything to follow him. And he was one of the first to follow Jesus to his death; James was beheaded by Herod Agrippa I.

Tradition holds that St. James preached the Gospel in Spain and that, after his death in Judea, his remains found their way to Galicia in Spain, and they were later moved to the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela.

When I arrived at the Catheral after walking the 500 mile Camino Francais from St. Jean Pied de Port, I visited first the large bust of St. James that sits high behind the main altar and then the crypt with his coffin below the altar.

I don’t know if James is really buried in that crypt. When I knelt there that’s what I pretty much said to him: “I have no idea if your remains are here or not, James, but I’m here, so let’s talk.”

Buried there or not, James is the patron saint of Spain and special friend to pilgrims on the Camino. And so on this day I honor James and ask for his friendship and inspiration. And I ask for his alacrity in following Jesus, and his strength to do so to the death.


St. James

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of St. James, one of the apostles and brother of St. John. Whenever I think of James, the first thing to comes to mind is his pushy mother, who we get a glimpse of in today’s Gospel. “Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your Kingdom,” she asks Jesus.

I’m sure I’m not the only one to react with some skepticism when, in response to Jesus’ question whether they can drink the chalice he is about to drink, both brothers respond in the affirmative. But James, in fact, was speaking truth in his response – he was the first of the apostles to be martyred – “killed by the sword” by Herod, according to Acts.

Whether he sits at Jesus’ right or left in the Kingdom, we don’t know: as Jesus responded to James’ mother, “to sit at [his] right and at [his] left…is for those for whom it has been prepared by [Jesus’] Father.” But we do know that when called by Jesus, James and his brother immediately left their father and the boat in which they were mending their nets and followed Jesus. And we know that James was one of the three privileged to be present both at the Transfiguration and at the agony in Gethsemane. He is also believed to have evangelized in Spain.

And so as we pray in the Opening Prayer for today’s Mass in honor of St. James, “May his profession of faith give us courage and his prayers bring us strength.”

St. James and the Camino de Santiago

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of St. James. What always comes first to my mind when I think of James is his ambition. He’s the one that wanted to be head of the class, first in line, seated at the right hand of Jesus in heaven.

But more interesting to me is the traditional assertion that St. James preached the Gospel in Spain. It is also believed that after his execution by Herod, his body was somehow miraculously translated to the northwest of Spain, and later to Compostela, a famous pilgrimage spot – the endpoint of the Camino de Santiago (also known as the Way of St. James).

The authenticity of the relic of St. James in Compostela has been questioned and there seems to be reason to doubt that St. James ever made it to Spain. Still, thousands of people each year make their way along the Camino. My friend Maria has done it; my friend Michael plans to do it this fall and it is one of my great desires is to do the same once my daughter is finished high school and off in college.

What explains that? I don’t think it is at all about St. James and his relics. I don’t think it matters a whole lot to me whether he was in Spain or not or whether his relics are there now.

I think it is more that pilgrims have been making their way along that route for more than 1000 years. I say pilgrims, although many of the people who have walked the route did not set out on a spiritual journey. (Not surprisingly, they say it ended up being a spiritual jouney.) Maybe it goes back to the Exodus metaphor I talked about two days ago – we know we are on a journey and there is something about pilgrimage – about walking a holy trail that others have walked before us that draws us. And so on this feast of St. James, I remind myself that I will walk the Camino