The Octave of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist
“Peter saw the disciple whom Jesus loved.”–John 21.
The saints exercise a various influence on the hearts of the faithful, according to their various character, and the various vocations to which the Lord hath called them. There are saints, whose lives excite our amazement and admiration; as, for instance, St. Simon the Stylite, who, for a number of years, remained in a standing position on a pillar; or St. Peter of Alcantara, whose extreme penance filled even St. Teresa with astonishment. In the case of the saint whose memory the Church celebrates today, we feel our hearts drawn towards him. It is he of whom it is written, that he was the disciple whom Jesus loved, and who ranks high among the elect on account of his great love for his neighbor,–St. John the Evangelist.
I will take advantage of this hour to consider with you, why St. John called himself the disciple whom Jesus loved. If we understand this, we will honor St. John by a still greater devotion, and we will follow his virtuous example with still greater fidelity. O Mary, thou who hast so frequently blest thy foster-son St. John, and who hast guided him in his sublime destiny with maternal tenderness and care, show thyself also a mother to us! I speak in the holy name of Jesus, to the greater honor of God!
In order to judge of the intensity of a person’s love, we must consider the favors which he confers upon the person loved. Thus, in order to understand how ardently Jesus loved His mother, we need but consider with what prerogatives He has gifted her in preference to the angels and saints, and all other creatures. So with St. John.
Which are the prerogatives and privileges by which Christ has distinguished St. John from all other men, even the Apostles, and which serve as proofs of the particular love of our Lord for His disciple? First, in respect to the person of St. John, he was fortunate in sharing with the Apostles and other disciples of our Lord the greatest favors, in preference to so many others.
St. John belonged to the chosen people, and according to the flesh, was descended from the family of Abraham, the father of the faithful. He enjoyed the happiness of living in the same country, and at the same time in which Christ was born. He had the supreme pleasure of seeing Him face to face. But he was to receive still greater privileges. He was one of the twelve whom Jesus chose from among the multitude of men to live in His immediate vicinity; to be His companion. Thus he enjoyed the advantage of having the example of Christ daily before him, of listening to every word He preached; of witnessing all the miracles which He wrought. What a privilege! What a grace! It is true, the other Apostles shared these favors, and therefore Jesus called them all blessed. But St. John was yet to receive still greater favors, and more especial graces.
It is a pious saying, that St. John, whilst yet a child, was so fortunate as to have been an associate of the Infant Jesus, a favor which no other Apostle ever enjoyed. St. John was one of the three to whom our Lord revealed Himself at His transfiguration on Mt. Thabor. The other two were St. Peter and St. James. These three, among all the Apostles, were nearest to our Lord, and He spoke more frequently and more confidingly to them than to the other disciples and Apostles. Still, St. John enjoyed the most marked distinctions in preference to them, and these, without doubt, will be resplendent in heaven for all eternity.
The Gospel mentions three particular favors which were conferred upon him at the time when Jesus accomplished the work of our redemption; namely, at the last Supper, on Calvary, and after his ascension in the island of Patmos. At the last Supper Christ instituted the Blessed Sacrament,–the sacrifice of the New Testament. Christ, surrounded by His Apostles, celebrated the first Holy Mass!
Here Jesus is seated, and on his bosom rests St. John. Who can form an idea of the many graces which poured into the soul of St. John on that evening? What an influence must not the recollection of this privilege have exercised on the entire life of the Apostle! Peter and the other Apostles became alarmed, and in a terrified manner put the question to Jesus: “Is it I?” But St. John, all imbued with the love of Christ, and confident that he was innocent of the guilt of treason, simply asked: Who is it?
What devotion must have filled his soul, when afterwards, as Apostle and Priest of the Lord, he offered the sacrifice of Mass, and thought of his proximity to Jesus at the last Supper! Who can conceive with what tender feelings of gratitude and affection, St. John must, in his after life, have received Jesus in the Holy Communion? What soul, that really loves Jesus, does not envy St. John the privilege which our Saviour bestowed upon him?
The second place in which we behold St. John distinguished as the disciple whom Jesus loved, is on Calvary. Who among us does not wish to have enjoyed the privilege of seeing Jesus on the cross, to have been near Him when He accomplished the work of redemption? Of all the Apostles, St. John was the only one who had this unspeakable happiness. But the greatest favor which Jesus granted St. John, as a token of His love towards him, was His word spoken from the cross: “Woman, behold thy son! Son, behold thy mother!” Jesus committed St. John to His mother’s care, and charged her to extend to him a mother’s love. Oh, happy St. John! What a fountain of grace and merit opens itself to you by this testament of Christ on the cross!
It is accepted as an established principle, that if God grant a person a vocation, He will also give him the graces corresponding to this vocation. The extent of the love which Jesus cherished for His mother, is the measure of grace which He imparted to St. John, that he might perform the duties of a child towards such a mother. If one person intrust another with some very important business, to which he himself can not attend, he pays him well, and he would rather give him a little more than less, so that he may feel assured that the work is done. And, moreover, what a pledge did Jesus give the disciple of His love! He was to have the example of the Blessed Virgin constantly before him; she, who is the mirror of justice, and whose duty, as mother, was to see that St. John, her foster-son, fulfilled the duties of his vocation as perfectly as possible.
Where is there a pious mother who does not feel this obligation? Maternal love prompts her to take all possible care that her children be not lost. Now, if it is a pious belief that no one, for whose salvation Mary has once offered her prayers, will be lost, must not St. John have been assured of his salvation, since Mary, as his mother, was obliged to pray for him, to save him. St. Paul may well exclaim: “I chastise my body, so that after having preached to others, I may not myself be lost.” St. John, as fosterson of Mary, was infallibly certain of his salvation.
Even after His ascension, Christ still continued His intercourse with St. John by divine revelations, and disclosed to him the mysteries of heaven. Verily, St. John, thou art the disciple whom Jesus loved. But Jesus loves us also. Hence we may look for great graces, and should prepare ourselves to receive them with fruit! Amen!
Lives of the Saints: Compiled from Authentic Sources with a Practical Instruction on the Life of Each Saint, for Every Day in the Year by Rev. F. X. Weninger. Permissu Superiorum. New York: P. O’Shea, Publisher, 67 Barclay Street and 42 Park Place. 1876.