Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of
Antioch, 1st c. A.D
Feast of St. John
Today, this third day of Christmas, is the Feast of St. John
the Evangelist -- the writer of the Gospel according to St. John, three
epistles, and the Apocalypse.
St. John was the son of Zebedee and Salome, and the brother of St.
James the Greater who, together, were given the nickname
("Sons of Thunder") by Christ Himself. The men of Zebedee's family were
fishermen, and it is possible that SS. John and James were disciples of
St. John the Baptist when they encountered the One of Whom the
Forerunner spoke. They were called just after SS. Peter and Andrew --
two other fishermen brothers -- left everything behind to follow Jesus,
and SS. Peter, James, and John had the most prominent positions of all
the Apostles. It was these three who were present for the
Transfiguration and Christ's Agony in the Garden of Gethsemani. Peter
and John were the two who prepared for the Last Supper, at which John
-- described as "the disciple whom Jesus loved" -- sat next to Our
Lord, with his head on Christ's chest. St. John went with Peter to the
palace of the high priest after Jesus was arrested -- but it was John
alone among the Apostles who stayed with Christ during the Crucifixion.
After the Resurrection, it was SS. John and Peter among the Apostles
who ran to the empty tomb after being told by St. Mary Magdalen that He
After the Ascension and Pentecost, St. John remained prominent,
accompanying St. Peter when the lame man was healed in the Temple,
being thrown into prison with St. Peter, and preaching with St. Peter
in Samaria. When Herod Agrippa I came to power and the Apostles were
scattered, he is said to have gone to Asia Minor for a time, returning
to Jerusalem by A.D. 51 and taking part in the "Council of Jerusalem"
spoken of in Acts.
Under the reign of Domitian, he was banished to the Greek island of
Patmos -- a small (10 miles by 6 miles) volcanic island in the Aegean
Sea, near the coast of Turkey, where the veil was lifted and he was
granted the vision of the Heavenly Jerusalem which he recounted in his
Apocalypse, the last book of Sacred Scripture ("apocalypse" means
"unveiling"). During the reign of
Trajan, he returned to Ephesus where he lived to a very, very old age.
He was the only one of the Apostles who wasn't martyred. But though he was
spared that ultimate sacrifice, it wasn't for his enemies' lack of
trying: according to legend, he was served poisoned wine, but survived
he blessed the wine before he put it to his lips; the poison rose from
the chalice in the shape of a serpent.
St. John is represented in art as a young man, often with an eagle (or
as an eagle), or with a chalice with a serpent coming from it. When
depicted with Our Lord, he's usually show close to Him, sometimes with
his head on His shoulder or chest.
Let's start with a traditional prayer for the day:
Apostle, who, on account of thy virginal purity, wast so beloved by
Jesus as to deserve to lay thy head upon his divine breast, and to be
left, in his place, as son to his most holy Mother; I beg thee to
inflame me with a most ardent love towards Jesus and Mary. Obtain for
me from our Lord that I, too, with a heart purified from earthly
affections, may be made worthy to be ever united to Jesus as a faithful
disciple, and to Mary as a devoted son, both here on earth and
eternally in heaven. Amen.
As to customs, the most famous is that in his happy memory,
bring wine to church, which the priest blesses, turning it into a sacramental
called the "Love of St. John." Catholics use this
sacramental wine for special occasions throughout the year and to give
to the sick.
When it is drunk on his Feast Day, we drink it before dinner as a toast
to St. John. The Father of the house lifts his glass toward Mother and
says, "I drink you the love of St. John." The Mother replies "I thank
you for the Love of St. John" and then turns to the oldest child, lifts
her glass, and says, "I drink you the love of St. John..." -- and on it
goes down the line until each has been toasted.
The wine may be drunk as is before
and with dinner, as above, or may be mulled and used as
in this recipe:
Pour the wine into a large saucepan. Add the remaining ingredients.
Heat well for 5 minutes (this can evaporate the alcohol, sadly).
Serve hot, clinking glasses with the toast "Drink the love of St.
John!" Doing this in front of a roaring fire makes it all the better.
