Thursday, July 25, 2013


Walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela has become quite the contemporary fashion - even before Martin Sheen made a movie about it. All sorts of people - including non-Catholics and those of no definite religion - have taken to traveling the pilgrimage route to the shrine of Spain's patron saint, whose feast day the Church - and Spain - celebrate today. 
I have never walked the camino myself, and at this point in my life and state of health there is certainly absolutely no chance that I will ever attempt it. I have, however, visited Compostela and concelebrated Mass at the famous shrine. So I can somewhat imagine what it must have been like for authentic pilgrims past and present to have traveled there to invoke the intercession of Saint James at the end of their camino.
One of the original Twelve Apostles, James "the Greater" (so called to distinguish him from James the son of Alpheus) was the son of Zebedee and brother of John. Called early on by Jesus from the family's fishing business, the two brothers are frequently mentioned with Peter as the three apostles closest to Jesus. According to Acts 12:1-2, James was the first apostle to be martyred in a persecution by King Herod Agrippa, c. 44 A.D., the same persecution in which Peter was imprisoned by Herod but miraculously freed by an angel. (How James got to Spain and was buried in Galicia is the stuff of legend - a legend, however, which has inspired one of Christian Europe's most venerable pilgrimage traditions!)
In the Gospels, the two brothers James and John usually appear together - most famously in the incident in which the two asked Jesus to be given seats at his right and left in the kingdom (Mark 10:35-45). Perhaps that's what comes from being in the inner circle, from being among the most favored - that corrosive sense of entitlement that comes from being favored in society, what we see so often on display among those who are rich or otherwise attractive and regularly adulated for it.
The other 10, meanwhile, apparently neither accepted not were willing to cater to the status hierarchy advocated by James and John. Their jealous indignation prompted yet another instruction from Jesus about what his mission is about and what the life of any would-be disciple of his must therefore also be about. 
If following Jesus as a Christian disciple is to have any real meaning in this world, Jesus seems to be saying, then it must be different with us from the way it is with the rest of the world. This means a total reversal of the perverse value systems that make us exalt wealth, health, good looks, power, and the other symbols of status that we tend to be so enthralled by. As long as we judge ourselves and others by such superficial criteria, we will fundamentally miss the point of what the Kingdom of God is all about.
The fact that James and John went on to become great apostles and (in James' case the first apostle to be martyred) suggests that they did in the end get the point, which is the sign of hope in their story that the rest of us can in the end respond righty as well.

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