3 May, Wednesday — Identifying with the Apostles

May 3 – Feast of Sts. Philip and James, Apostles

St. Philip was a disciple of St. John the Baptist, and a convert. He was one of the Twelve Apostles, and brought St. Nathanael to Christ. He was a confidant of Jesus. Little is known about him, but scriptural episodes give the impression of a shy, naive, but practical individual. He preached in Greece and Asia Minor, and died a martyr for the faith.

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St. James the Lesser was the cousin of Jesus, and brother of St. Jude Thaddeus. He was raised in a Jewish home of the time, with all the training in Scripture and Law that was part of that life. He was a convert, and one of the Twelve Apostles. He was one of the first to have visions of the risen Christ.

He was the first bishop of Jerusalem. He met with St. Paul the Apostle to work out Paul’s plans for evangelization. He supported the position that Gentile converts did not have to obey all Jewish religious law, though he continued to observe it himself as part of his heritage. He may have been a vegetarian. He was a just and apostolic man known for his prayer life and devotion to the poor.

He was martyred for his faith in c.62 when he was thrown from a pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem, and then stoned and beaten with clubs while praying for his attackers. Having been beaten to death, a club almost immediately became his symbol, leading to his patronage of fullers and pharmacists, both of whom use clubs in their professions.

He is reported to have spent so much time in prayer that his knees thickened, and looked like a camel’s. Soon after the Crucifixion, James said he would fast until Christ returned; the resurrected Jesus appeared to him, and fixed a meal for James Himself.

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1 Cor 15:1-8
Jn 14:6-14

“Have I been with you all this time, Philip” said Jesus to him “and you still do not know me?” “To have seen me is to have seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Let us see the Father’?

Today’s feast of Sts Philip and James gave me the opportunity to read up on these relatively less well-known apostles. Although I didn’t manage to learn anything about St James (other than that he is referred to as St James the Lesser, which is probably why his character in The Chosen is humorously referred to as Little James), I learned that Philip is mentioned several times in scripture:

  1. He was the person who introduced Nathanael to Jesus, who sceptically questioned, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
  2. He expressed his own scepticism that Jesus and his fellow apostles could feed a crowd of at least five thousand men because “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little.”
  3. He asked Jesus to show the apostles His Father right after Jesus had explained his identity as the Son of God, which led Jesus to give the rather exasperated response above.

My first impression was situations 2 and 3 seemed to connote that Philip, just like his fellow apostles, didn’t always ‘get’ who Jesus was and the meaning of His teachings. But then I realised that I could identify quite closely with Philip. I tend to get overly caught up in details and often take a ‘by the book’ approach, so I would probably have reacted in exactly the same way when faced with the terrifying prospect of having to feed thousands of hungry people. This also made me recall a priest’s homily about how we tend to “put God in a box”, and wonder about the many times I have closed myself off to Jesus’ gentle promptings because of my own pessimism, or mere inability to let go. Nonetheless, I find reassurance in the fact that Jesus did not give any impression that Philip had failed the test question or rebuke Philip for his response.

Jesus didn’t seem so patient when Philip asked Him to show the apostles His Father though, which again can be either an opportunity to judge Philip, or to reflect on how well I know – or think I know – Jesus and relate to Him. Recently, I felt slightly guilty reading Pope Francis’ homily where he exhorted us not to be content with being an “elegant Catholic” ( https://aleteia.org/2023/03/29/dont-be-an-elegant-catholic-warns-pope/ ) because it was a reminder that my preference to learn about Jesus through various forms of media might not be sufficiently transformational. Then again, I already find it challenging enough to set aside 15 minutes a day just for a podcast or a video!

But perhaps we can still take a leaf from Philip here. Despite his doubts and his inability to fully understand who Jesus was, he was passionate and persevered enough to bring others – even taking his friend Nathanael’s dismissiveness in his stride – to Him. And after Jesus’ resurrection, he, together with St James the Lesser, courageously set forth to proclaim the Good News to all whom he met. Perhaps that is all that Jesus asked of his disciples — that they give their best and trust in His grace to do the rest. Perhaps that is all that He is asking of us too, as He walks beside us on our journeys.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Jaclyn Lam)

Prayer: Saints Philip and James, pray for us to have the perseverance to follow Jesus closely despite the obstacles we face. Strengthen our faith and desire to know our Father and His Son.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus, for enabling us to get to know You better through your apostles. Thank you for enabling us to relate to them and learn from them.


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