The blues fans among you, might enjoy Blind Willie Johnson's
song about our Saint of the day. It's called
"John the Revelator":
Or you may prefer a newer take on the same song, this by
Curtis Stigers & The Forest Rangers:
Reading From Dom Prosper
Gueranger's "Liturgical Year"
Nearest to Jesus' Crib, after Stephen, stands John, the Apostle and
Evangelist. It was only right, that the first place should be assigned
to him, who so loved his God, that he shed his blood in his service;
for, as this God himself declares, greater love than this hath no man,
that he lay down his life for his friends [1 John, 15:13] and Martyrdom
has ever been counted, by the Church, as the greatest act of love, and
as having, consequently, the power of remitting sins, like a second
Baptism. But, next to the sacrifice of Blood, the noblest, the bravest,
and which most wins the heart of Him who is the Spouse of souls, is the
sacrifice of Virginity. Now, just as St. Stephen is looked upon as the
type of Martyrs, St. John is honoured as the Prince of Virgins.
Martyrdom won for Stephen the Crown and palm; Virginity merited for
John most singular prerogatives, which, while they show how dear to God
is holy Chastity, put this Disciple among those, who, by their dignity
and influence, are above the rest of men.
St. John was of the family of David, as was our Blessed Lady.
He was, consequently, a relation of Jesus. This same honour belonged to
St. James the Greater, his Brother; as also to St. James the Less, and
St Jude, both Sons of Alpheus. When our Saint was in the prime of his
youth, he left, not only his boat and nets, not only has lather
Zebedee, but even his betrothed, when everything was prepared for the
marriage. He followed Jesus, and never once looked back. Hence, the
special love which our Lord bore him. Others were Disciples or
Apostles, John was the Friend, of Jesus. The cause of this our Lord's
partiality, was, as the Church tells us in the Liturgy, that John had
offered his Virginity to the Man-God. Let us, on this his Feast,
enumerate the graces and privileges that came to St. John from his
being The Disciple whom Jesus loved.
This very expression of the Gospel, which the Evangelist
repeats several times -- The Disciple whom Jesus loved [John, 13:23,
19:26, 21:7, 21:20] -- says more than any commentary could do. St.
Peter, it is true was chosen by our Divine Lord, to be the Head of the
Apostolic College, and the Rock whereon the Church was to be built: he,
then, was honoured most; but St. John was loved most. Peter was bid to
love more than the rest loved, and he was able to say, in answer to
Jesus' thrice repeated question, that he did love him in this highest
way: and yet, notwithstanding, John was more loved by Jesus than was
Peter himself, because his Virginity deserved this special mark of
Chastity of soul and body brings him who possesses it into a
sacred nearness and intimacy with God. Hence it was, that at the Last
Supper - that Supper, which was to be renewed on our Altars, to the end
of the world, in order to cure our spiritual infirmities, and give life
to our souls - John was placed near to Jesus, nay, was permitted, as
the tenderly loved Disciple, to lean his head upon the Breast of the
Man-God. Then it was, that he was filled, and from their very Fountain,
with Light and Love: it was both a recompense and a favour, and became
the source of two signal graces, which make St. John an object of
special reverence to the whole Church.
Divine wisdom wishing to make known to the world the Mystery
of the Word, and commit to Scripture those profound secrets, 'which, so
far, no pen of mortal had been permitted to write -- the task was put
upon John. Peter had been crucified, Paul had been beheaded, and the
rest of the Apostles had laid down their lives in testimony of the
Truths they had been sent to preach to the world; John was the only one
left in the Church. Heresy had already begun its blasphemies against
the Apostolic Teach ings; it refused to admit the Incarnate Word as the
Son of God, Consubstantial to the Father. John was asked by the
Churches to speak, and he did so in language heavenly above measure.
His Divine Master had reserved to this his Virgin-Disciple the honour
of writing those sublime Mysteries, which the other Apostles had been
commissioned only to teach -- THE WORD WAS GOD, and this WORD WAS MADE
FLESH for the salvation of mankind.
Thus did our Evangelist soar, like the Eagle, up to the Divine Sun, and
gaze upon Him with undazzled eye, because his heart and senses were
pure, and there fore fitted for such vision of the uncreated Light. If
Moses, after having conversed with God in the cloud, came from the
divine interview with rays of miraculous light encircling his head: -
how radiant must have been the face of St. John, which had rested on
the very Heart of Jesus, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom
and knowledge! [Col. 2:3] how sublime his writings! how divine his
teaching! Hence, the symbol of the Eagle, shown to the Prophet
Ezechiel, [Ezechiel 1:10, 10:14] and to St. John himself in his
Revelations, [Apoc. 4:7] has been assigned to him by the Church: and to
this title of The Eagle has been added, by
universal tradition, the other beautiful name of Theologian, This was
the first recompense given by Jesus to his Beloved John a
profound penetration into divine Mysteries. The second was the
imparting to him a most ardent charity, which was equally a grace
consequent upon his angelic purity, for purity unburdens the soul from
grovelling egotistic affections, and raises it to a chaste and generous
love. John had treasured up in his heart the Discourses of his Master:
he made them known to the Church, and especially that divine one of the
Last Supper, wherein Jesus had poured forth his whole Soul to his own,
whom he had always tenderly loved, but most so at the end [John, 13:1].
