I’ve often heard the reason Jesus named James and John “Sons of Thunder” as having to do with their asking Him to send down fire from heaven to consume the town of unbelievers. I thought it was a humbling compliment, but one they deserved – a light but poignant way to emphasize that though occasionally misplaced, their fervor was remarkable. I was delighted to read in Bede the Venerable’s commentary today a slightly different take. The Sons of Thunder were so named because they heard the voice of the Father on the Mount of Transfiguration. The voice of the Father like thunder, their hearts moved definitively from the static complacency of a life that sees its completion on earth. We can perceive that John’s life was intensely altered by the Word made flesh, the Lamb of God, the Beloved Son, Jesus. John’s conversion to Jesus comes from a Word and a Voice that deeply uprooted his heart. I wonder if the fervor of the first Apostle to be martyred, James, wasn’t like the echo of the heartbeat of his brother John. John’s fervor was so contagious he clearly infected both St. Peter and St. Paul. Perhaps we could say that John loved his brother James so much that Jesus couldn’t refuse James the same graces as his brother.
St. Philip certainly had a rare gift. He was filled with the love of God to such a great extent that he became irresistible to all those whom he met. He had a great desire to love people for who they are because he experienced the love of God in an extraordinary way. He gives us the consoling example that our religion is not first about a form or practice of piety but rather about a heart that burns to love and meet people as they are, and burns to love God as He is. Sometimes we hear ourselves saying, “if only this person was <blank>” or “if God is so good why doesn’t He <blank>.” We extinguish the fire of love in our hearts by requiring God and others to conform to the way we would prefer them to be. The secret to Philip Neri’s heart was how it would burn through all expectations and requirements He could have put on others and on God.