Feast of Saints Philip and James, Apostles
May 3, 2023
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, our Gospel invites us to pray with the Apostle Philip on this his and James’ feast day.
St. James and St. Philip by Peter Paul Rubens
Philip is mentioned several times in John’s Gospel
- In John 6:6, Jesus engages Philip regarding the feeding of the 5,000.
- In John 12:21, Philip appears speaks for the Greek community, informing Andrew that they want to be introduced to Jesus.
- In today’s Gospel, Philip asks Jesus to be shown the Father. Jesus responds with a simple and perfect instruction on one of the most profound mysteries of our faith – the nature of the Trinity.
“Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.”John 14:9-10
Jesus said to him, “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.
How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?
The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own.
The Father who dwells in me is doing his works.
Jesus seems surprised at Philip’s question. Maybe he didn’t think it was that hard to understand the Blessed Trinity! But writers ever since have found it pretty complex. Most notably, St. Augustine took over 15 years to write his masterpiece De Trinitate (On the Trinity). An excellent current English translation by Edmund Hill, OP contains fifteen books in over five hundred pages!
But Jesus makes it pretty simple for Philip. Here’s my interpretation:
Philip, You see me, you see the Creator.
We are perfectly One.
Perfect Love does that.
My words are the Creator’s Words.
My works are completing the Creator’s works Who dwells in me.
It’s not a problem, Philip. You don’t need an answer.
It’s a beautiful Mystery. Just believe and be with it.
The noted 20th century Christian existentialist Gabriel Marcel wrote about the difference between a mystery and a problem.
Marcel worried that a technical ethos was reshaping how we see the world and ourselves. He especially worried about a tendency to reduce mysteries to problems. A problem, for Marcel, is something external to us that can be determinatively understood and solved with a generalizable technique. A mystery, on the other hand, is something in which we are inextricably involved. It has roots deep within us, but it also reaches beyond us. While a problem can be definitively solved, a mystery can only be navigated in light of the concrete situation and the people involved.Gabriel Marcel: Mystery in an Age of Problems – Steven Knepper
True faith requires that we trust the Mystery of God. Like Philip, we may want answers to the great challenges of life and religion. But these things are not like math problems or scientific equations which can reach human resolution.
Life and faith are more like poetry or music – both of which enter into us and change something deep inside of us. It is a change that cannot be put into words but is nevertheless real. It is mystery.
Knowing and loving our Triune God is the same kind of mystery. We are made of God and God dwells within us. Each of our life experiences offers a small revelation of this overarching Mystery which is far too infinite to ever be packaged in a “solution” such as Philip requests in our Gospel.
Sometimes we may hear ourselves trying to turn the mystery of God into a solvable problem. Do you ever think or voice questions like these:
- Why does God allow good people to suffer?
- Why didn’t God just create everybody to be good, to erase evil from the world?
- Why is God letting THIS (whatever it is) happen to me!
At different times in our spiritual lives, we all suffer from the Big WHY. Some people never get over it, turning atheist or agnostic in their approach to life when they can’t reach an answer. Some, by the grace of God, abide in the questions and come to a place of undefinable peace in the Mystery of God.
Let’s pray to St. Philip today to be granted a measure of the grace he obviously received as he went on to carry the Gospel to Greece, Syria, and Phrygia.
And, although we have concentrated on Philip today, here’s a word about St. James who was obviously very special to Jesus. James, along with his brother John and Peter, formed an informal triumvirate among the Twelve Apostles. Jesus allowed them to be the only apostles present at three quintessential events:
- Mark 5:37: the Raising of Jairus’ daughter
- Matthew 17:1: the Transfiguration of Jesus
- Matthew 26:37: the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane
Poetry: If Only – Rainer Maria Rilke from The Book of Hours
If only there were stillness, full, complete.
If all the random and approximate
were muted, with neighbors’ laughter, for your sake,
and if the clamor that my senses make
did not confound the vigil I would keep —
Then in a thousandfold thought I could think you out, even to your utmost brink, and (while a smile endures) possess you, giving you away, as though I were but giving thanks, to all the living.
Music: Lux Beata Trinitas – the hymn, ascribed to St. Ambrose in the 4th century, is sung here by Harry Christophers and the Sixteen whose mission is “… a performing arts charity which exists to take beautiful and inspiring choral music, from the Renaissance to today, to as wide and diverse an audience as possible.” (English translation of hymn below)
O TRINITY of blessed Light,
O Unity of sovereign might,
as now the fiery sun departs,
shed Thou Thy beams within our hearts.
To Thee our morning song of praise,
to Thee our evening prayer we raise;
Thee may our glory evermore
in lowly reverence adore.
All laud to God the Father be;
all praise, Eternal Son, to Thee;
all glory, as is ever meet,
to God the Holy Paraclete.