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Jul 25, 2020

St. James: Witness and Martyr

Emily Cavins

St. James was one of Jesus’ twelve disciples and the first one of them to be martyred. On his feast day it is a good time to reflect on the importance of Christian witness in a world opposed to the gospel.

The current pressure from secular society is for the Catholic Church to amend her beliefs to match what secular society deems as correct, but the truth of the gospel cannot be determined by people outside the Church. The truths of the Church are safeguarded by the Magisterium and ultimately by the Holy Spirit, who reveals the will of God to the Church. This has caused a deep rift between culture and Church, especially in the areas of abortion, morality, and the definition of marriage.

If we look at the reason for martyrdom, it is because the gospel is oftentimes opposed to how the world wants to operate. In the case of St. James, it was King Herod Agrippa I who had James killed in order to please the Jewish leadership so it would be easier for Herod to rule his part of Judea. The Jewish leadership was as opposed to the newly formed Church as it had been to her founder, Jesus Christ, who as we all know was put to death. At the time of St. James, all of the Church was under great persecution. Many were arrested or stoned to try to stop the spread of the gospel.

As each day passes, the Faith continues to be under greater and greater opposition from once Christian based countries and also from radical Islam. Jesus told us that this would happen. These are the words he said to St. James in Matthew 24: 9-14:

“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation, and put you to death; and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away, and betray one another, and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because wickedness is multiplied, most men’s love will grow cold. But he who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come.”

So it should come as no surprise to us that we also must face these tribulations and do all we can to endure through it, continuing to spread the gospel. Let us pray to St. James to give us the courage to endure persecution and to reaffirm our Faith in Jesus Christ for whom St. James gave his life.

What do you think St. James’ martyrdom means to us today?


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Emily Cavins received her bachelor of arts degree in classical and Near Eastern archaeology from the University of Minnesota. She is a tour leader of annual pilgrimages to Israel and other Bible-related destinations. Emily is also the developer of the  Bible study resources, and co-author of The Great Adventure Storybook. She co-authored the Walking Toward Eternity Bible Study Series, Part One (Daring to Walk the Walk) and Two (Engaging the Struggles of Your Heart) with her husband, Jeff. Some of her other work includes: Great Adventure Kids, Lily of the Mohawks: The Story of St. Kateri, and Catholic Family Night, a series of lessons covering all three liturgical reading cycles with one lesson per week throughout the entire year. 

Emily lives in Minnesota with Jeff, her husband of over thirty years.


Featured image of Peter Paul Rubens’ St. James the Apostle (1612-1613) sourced from Wikimedia Commons


This blog post first appeared on The Great Adventure Blog (biblestudyforcatholics.com) on July 25, 2015. Find out more about Great Adventure Bible studies here or by clicking the banner below:


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  • St. James is the perfect example of how we, Catholics, are to follow Jesus: faithfully, lovingly, sincerely, and to the end, no matter what the consequences might be. Being martyred for Christ is in reality the highest honor a Christian can receive. ¡Viva Cristo Rey! +

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