I suppose my patron saint should be St. Ronan, an Irish Saint whose journey to Brittany and subsequent miracles make him a figure of minor celebrity in Celtic Christianity. With a middle name of James, I can also turn to James the Just, brother of Jesus, or James the Great, son of Zebedee (he of the Camino de Santiago), or the “other James” (son of Alphaeus). Regular readers of the blog will know of our experience on the road to Santiago, and so James the Great it shall be.
The concept of a patron Saint may at first seem alien to Mormons, but as I have argued previously, the veneration of Saints is indeed part of Mormonism. To choose a Saint as one’s “patron” seems partly to me to see in a fellow Christian something desirable, something worth emulating. In James’s case, it is his overwhelming desire to be with his Lord and to “drink his cup” (Matt 20: 20-28). For James, this meant martyrdom (he was “killed with the sword” — Acts 11:27-12:3), the first of the Twelve to die.
This is not to say that we should seek death, for such is the nihilism of the religious fanatic. James did not want to die: his prayer in the face of Herod’s persecution no doubt echoed the Psalm (“O Lord my God, in you I take refuge; save me from all my pursuers, and deliver me”). However, God’s promise to Baruch that his life would be spared despite the woe that is Israel’s (Jeremiah 45:1-5) was manifested for James not in salvation from earthly death, but in the promise of eternal life.
I spent a lot of time on the Camino pondering the meaning of the myth of St. James’s miraculous, posthumous journey to Iberia. After his death in Jerusalem, his body was taken up by angels, and sailed in an unattended boat to Iberia where a rock closed around his relics. It is a splendid allegory of our own eternal journey in the company of angels to the enclosing “rock of our Redeemer” (Helaman 5:12). In venerating his relics in Compostela I was not experiencing the magic of a historically dubious collection of bones, but mystical communion with a fellow traveller who now sits on the right hand of God.
There is no greater desire, and so with the scallop shell on my pack, I choose James as my patron.
The Feast of St. James (the Great)
The Collect: O gracious God, we remember before you today your servant and apostle James, first among the Twelve to suffer martyrdom for the Name of Jesus Christ; and we pray that you will pour out upon the leaders of your Church that spirit of self-denying service by which they may inspire your people to tread the way of Christ; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.