He wrote his Epistles, and Charity is his subject: God is Charity -- he
that loveth not, knoweth not God -- perfect Charity casteth out fear --
and so on throughout, always on Love. During the rest of his fife, even
when so enfeebled by old age as not to be able to walk, he was for ever
insisting upon all men loving each other, after the example of God, who
had loved them and so loved them! Thus, he that had announced more
clearly than the rest of the Apostles the divinity of the Incarnate
Word, was by excellence the Apostle of that divine Charity, which Jesus
came to enkindle upon the earth.
But, our Lord had a further gift to bestow, and it was
sweetly appropriate to the Virgin-Disciple. When dying on his cross,
Jesus left Mary upon this earth. Joseph had been dead now some years.
Who, then, shall watch over his Mother? who is there worthy of the
charge? Will Jesus send his Angels to protect and console her? -- for,
surely, what man could ever merit to be to her as a second Joseph?
Looking down, he sees the Virgin-Disciple standing at the foot of the
Cross: we know the rest, John is to be Mary's Son -- Mary is to be
John's Mother. Oh! wonderful Chastity, that wins from Jesus such an
inheritance as this! Peter, says St. Peter Damian, shall have left to
him the Church, the Mother of men; but John, shall receive Mary, the
Mother of God, whom he will love as his own dearest Treasure, and to
whom he will stand in Jesus' stead; whilst Mary will tenderly love
John, her Jesus' Friend, as her Son.
Can we be surprised after this, that St John is looked upon
by the Church as one of her greatest glories? He is a Relative of Jesus
in the flesh; he is an Apostle, a Virgin, the Friend of the Divine
Spouse, the Eagle, the Theologian, the Son of Mary; he is an
Evangelist, by the history he has given of the Life of his Divine
Master and Friend; he is a Sacred Writer, by the three Epistles he
wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost; he is a Prophet, by his
mysterious Apocalypse, wherein are treasured the secrets of time and
eternity. But, is he a Martyr? Yes, for if he did not complete his
sacrifice, he drank the Chalice of Jesus [Matt. 20:22], when, after
being cruelly scourged, he was thrown into a caldron of boiling oil,
before the Latin Gate, at Rome. He was, therefore, a Martyr in desire
and intention, though not in fact. If our Lord, wishing to prolong a
life so dear to the Church, as well as to show how he loves and honours
Virginity, -- miraculously stayed the effects of the frightful
punishment, St John had, on his part, unreservedly accepted Martyrdom.
Such is the companion of Stephen at the Crib, wherein lies
our Infant Jesus. If the Protomartyr dazzles us with the robes he wears
of the bright scarlet of his own blood -- is not the virginal whiteness
of John's vestment fairer than the untrod snow? The spotless beauty of
the Lilies of Mary's adopted Son, and the bright vermilion of Stephen's
Roses -- what is there more lovely than their union? Glory, then, be to
our New-Born King, whose court is tapestried with such heaven-made
colours as these! Yes, Bethlehem's Stable is a very heaven on earth,
and we have seen its transformation. First, we saw Mary and Joseph
alone there -- they were adoring Jesus in his Crib; then, immediately,
there descended a heavenly host of Angels singing the wonderful Hymn;
the Shepherds soon followed, the humble simple-hearted Shepherds; after
these, entered Stephen the Crowned, and John the Beloved Disciple; and,
even before there enters the pageant of the devout Magi, we shall have
others coming in, and there will be, each day, grander glory in the
Cave, and gladder joy in our hearts. Oh! this Birth of our Jesus!
Humble as it seems, yet, how divine! What King or Emperor ever
received, in his gilded cradle, honours like these shown to the Babe of
Bethlehem? Let us unite our homage with that given him by these the
favoured inmates of his court. Yesterday, the sight of the Palm in
Stephen's hand animated us, and we offered to our Jesus the promise of
a stronger Faith: to-day, the Wreath, that decks the brow of the
Beloved Disciple, breathes upon the Church the heavenly fragrance of
Virginity -- an intenser love of Purity must be our resolution, and our
tribute to the Lamb.