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Homily for the Feast of Philip and James.

By Sr. Elizabeth Ann, SSJD

Today we celebrate the feast of two apostles, Philip and James.

James, son of Alphaeus, who is sometimes also called “James the Less” to distinguish him from James the brother of Jesus, is a lesser-known disciple of Jesus. He was one of the handpicked 12 who travelled with Jesus throughout his ministry.  We learn from Paul that James had witnessed an appearance of the Risen Christ (1 Corinthians 15:7). 

Philip was one of the first chosen by Jesus to be a disciple.  We know that Philip went to fetch Nathaniel and bring him also to Jesus.  Greeks also came to Philip, knowing that he was a follower of Jesus, and they asked, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” In the Acts of the Apostles’, we learn that Philip went to spread the good news of Christ in Samaria. He also evangelised a Eunuch from Ethiopia, and opened up the church and its gospel and sacraments to those who were rejected and marginalized by others.

But like the rest of the disciples around Jesus, both Philip and James had a hard time understanding who Jesus really was, and, more to the point for us, who he really is.   I was struck by what Sr. Wendy Grace had said in her Home for the Heart reflection for May where she wrote; “When I was a little girl in Sunday School I wished I could have been one of Jesus’s disciples. I thought how great it would have been to hear him teaching, to see him perform miracles and to just spend time in Jesus’s presence. I was also convinced that I would be a much better disciple than the sorry lot we read about in the New Testament. I had to get a little bit older before I realized that I have knowledge the disciples didn’t. I know how the story ends. The disciples were living it while we have the luxury of reading the story. We are able to see the whole picture while the disciples only saw glimpses.”  How many of us can affirm that these thoughts were our thoughts as well?  We wouldn’t have done any better than the disciples.  We would have misunderstood too.

The gospel passage is quite clear in showing the disciples’ misunderstanding in how Philip said to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”  Why do we not call Philip, doubting Philip?  We know how the story ends in the resurrection of Jesus.  After Jesus’ resurrection, when the disciples began experiencing Christ still in their midst, they remembered Jesus’ words and actions and were able to ponder their meaning.  They saw how they had been transformed–their lives made anew.  Slowly they began to understand what Jesus meant when he said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  The disciples did indeed begin doing the good works that Jesus had, following his way, and doing even greater works.  They stood up to power and empire, clothed the naked, fed the hungry, cared for the lonely, the widows and orphans, freed those in prison, healed the sick.  Above all they spread the good news of Christ throughout the world.  May we too continue to spend time pondering and praying with the Good News of Christ so that we can live lives worthy of the gospel, following the way of Christ. Amen.

You can read Sr. Wendy Grace’s full reflection by clicking here.

Icon of the Apostles Philip and James from