Feast: Liturgical Color: Red
The Popes follow one another chronologically just like the presidents of the United States. One after another, after another, each inheriting the powers and responsibilities of his office. President John F. Kennedy followed President Dwight D. Eisenhower, just as Pope St. John Paul II followed The Venerable Pope John Paul I. But there is a difference. Jesus’ placing of St. Peter as the symbolic and jurisdictional head of the universal Church is, of course, more significant than the popular election of a political leader. The papacy is different in that every Pope is, theologically speaking, the “direct successor” of St. Peter, the first Pope. From this perspective, every Pope after St. Peter is a second Pope. So, for example, the two hundredth Pope, chronologically, was still the second Pope, theologically. No president would claim he is the direct successor of George Washington. He is the successor of his predecessor. Theological truths transcend space and time, since their source, God, exists outside of space and time. The office of St. Peter is theologically guaranteed by the easy-to-find, on-the-surface-of-the-text words of Christ Himself in the gospel. Today’s Pope, and every Pope, occupies that same office, is protected by that same divine guarantee, and immediately succeeds St. Peter when he is chosen by the Holy Spirit to occupy his chair.
What pertains to the office of the Bishop of Rome also pertains to the office of the Twelve Apostles. Today’s saints, Philip and James, were called by name by Christ Himself. And after being called, they took the step that many who are called never take. They followed! The Twelve walked at Christ’s side on dusty trails during His years of public ministry. They ate and drank with Him by the fire. They slept under the cold desert sky with Him. And Jesus looked right into their eyes, and only their eyes, and spoke directly to their faces, and only their faces, when He said on a Thursday night, “Do this in memory of me.” And then they did that in memory of Him, and many other things besides, for the rest of their lives.
The four marks of the true Church serve as a trademark. One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic form the four corners of the trademark stamp of the Church founded by Jesus Christ. The mark of “One” means the Church is visibly one in spite of its many tongues, nations, classes, and races. The Church is one in her doctrine, her Sacraments, and her hierarchy. This oneness is not theoretical. It is tangible, real, and identifiable even to those without a doctorate in theology. This one, Christ-founded Church began with twelve followers who gathered as one around Jesus. These Twelve eventually appointed their own successors, who then, in turn, appointed successors, and so on through the centuries down to the present.
The universal college of Bishops, the successor body to the Twelve Apostles, is the means by which the Oneness, or unity, of the Church is expressed, protected, and guaranteed. Bishops are not a secondary attribute or development of Christianity. They are embedded into, and conjoined with, the Word of God in one complex reality. They are not an outside source of authority external to Scripture. There simply would be no Scripture without that pre-existing authority to have nurtured it, developed it, and chosen it. The Church was the incubator of the New Testament.
Not much is known with certainty about the Apostles Philip and James, apart from their names and some few references in the New Testament. And that is just fine. It is more important to understand that their lives were the bedrock upon which the Church on earth still rests. Their theological legacy continues today in every Bishop who teaches, sanctifies, and governs the baptized people of God.
Saints Philip and James, your hidden witness to Christ is less well-known than that of other Apostles, but is eloquent testimony to your quiet fidelity to building the Church after the Ascension. From your exalted place in Heaven, intercede for all who seek your assistance.
From Butler’s Lives of the Saints:
PHILIP was one of the first chosen disciples of Christ. On the way from Judea to Galilee Our Lord found Philip, and said, “Follow Me” Philip straightway obeyed; and then in his zeal and charity sought to win Nathaniel also, saying, “We have found Him of Whom Moses and the prophets did write, Jesus of Nazareth;” and when Nathaniel in wonder asked, “Can any good come out of Nazareth?” Philip simply answered, “Come and see,” and brought him to Jesus. Another characteristic saying of this apostle is preserved for us by St. John. Christ in His last discourse had spoken of His Father; and Philip exclaimed, in the fervor of his thirst for God, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough”
St. James the Less, the author of an inspired epistle, was also one of the Twelve. St. Paul tells us that he was favored by a special apparition of Christ after the Resurrection. On the dispersion of the apostles among the nations, St. James was left as Bishop of Jerusalem; and even the Jews held in such high veneration his purity, mortification, and prayer, that they named him the Just. The earliest of Church historians has handed down many traditions of St. James’s sanctity. He was always a virgin, says Hegesippus, and consecrated to God. He drank no wine, wore no sandals on his feet, and but a single garment on his body. He prostrated himself so much in prayer that the skin of his knees was hardened like a camel’s hoof. The Jews, it is said, used out of respect to touch the hem of his garment. He was indeed a living proof of his own words, “The wisdom that is from above first indeed is chaste, then peaceable, modest, full of mercy and good fruits.” He sat beside St. Peter and St. Paul at the Council of Jerusalem; and when St. Paul at a later time escaped the fury of the Jews by appealing to Cæsar, the people took vengeance on James, and crying, “The just one hath erred,” stoned him to death.
Reflection.—The Church commemorates on the same day Sts. Philip and James, whose bodies lie side by side at Rome. They represent to us two aspects of Christian holiness. The first preaches faith, the second works; the one holy aspirations, the other purity of heart.
Lives of the Saints, by Alban Butler, Benziger Bros. ed.