Patron saint – Saint James is our patron saint. Even though we don’t use the words “patron saint” in our ordinary conversation the idea behind a patron saint is commonly experienced in life. The mentor you have in school serves like a patron saint. She provides guidance and direction. She helps you discern where your gifts lie. She gets you started down the right path. So a mentor functions like a patron saint. How about your coach? He pushes you to become the best you can be. He warns you about dangers that can harm you. He works with you to achieve your goals. So a coach functions like a patron saint. In the theater they have what are called “angels” – those who support plays in material and logistical ways so they also serve as patron saints. We know how patron saints work because we have known those who function as such by offering direction, support, guidance, encouragement, and the occasional push into the future.
Our mentors, coaches, angels are revered figures. They have special qualities that cause us to admire, and even imitate, them. We would expect that patron saints would be similarly admirable. However, when we look at our patron, Saint James, we find a very mixed bag. Yes, he was an apostle, one of the chosen twelve. James and his brother John were among the first followers of Jesus. Along with Peter, he and his brother were special friends accompanying Jesus up the mountain of transfiguration, into the healing room of Jairus’ daughter, and at the agony in the garden of Gethsemane. He spread the Gospel and sealed his devotion to Jesus by giving his life as a martyr only ten or so years after the death of the Lord. Saint James is one of the great heroes of the faith. And yet, he was a very human character as well with faults and failings we can all recognize. He had a temper. Jesus called James and his brother the “sons of thunder” because they would explode in anger when someone crossed their plans. He was a climber, ambitious, pushy wanting the corner office on the highest floor. He was something of a momma’s boy – using his mother to push him forward instead of standing up for himself. St. James was kind of clueless even after spending three years with Jesus about his mission and identity. He apparently had a glass of wine or three that made him fall asleep instead of praying with Jesus in Gethsemane. And he lost his nerve and fled when Jesus was arrested, convicted and executed. So our patron saint has much about him that we admire while at the same time is someone with very human flaws.
I wonder, though, if James being a mixture of saint and sinner doesn’t make him the perfect patron for the likes of us. He is, after all, a lot like we are. He does not project some kind of ideal that would be impossible to meet. Instead he shows us that someone with limitations, with imperfections, with defects can still become a saint. God used James just as the mixed-bag he was as part of the divine plan. So God does not wait for us to become perfect in order to use us. I wonder if that is why St. James is the patron of pilgrims, of those who are on the way, of those who haven’t made it yet. His life demonstrates that God deals with us patiently as we strive to grow into the Gospel. St. James as the patron of pilgrims walks with us on our journey of faith and assures us that getting there is a necessary prelude to being there.
Since St. James is a fitting patron for us who have a ways to go yet, let’s think about what we should be aware of as we set out on this pilgrimage of faith. What do we need to begin the journey? First of all, you have to make sure that you have the proper registration and that your insurance is in order. For us, all the registration that we need is our faith in Jesus. It is Jesus who starts us on our way. It is Jesus who walks with us as our elder brother. It is Jesus who prepares a place for us at the end of the journey. If anyone asks for your registration, just flash the sign of the cross. For insurance we have the blessed assurance that our sins are forgiven. We have the sacraments of baptism and reconciliation as the outward signs of that forgiveness. No matter what we have done, Jesus wishes to bestow mercy upon us. And before we set out let’s make sure we have enough fuel. What fuels our journey is the Holy Eucharist. We are given strength and nourishment in Holy Communion that enables us to walk with every growing confidence in God’s ability to lead us home.
Once we have made those preparations we utilize our GPS – our God’s Providential Steering, or as it is usually called, the Bible. The Bible tells us the way we should go. It might take us down some routes that surprise us – “turn the other cheek,” “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,” “forgive seventy times seven times” – but the route down which it steers us is the best possible way. Occasionally the GPS, the Bible, warns us – “You are going the wrong way. When possible make a U-turn.” We’d better listen because getting back on the right track is the surest way of reaching our destination. One thing to be careful of as we begin the journey is to have the right companions. We don’t want people accompanying us who try to take us in the wrong direction or who try to fill us up with junk food or who are critical and complaining all the time. Choose companions who will help as the journey of faith continues.
Finally, when we are traveling we need to heed the signs. “STOP” says one sign. Stop and take the time out to pray. Always make sure that you build into the schedule opportunities to take a break and remember who you are and whose you are. Another sign says “YIELD.” We must yield up our plans, our agenda, our aspirations and discern always what God’s will is for us in the journey of life. Otherwise we could get forced off of the right road. There are other signs as well like “SLOW. SCHOOL ZONE” which serves to remind us of the need to keep deepening our knowledge of the faith. By heeding the signs, our journey continues as it should.
We are celebrating the Feast of St. James and so are reminded that we are pilgrims on the way. Even though the road is long with many a winding turn, our patron assures us that the path of faith is the right one. Keep on the journey, one step at a time. As the song goes, “I don’t feel no ways tired. I’ve come too far from where I started from. Nobody told me the road would be easy but I don’t believe God brought me this far to leave me.”