3rd May. Saints Philip and James, Apostles
First Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:1-8
(Paul lists the original witnesses of the resurrection, including himself.)
Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast — unless you believed in vain.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
Gospel: John 14:6-14
(Jesus tells Philip, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.”)
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.
Truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.
Early church leaders
It is interesting to compare the personalities of these two prominent apostles, insofar as the Gospels and Acts give us information about them. Seeing Saint James in charge at the first church Council in Jerusalem surprises many people, who think exclusively of Saint Peter as leading the church after Christ. Yes of course, Peter did preach bravely at Pentecost and then spread the Gospel message in various places, including Antioch and Rome. By contrast, James of Jerusalem (not the son of Zebedee and brother of John) is rarely mentioned in the Gospels, and isn’t part of the inner circle. But by the year 49 a.D. we find that it’s actually this James presiding over the Apostolic Council (Acts 15 ). When he spoke, people listened, and his views carried weight. James was a man of great dignity whom the early church nicknamed “James the Just.” Such was his personality that when Peter set off on apostolic mission abroad, James was elected leader of the local Christians in Jerusalem. According to church historian Eusebius, James was a Nazirite, who from birth never drank alcohol nor ate meat, dressed simply and never married, but dedicated himself to prayer and study; and for these reasons James enjoyed precedence among his peers. We might think of him as an ascetical bishop, austere, but reliable in times of crisis.
Saint Philip has a somewhat higher profile in the Gospel, even though he hardly features at all in the Acts of the Apostles. He is listed alongside Bartholomew among the Twelve in each of the Synoptic Gospels, but it is the fourth Evangelist, John, who gives us some specific, sympathetic stories about Philip. He was mong the first disciples to be “found” by Jesus and to hear the call, “Follow me”. Philip in his turn “finds” Nathanael (or Bartholomew) and commends Jesus to his friend as “the one about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote”; and then then repeats to his friend the same words used by Jesus to invite people into his company, “Come and see!” (Jn 1:46). We may regard him as person-centred and with a disposition towards sharing what he has found; a man to spread God’s blessings in a generous way. Later Christian traditions describe Philip as having preached in Greece, Syria, and Phrygia. One of the Gnostic texts found in the Nag Hammadi library in Egypt (1945) has been called “The Gospel of Philip”, simply because Philip is the only apostle to be mentioned in the text (73:8).
Reflecting on the diverse personalities who served as leaders in the church at its beginning is a useful background to assessing the various qualities and contributions of recent church leaders, including the last seven popes, from Pius XII to Francis I. While each in turn held pastoral responsibility (or as some prefer, “universal jurisdiction”) over the world-wide church, none of them held the monopoly of all wisdom and moral authority, so as to silence all discussion of alternative visions. It’s a thought to help us relativise our notion of infallibility and promote ongoing dialogue.