SS. Philip and James

(Feastday May 3)

We know very little about the character and subsequent lives of the apostles. The New Testament gives us glimpses of only a few; what later history records about their activities is usually obscure and untrustworthy. Would the Twelve have minded the lack of publicity? On the contrary, I am sure they would have rejoiced in it. Their sole aim was to preach Christ crucified. They made their own the words that St. John the Baptist applied to Jesus: “He must increase, while I must decrease.” (John 3:30).

Having said this, let’s turn to the apostles Philip and James for an illustration.

We take James first. There were two apostles by that name. This one is called James the Less (which most likely means, the younger), to distinguish him from James the Greater, the brother of St. John the Evangelist (and along with Peter and John, the closest to Christ). The bible mentions still another James, but it is not clear whether this James is an apostle or just a prominent disciple. Now, a certain James became bishop of Jerusalem. St. Paul referred to him as a “pillar of the Church.” (Gal. 2:9). Was this “James of Jerusalem” James the Less? Was it he who wrote the “Epistle of James”? Most scholars think that James of Jerusalem and James the Less were one person, and that he was most likely a cousin of Christ. James the bishop of Jerusalem was martyred in A.D. 62-66, bludgeoned (or stoned) to death at Jerusalem. The close association of St. James the Less with St. Philip in the Church calendar springs solely from the fact that his relics were ultimately brought to Rome and enshrined in the Church of the Holy Apostles along with those of St. Philip. Actually, Philip’s ministry had been in Phrygia, now a part of Turkey. One attribute of James the Less that has been clearly remembered is his great spiritual wisdom.

Philip’s later life story is also confused. The narrators tend to mix him up with St. Philip the Deacon, who is mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 8. Philip the Apostle’s remains have been venerated in Rome since A.D. 561.

In St. Philip’s case, however, the gospel references to him do give us an inkling about his personality. Thus, when he first discovered Jesus of Nazareth, he went at once to inform his friend Nathanael (most likely the apostle St. Bartholomew). Nathanael, something of a skeptic, replied, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Keeping his temper, Philip simply said, “Come and see.” Nathanael did go and see, and was at once captivated by our Lord.

Then when Jesus was about to multiply the loaves for the five thousand, he asked Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” Philip, a literal man, answered, “Not even with two hundred days’ wages could we buy loaves enough to give each of them a mouthful.” (John 6:5-7). Jesus’ miracle showed Philip that there was another way of solving the problem.

Again, at the Last Supper, Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father but through me.” Philip, ever literal, responded, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” The Savior replied, “Philip, after I have been with you all this time, you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:8-9)

Even in these few references to Philip, therefore, we can see mirrored a man who is neither subtle nor very imaginative by nature, but is nevertheless earnest, dedicated, loyal: “all wool and a yard wide”. Like Peter the blusterer and Thomas the skeptic, St. Philip was a man with human faults but great good will. Jesus chose such men because He knew that as their virtues grew in the context of their apostolate, those very flaws would be made virtuous.

–Father Robert F. McNamara

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