Today we celebrate the feast of the Apostle and Martyr, St. James, the brother of St. John. James preached the Gospel in Samaria, Judea, and Spain. Although he was martyred in Jerusalem by Herod in 44 A.D., his body rests at the great pilgrimage shrine which bears his name, at Compostella, Spain.
We have the highest regard for the Apostles, but we find that they had their human failings after all. The Lord called James and John Boanerges, or Sons of Thunder (Mk.3:17), perhaps because of their fiery temperament. On one occasion they were ready to call fire down from Heaven on some Samaritan town which refused to receive Jesus and His little flock. The Lord gave the brothers a strong rebuke: "You do not know of what manner of spirit you are; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them" (Lk.9:54-56).
James and John must also have been a source of annoyance to the other Apostles because of their ambition, and their mother's request of Jesus that her two sons might sit at His right hand and His left in His Kingdom. No doubt she imagined, as most of the disciples did, that Jesus would toss out the Romans and rule over an earthly kingdom from Jerusalem. If she had known that Jesus was speaking about martyrdom when he said to her sons: "Can you drink of the cup of which I am about to drink?" (Mt.20:22) she would have hastily withdrawn her request.
Why did Jesus choose for His Apostles not only the "sons of thunder," but an impetuous Peter, a doubting Thomas, a money-grabbing Matthew, and a persecuting zealot like Paul? Perhaps because He knew that in the end they would become the greater saints. Some of us are endowed with natural virtues upon which grace may easily build, but those who have to work harder to conquer their rebellious human nature often receive the greater reward. Remember the story of the hare and the tortoise - the hardworking tortoise won the race.
We have much to overcome in these times. The world finds itself in a turmoil of murderous hatred and slaughter. How can we possibly have thoughts worthy of a Christian, when our enemies may even be those of our own household, as Jesus assured us they would be? It is hard not to feel the greatest loathing and resentment against those who are destroying our country, our world, and our Church. Yet Jesus did not say: "Thou shalt LIKE thy neighbor as thyself," but "Thou shalt LOVE thy neighbor as thyself."
Your actions must be motivated by love, not by like or dislike. If we are to face the stiff challenges of these times without giving in to hatred and vengefulness we must gain the victory over our faults by practicing love daily in the little things - contending with other motorists on the freeways, putting up with unbearable co-workers on the job, bearing with the faults of our family members at home, yes, and of the people in the next pew. In this way we become saints. St. Thérèse of Lisieux used to become extremely annoyed when doing the laundry with some of the other nuns - by hand, of course. One of them used to splash dirty water on her. Thérèse could have said, "Watch it, sister!" or she could have splashed back, but instead she used this annoyance as an opportunity to practice patience, and was unfailingly kind with that careless nun. Another old nun used to drive her literally to distraction in chapel at prayer time by clicking her teeth, but Thérèse bore this symphony patiently, although her prayer time became a kind of dry martyrdom. By offering up these daily annoyances with love, Thérèse became a great saint, the saint of the "Little Way".
The King of Martyrs gave us the greatest example as He prayed from the Cross: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Lk.23:34). "Love your enemies," He had commanded, "do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who persecute and calumniate you, so that you may be children of your Father in Heaven, Who makes His sun to rise on the good and the evil, and sends rain on the just and the unjust" (Mt.5:44,45). The first martyr, St. Stephen, took the Lord's command literally, praying even as he was being stoned, "Lord, do not lay this sin against them" (Acts 7:60).
The existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre once said, "Hell is other people." We may feel that way sometimes, but other people give us our opportunity to become saints. If someone doesn't like you, if someone offends you, give praise and thanks to God, because the Son of Man was treated in exactly the same way. The way of the world is hatred, revenge, and war; the way of Christ is love, forgiveness, and peace. St. Paul advises us in Hebrews:
"Strive for peace with all men, and for that holiness without which no man will see God. Take heed lest anyone be wanting in the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble and by it the many be defiled…" (Heb.12:14,15).
"Of My cup you shall indeed drink," Jesus said to St. James and his brother, meaning persecution and martyrdom (Mt.20:23). We are no less favored, we who offer, in obedience to the command of the Lord, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass of the Traditional Latin Rite, untouched by the agents of change of the New Order. The traditional priest still repeats at the Consecration of the Mass, the words the Lord Himself uttered at the Last Supper, to which Scripture and Holy Tradition attest: "Hoc est enim Corpus meum," - "For this is my Body"; "Hic est enim Calix Sanguinis mei, novi et aeterni testamenti: mysterium fidei: qui pro vobis et pro multis effundetur in remissionem peccatorum," - "For this is the Chalice of my Blood of the new and eternal covenant, the mystery of faith, which shall be shed for you and for many unto the forgiveness of sins." Let no one dare to change what the Lord has ordained!
A final word from St. Paul tells us to hold to what is good:
"Let love be without pretense. Hate what is evil, hold to what is good. Love one another with fraternal charity, anticipating one another with honor… Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse… To no man render evil for evil, but provide good things not only in the sight of God, but also in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as far as in you lies, be at peace with all men. Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but give place to the wrath, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the Lord'… Be not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Rom.12:9,10,14,17-19,21).