St. James and his brother John were sons of Zebedee and, together with Peter, were among the inner circle of Jesus’ Twelve Apostles. The family seems to have been of a slightly higher social level than the ordinary fisherman as we are told that Zebedee had hired men to help with the fishing (Mark 1,20). James and John were, with Peter and Andrew, among the first called to follow Jesus. They also had the special privilege, along with Peter, to be witnesses of the Transfiguration (Mark 9,2ff), to be present at the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law (Mark1,29) and the raising of the daughter of Jairus (Mark 5,40). After the Last Supper, it was these three who were called to watch and pray with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14,33).
Jesus, on one occasion, called James and John Boanerges, “sons of thunder” (Mark 3,17), perhaps indicating they were somewhat headstrong and impulsive. In Luke 9,54, when Jesus and His disciples were refused hospitality by Samaritan villagers, James and John suggested Jesus call down fire from heaven on the offenders. On another occasion, they went behind the backs of their companions, and asked for the two best places in the Kingdom. On both occasions, they showed they still had little real understanding of the Way of Jesus. All that changed, of course, with the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. James would have been among the disciples when Jesus appeared to them after the resurrection and gave them their mission to continue His work. James would also have been present when the Spirit of Jesus was given to the disciples, after which they set aside all their former fears and boldly proclaimed the Gospel.
About the year 44 AD and at the time of the Passover, the Acts of the Apostles tells us that “King Herod laid hands upon some members of the church to harm them.” He seems to have done this as a sign of support for the Pharisees. One of the first victims was James, the brother of John. Thus, James was the first of the Twelve to suffer martyrdom and the only one whose death is recorded in the New Testament. By tradition, all of the Apostles (except John) were martyred.
Litany of St. James
St. James, man of prayer,
pray that we may listen and respond to God’s call in our lives.
St. James, holy Apostle,
pray that we may be disciples of Jesus in word and action.
St. James, devoted friend of Jesus,
pray that we may be strong in our devotion to one another.
St. James, the fisherman and patron of laborers,
pray for us in our labors and help those seeking employment.
St. James, witness of the Transfiguration of Jesus,
pray that we may see the glory of God revealed in our lives.
St. James, compassionate teacher,
pray that we may serve one another in love.
St. James, faithful to God’s call,
pray for us in our efforts to truly live our Catholic faith.
St. James, comfort of the troubled,
pray for those who are suffering.
St. James, holy martyr,
pray that we may be prepared to accept our own death.
St. James, may your inner spirit of peace, good work, discipleship, and prayer always be an inspiration to us.
Holy Apostle St. James, walk with us on our journey of faith. May your prayers help us seek the wisdom to discern God’s call and the strength to endure, so that we may grow in holiness and rejoice in communion with all the saints. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.