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Speaking to the Soul: St James the Greater

Speaking to the Soul: St James the Greater

The hero for today is James, often called the Greater, not because he was such a big shot but because he was the first James. There are two other Jameses (James the Less and James the brother of Jesus). James the Great was one of the disciples Jesus called when he began his ministry. James and his brother John had been working for their father, Zebedee, catching fish. It doesn’t sound much like a profession that would suggest any great status or even any upward mobility, but we know that upward mobility can mean more than a bigger title and a bigger paycheck.

James was called away from his fishing boat. He left seemingly without looking back. Fortunately, it appears his father had a sufficient labor pool to take James and John’s places on the fishing boat. They probably got up that morning not thinking that this was going to be a day that would change their lives, but it worked out that way. Jesus called, they went.

We see that story repeated often in the Gospels where Jesus called and someone answered, not always to be an apostle or a disciple but to be something other than what they were. The woman at the well was certainly not expecting to be called to do something that wasn’t a normal thing for a woman and an outcast, yet she answered that call and actually was probably our first evangelist. She went into the town and told them, “I have met a man who told me all about my life. Could he be the Messiah?” It was a good question and it’s one that not many dared ask but many dared hope.

James’ story is repeated throughout the Bible. He didn’t answer with the traditional, “Here I am,” or maybe he did that and it just was not recorded. What mattered was that he answered the call and followed where he was led. 

Legend has it that James spent time in Spain as a missionary. He was in Jerusalem, however, when Herod Agrippa put him to death in 44 A.D. His body was said to have been  taken to Compostela in Spain although some relics may be housed in church(es) elsewhere.

Today James is remembered not only as a Son of Thunder, which was the nickname given to him and his brother John, but as Santiago in Spain. Every year tens of thousands of pilgrims walk the Camino de Santiago,  a journey of 450 miles on foot from St. Jean Pied-de-Port in France to the cathedral in Compostela..What these pilgrims are looking for is a personal thing — healing, clarity or a deeper sense of spirituality. It is a prayerful journey but not always a silent one as pilgrims may go with a group or join one along the road. At the end of the days of walking, they fall to their knees and make their way from the doorway of the cathedral to the actual shrine of Santiago. Their physical journey is ended but, hopefully, their spiritual journey continues. 

The disciples had no idea where the simple words “Come follow me” could lead them but they followed anyway. The Jesus way was a life changing internal and spiritual journey that would take a lifetime. Nobody has ever really totally mastered the Christian life. Many of our saints have come close, but, like us, they are flawed people who do their best but still mess things up from time to time. Jesus doesn’t mind, he would rather us try and make a mistake than not try and do everything else perfectly.

So here we have St. James, Santiago, a man who thought he knew where he was going but who got a wake-up call he couldn’t ignore. We may wait and think one day Jesus is going to walk by and say, “Come follow me. ” The question is how will we respond to that or would we even hear and understand the call? Can we leave everything behind and just follow Jesus? Jesus has jobs for us to do, but we also have jobs that we need to take care of our families. Where is the balance? That’s a question everyone is going to have to answer for themselves. 

I will never be able to walk the Camino de Santiago physically, but I could do a spiritual retreat lasting a shorter time, or use spiritual disciplines and readings as part of my everyday life. I can walk a path that gives me healthy exercise and lets my mind turn to prayer or contemplation. It’s a form of multitasking that I think Jesus would approve of. 

Maybe I need to ask St. James to give me a nudge to get moving.


Linda Ryan co-mentors 2 EfM Online groups and keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter . She lives in the Diocese of Arizona and is proud to be part of the Church of the Nativity in North Scottsdale



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