May 2, 2017

Feast of Saint Philip and Saint James, Apostles

Saints Philip and James

May 3rd, is the feast of Saint Philip and Saint James. St. Philip was born in Bethsaida and may have been a disciple of John the Baptist. He was called by Jesus himself and brought Nathaniel to Christ. Scripture records he was present at the miracle of the loaves and the fishes just before the Lord’s Passion. Jesus answered Philips’ request to show the apostles the Father. No further mention of Philip is made in the New Testament beyond his being listing among the apostles awaiting the Holy Spirit in the upper room. According to tradition, he preached in Greece and was crucified upside down at Hierapolis under the Emperor Domitian.

St. James the Lesser, the author of the first Catholic epistle, was the son of Alpheus or Cleophas. His mother Mary, was a close relative of the Blessed Virgin, and for that reason, according to Jewish custom, he is sometimes called the brother of the Lord. He held a distinguished position in the early Christian community of Jerusalem, as a pillar of the Church. Saint Paul testifies that James was favored by an appearance of the Risen Christ (I Cor. 15:7). Popular piety contends he was the first bishop of Jerusalem. In that capacity, he attended the Council of Jerusalem, Christianity's first episcopal council, in the year 50 AD.

The Divine Office contains this moving description of his death. "When he was ninety-six years old and had governed the Church for thirty years in a most holy manner, the Jews sought to stone him, then took him to the pinnacle of the temple and cast him off headlong. As he lay there half dead, with legs broken by the fall, he lifted his hands toward heaven and prayed to God for the salvation of his enemies, saying: Lord, forgive them for they know not what they do! While the apostle was still praying, a fuller struck his head a mortal blow."

His relics rest next to those of St. Philip in the Church of the Holy Apostles in Rome, and their names are mentioned in the first list in the Canon of the Mass. James and Philip are very human disciples who ultimately display heroic virtue in establishing the Church. They remind us that faith and holiness are entirely gifts from Our Heavenly Father. O God, who gladdens us each year with the feast day of the Apostles Philip and James, grant us, through their prayers, a share in the Passion and Resurrection of your Only Begotten Son, so that we may merit to behold you for eternity. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

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