By l'Abbé Bérenger Saunière, priest of Rennes-le-Château 1885-1909
Next Friday, July 25, the Church celebrates the festival of St James the Greater, the Apostle; and on the following day, Saturday July 26, the Anticipated Vigil of St Nazarius and St. Celsius; it is also the festival of St. Anne, the mother of the Blessed Virgin. Let us speak this morning about these various people and see what lessons we can learn from them.
1. Saint James. - St James, the son of Zebedee and the brother of the Apostle St John, was one of the first people that Our Lord Jesus Christ chose as a disciple. The Divine Master had just admitted into his company St Peter and St Andrew when he saw St James with his brother John working with their nets: "Come", he said to them, "I will make you fishers of men". They joined him and were never to leave him.
St James was the witness of the transfiguration of Jesus; he was present at the resurrection of the daughter of the leader of the Synagogue; he accompanied the Lord to the the Mount of Olives and was a witness of many of Jesus's miracles.
After the Ascension, James preached the Gospel in Judea and Samaria where he converted many people. - From there he left for Spain, where he won over to the faith seven idolaters, who were later ordained bishops by St. Peter and became the first Apostles of their country.
One night, while he was in Saragossa to pray with his disciples and was standing by the water's edge, he heard Angels saying the Hail Mary. At that moment he saw, on top of a marble pillar, the Blessed Virgin who, after encouraging him to preach the Gospel and engage in the salvation of souls, ordered him to build an oratory at that site. This place subsequently became famous under the name of the Church of Our Lady "del Pilar" (of the Pillar).
After this event St James returned to Jerusalem and worked with zeal to propagate the Gospel throughout Judea. Irritated, the Jews incited many enemies against him and engaged the services of, among others, two famous magicians, Hermogenes and Philetus, to destroy him should they prove unsuccessful in refuting his doctrines. - Philetus was the first to tackle the Saint, but at the sight of the many miracles which he performed and out of admiration for the soundness of his doctrines, he was moved and converted. Hermogenes was himself then overcome, yielded some evil spirits and was won for the Christian religion by the Saint's prayers.
Frustrated in their attempt, the Jews resorted to other means; they organized a plot to seize St James while he was preaching. The plot succeeded, and he fell into the hands of his enemies who dragged him, a cord round his neck, before Herod Agrippa. Wanting to please the Jews, Herod condemned the Apostle to death. Before dying he had the pleasure of converting to the word of Jesus Christ the traitor who had betrayed him, granted him the forgiveness he requested and embracing him while saying: "Peace be with you." Both were then decapitated.
After being buried in Jerusalem, the body of St James was then transported to Spain. Several years afterwards his precious relics were transferred to a city whose episcopal see received the title of "Ad Sanctum Jacobum Apostolum". The Spaniards abbreviate this to "Giacomo postolo", from which comes Compostella.
St James of Compostella has today become one of the most famous pilgrimages in all Christendom.
In the capacity of a child of God and of a son of the Saints, and following the example of St. James, we must ourselves be apostles in our words and our deeds in order to obtain the glory of God and the salvation of our souls. We must be apostles within the parish, in order to win our brothers for God. We must be apostles especially within the family, so as to love, supervise, correct and develop our children.
2. St. Anne, mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary. - St. Anne was born in Bethlehem. Her father, Nathan, was of the tribe of Levi and the family of Aaron; her mother was called Mary and belonged to the tribe of Judah. - St. Anne had two sisters: the first was the mother of St James the Lesser, St. Jude the Apostle, St Simon and St Joseph, surnamed Barsabas. The second gave birth to St. Elisabeth, the mother of John the Baptist.
When Saint Anne was old enough to marry she married Joachim, a servant of God. Never was there a better balanced alliance: faithful to the Law of God, Saint Anne and Saint Joachim had one and the same spirit and one and the same heart; they had also only one desire: the glory of God in everything. Charitable towards the poor and the pilgrims, providing them with hospitality and furnishing them abundantly with whatever was necessary for them, they divided their property into three parts: the first was for the priests and the Levites, the second for the poor and the third for their family.
However, Anne did not have any children. Sterility, for the Jews, was a mark of dishonour and infamy. She was resigned to her fate. Inspired by God, she prayed, wept, kept vigils and fasted to obtain from Heaven a suspension of her sterile state.
Joachim, for his part, had withdrawn to a mountain where he spent his time talking to God and begging Him to grant him what he asked. His wishes were granted: an Angel appeared to him and announced that Saint Anne would give birth to a girl. This came to pass and Mary was conceived without sin. Preserved by divine omnipotence from original sin, no Saint has ever equalled or would ever equal Her in grace and holiness.
It was on September 8 that Saint Anne brought into the world the woman that was to be the Mother of God. When Mary was old enough to be presented at the temple Her mother took Her there to fulfil her vow and offer Her to God. From there she returned to Nazareth to continue, until her death, a life of religious fervour and mortification.
We do not know whether she died before or after St Joachim. Her body was buried in the town of Bethlehem, in the tomb of her parents. Later it was transferred by the faithful to the Church of the Sepulchre of Our Lady, in the valley of Josaphat. Finally it was transported to the Cathedral of Apt in Provence, of which this great Saint is the patroness. It was from there that there came all the relics of Saint Anne that are venerated in the various Churches of France. In Auray, in Brittany, there is a famous pilgrimage in her honour.
Like the history of St James, the life of Saint Anne is full of instruction. There are three principal lessons to be learned: detachment from worldly goods and relief of the poor; perseverance in our prayers to obtain what we need; a willingness to offer our children to God, Who gave them to us.