Philip and James were both Apostles, chosen by Jesus to follow him and to continue his work of building the Kingdom of God. We celebrate their feast on the same day because, although they died at different times and in different places, their bodies were moved and are buried together in the Church of the Twelve Apostles in Rome.
We meet Philip in John’s Gospel. Philip is the third man Jesus called to “Follow me” (John 1:43). We know that Philip immediately recognized that Jesus had been sent from God. The first thing he did as Jesus’ newest disciple was to invite his friend, Nathanael, to come and see the Lord. From the very beginning, he wanted to share the Good News about Jesus with others!
Philip was also a curious man who wanted to learn everything he could about Jesus and his teachings. At the Last Supper, Philip said to Jesus, “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us” (John 14:8). Jesus was shocked by Philip’s request. He replied, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Philip’s question and Jesus’ answer help us to understand that we are called to continue growing in our faith every day.
After receiving the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Philip traveled to Asia Minor, the area we now call Turkey, to tell others about Jesus’ life and teachings. He died as a martyr for our faith.
James was given the nickname “the Less” so that he would not be confused with the other Apostle named James, whose feast we celebrate on July 25th. We believe that it means that he was younger than the other St. James, who was called “the Greater.” James the Less was the son of Alphaeus. His mother stood at the Cross with Mary on the day Jesus was crucified.
After Jesus’ Ascension, James the Less became an important part of the Church’s growth in Jerusalem. Tradition tells us that he led an important meeting of the early Church, the Council of Jerusalem, in the year 50 A.D. At this meeting, St. Paul, St. Peter and other Church leaders discussed whether Gentiles, or people who were not Jewish, could become followers of Jesus. James listened carefully to the discussion and helped the group to decide that the Church was open to all and that all people could be saved by living as followers of Jesus.
Like Philip, James was martyred for spreading the Gospel. We honor Philip and James the Less as saints on May 3. Their lives of faith inspire us to listen for the Lord’s call in our lives and to respond with love and faith.