"Beloved and most holy word of God! You enlighten the hearts of the faithful, you satisfy the hungry, console the afflicted; you make the souls of all productive of good and cause all virtues to blossom; you snatch souls from the devil’s jaw; you make the wretched holy, and men of earth citizens of heaven!"
Today, November 28, we celebrate the feast day of Saint James of the Marches (Giacomo della Marca, 1391-1476), Franciscan friar, missionary, preacher, and opponent of heresy. The life of Saint James is remarkable for his commitment to defense of Church doctrine, his tireless preaching and conversions of sinners, miracle working, and austerity.
James Gangala was born into an extremely poor family at Montebrandone (in the Marche of Ancona), in central Italy along the Adriatic Sea. Drawn to the Lord, he began his studies at Offida under the guidance of his uncle, a priest, who soon afterwards put him to school at Ascoli. At the University of Perugia he took the degree of Doctor in Civil Law. After a short stay at Florence as tutor in a noble family, and as judge of sorcerers, James was received into the Order of the Friars Minor, the Franciscan order at Assisi, at the age of 25. Studying under Saint Bernardino of Siena, James was widely recognized for his oratory, delivering both forceful and effective sermons, and converting thousands of souls. Ordained at age twenty-nine, James was sent on mission with Saint John Capistrano, traveling throughout Italy, German, Bohemia, Poland, and Hungary.
Noting his orthodoxy, Pope Saint Martin V appointed him inquisitor to root out heretical sects that were growing in power throughout Italy. He continued his travels, preaching, working against heresy, and attempting to reconcile various branches of the Franciscan Order. He attended the Council of Florence in 1438, working diligently to reconcile the Eastern and Latin Churches, with little success.
Elected bishop of Milan, James humbly declined the position, preferring to continue his itinerant lifestyle, traveling, preaching, and confirming the truth of Church doctrine. Saint James preached every day for 40 years, beginning on the date of his ordination, and ending on the date of his death. He preached a message of penance, which he also put into practice. James slept only three hours each evening, and fasted nine months of the year. Thin, dressed always in the same tattered brown robe, and susceptible to illness, Saint James ate little, giving all he had to the needy. As he grew older, and his health began to observably fail, Pope Martin V ordered him to eat regularly, as a public service, so that he could continue his ministry. Charitable, Saint James instituted several montes pietatis, (literally, “mountains of money”), which provided low-interest loans to all who needed them.
Saint James founded several monasteries in Bohemia, Hungary, and Austria. Especially devoted to the Precious Blood of Jesus, he, himself, was brought up on heresy charges during the Dominican Inquisition in 1462. The Pope intervened, ordering the case put on permanent hold, with no decision ever rendered on his statements. However, during the course of the inquisition, James was the victim of attempted assassination twice, both times in the form of a poisoned chalice (as he is frequently depicted in art).
Saint James spent the last three years of his life at Naples, and was buried there in the Franciscan church of San Maria la Nuova, where his body is still to be seen, preserved beneath the alter. Numerous miracles have been reported through his intercession, both while he lived and subsequent to his death.
On today, the feast of Saint James of the Marches, we pray for the fortitude, steadfastness, and endurance that this holy man displayed each day of his life. Saint James, pray for us!
A Prayer for Fortitude
O Holy Spirit who descended upon the twelve as they stood in anxiety, come unto me in my endeavors. Banish from my heart all timidity and false pride; strengthen my soul to avoid all sin, to practice virtue, and to prefer ridicule to the denial of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Let not the goodness of purity, obedience and charity be obscured in the face of adversity. Instill in me the virtue of Fortitude so that I may courageously profess and practice my holy Catholic faith. Open my eyes, O Holy Spirit, that I may recognize my state in life. Give me the confidence to embrace it and the strength to live it as a son of God. I pray that Your guidance, protection and consolation may be with me now and throughout my life. Amen.