Saints Philip and James, Apostles

Today’s readings

Today is the feast of Saint Philip and the man we call “St. James the Lesser” because he is probably not the Saint James that we know as a relative of Jesus and the traditional author of the book of James.  Unfortunately, all that we know about this Saint James is that Jesus chose him as an apostle, and that Jesus appeared to him after his resurrection, as we hear at the end of today’s first reading.  Saint Philip we know a bit more about.  We hear of him in the Gospel story of the feeding of the multitudes because he is the one who tells Jesus “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little.”  In today’s Gospel we see him again as an apostle who is slow to believe. “Show us the Father,” he says, “and that will be enough for us.”

So this, I think, is the feast for all disciples who don’t put themselves in the limelight.  Maybe we too have been slow to believe, or were never really sure how to accomplish the mighty deeds God requires of us. Maybe we’re pretty unknown in discipleship circles.  And maybe that’s good enough for us.  Today’s feast says that’s okay.  It says that our efforts of faith, small though they may be, make us great believers in God’s time and in God’s eyes, led to the Father, as we always are, by our Savior.  It says that we might need a little convincing that we can do the work God asks us to do, but that filled with the Holy Spirit, all things can be accomplished. It says that we don’t have to be on the cover of the book to live our faith with conviction.

Today is the feast of apostles who are called to make God’s love known despite their imperfections or apparent lack of ability.  It is a feast for all of us who know that we are called by God and led by the Spirit to do great things in Christ.  To Philip and James and all the rest of the Apostles, Jesus said then, “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it.”  Jesus says that to us today, too, all of us disciples who are slow to believe and understand.  “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do.”

Saint Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

You surely recognize these beautiful words:

I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,

the Only Begotten Son of God,

born of the Father before all ages.

God from God, Light from Light,

true God from true God,

begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;

through him all things were made.

These words emphasize the divinity of Christ, an essential truth of our faith. The Liturgy also says: “Through the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” The Gospels show us time and time again that Jesus came to proclaim his divinity, his oneness with the Father, so as to be the means of salvation. Almost all of his hearers rejected this message.

The Arians, led by the priest Arius in the third century, also rejected that message – they did not believe in Jesus’ divinity. They believed there was a time before Jesus existed, that he was not consubstantial with the Father, but rather was created by the Father. This position denies the divinity of Christ, which is an unacceptable position for our faith. If Christ is not divine, he has no power to save us, and we are still dead in our sins. God forbid! – And he does forbid it!

St. Athanasius was a great champion of the faith against the harmful teachings of Arius. But it was a hard battle. He was exiled not once but actually five times during the fight against Arius’s teachings. His writings are almost all a great defense of the faith and are so sound that Athanasius was named a Doctor of the Church.

We have St. Athanasius to thank for the wonderful words of our Creed. We often say them, I think, without a whole lot of thought. But we need to remember when we pray the Creed that each of those words was the result of dedicated work, intensive prayer, and hard fought defense against heresy. Because of people like St. Athanasius, we may indeed come to share in the divinity of Christ.

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