The feast day of Saint John the Evangelist is celebrated two days after Christmas. It is both right and proper that the feast of the chief Evangelist of the divinity of Christ should be held within the Octave to disclose the greatness of the Infant Who lies in the manger. The Infant God in the crib gathers around Him pure souls. Mary is the Blessed Virgin, Saint Joseph the chaste spouse, Saint Stephen the first martyr who washes his robe in the blood of the Lamb, and then Saint John the virgin apostle. Crowned with the halo of those who knew how to conquer their flesh, for this reason Saint John became “the disciple whom Jesus loved, and who also leaned on His breast at the Last Supper” (John 21:20). Thanks to his angelic purity Saint John was filled with the divine wisdom of the love of God and in the Epistle of the Mass of Saint John (in the Liturgy of Saint Pius V) the Church applies to him a celebrated passage from the Books of Wisdom, the Book of Ecclesiasticus. “She shall fill him with the spirit of wisdom and understanding, and shall clothe him with the robe of glory. The Lord our God shall heap upon him a treasure of joy and gladness, and shall cause him to inherit an everlasting name” (Ecclesiasticus 15:6).
This gift of the wisdom of the love of God won for Saint John the title of Doctor and the Introit of his Mass is the one the Church uses in the Common of Doctors. (This is used in the Liturgies of Pope Paul VI and of Pius V.) It is to Saint John who wrote the fourth Gospel, three Epistles, and the Apocalypse, that we owe the most beautiful pages on the Divinity of the Word made flesh. Saint John received the halo of martyr, since he only escaped a violent death by the special protection of God. He was last of the Apostles to die.
The Apostle of Love
Well indeed has Saint John said: “Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” Love tends always to union. Throughout His active ministry Jesus had striven to attract men to Himself in love. This was the object of the whole nights He spent in prayer on the hills of Judea. His many miracles, His tender pity to the sick and suffering, and His earnest exhortations sought to win man’s love. Even His severe reproofs and denunciations were but efforts to save by fear those who could not be won by love. At the Last Supper it is all love. His parting gift is Himself “to you and to many” in Holy Communion, the perfect union of perfect love. When they had received Holy Communion, Jesus said to the apostles: “Little children, yet a little while I am with you…. A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:33-34).
It was a new commandment: the old one, as Jesus quoted it to the scribe, was: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Mark 12: 31). But this new one is to love our neighbour as Jesus did, even to the utter abandonment of self. It was new also in this respect, that the Jews regarded no one as a neighbour who was not of their own race, whereas this commandment embraces all mankind. Further, it was new, because henceforth, not fear, but love, was to be the moving principle in all our service of God.
This new commandment which Jesus gave to the Apostles at the Last Supper when they had received their first Holy Communion so impressed Peter, James, and John, that later, writing their Epistles, they dwell upon it as essential for all.
Soars Like an Eagle
Saint John is symbolised by the noble eagle with fire in his blood. No hovering near the ground for the king of the air. No, up he soars into the clouds. The other three evangelists, Saints Matthew, Mark, and Luke, give us a synopsis of the life of Christ on earth. They are historians, faithful chroniclers of events. Saint John fired by his deep personal love of Christ soars to the heights of the Divinity of Christ.
The Holy Spirit in gratitude for his intense love of Christ inspired Saint John to write the fourth Gospel as a proof of the Divinity of Christ. In the Apocalypse Saint John tells us the rewards that await those who on earth love Jesus Christ. “And I, John, saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Apocalypse 21:2). On this earth Saint John had rich and rewarding returns for his love. He is one of the special three who were invited to Mount Thabor to catch a glimpse of what Saint Paul says “eye has not seen nor ear heard what joys the Lord has prepared for those who love Him.”
At the Last Supper Saint John was beside Our Lord and was permitted to lean his head on the Lord’s bosom to hear the heartbeats of that loving God. It was Saint John that accompanied Mary to Calvary and from the Cross was appointed Mary’s son and support. “Behold your mother,” words from the Cross, opened out a new life for Saint John, a life into which Mary entered as his mother, and he became her second son, her other priestly son.
Mass in Mary’s Presence
It was his great joy and honour to say Mass in the presence of Mary, to consecrate the Sacred Host, and place It upon Mary’s tongue, saying: “Mary, behold your Son. Behold the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world”. What a sacred moment that was upon which the angelic court of Heaven gazed in wondrous admiration.
Who could have said a more acceptable Mass than Saint John, inspired and helped by Mary’s presence and by Mary’s praying the Mass with him! Let us invite the beloved disciple to kneel beside us at Mass and to share with us his faith in the Real Presence, and his love and gratitude for such a gift as the Blessed Eucharist as Sacrament and Sacrifice. It was Saint John’s distinction to be at the Last Supper to hear Christ’s command to His priests: “Do this in commemoration of Me”. He stood beneath the Cross, broken-hearted indeed but enlightened as no other Priest has been in the Divine Mystery of the Sacrifice of the Cross. For the years following Good Friday he offered the Mass with Mary present to link in his offering the Victim of Calvary and the Victim of the Mass, Jesus Christ Whom Mary and Saint John loved beyond human imagination. Then when Mary is assumed into Heaven Saint John receives the gift to write from his heart his Gospel, his three Epistles, and the Apocalypse.
He lived to a great old age, blessed with a deep peace of soul, and supreme confidence in the love of Christ. To all who gathered around him as the last living witness of Jesus Christ Saint John spoke of charity, the love of God and the love of one’s neighbour for God’s sake, as words of wisdom winnowed from such a long and eventful life. His last years were echoes of his Master’s last words spoken at the Last Supper: “Little children! A new commandment I give unto you that you love one another as I have loved you. By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another” (Saint John 13: 33-35).