St. John the Evangelist1. St. John was the beloved disciple of Jesus Christ. He was allowed, along with St. Peter and St. James, to enjoy the glory of the Transfiguration, and he was invited with them into the Garden of Gethsemane to witness the agony of our divine Redeemer. In the Cenacle, moreover, after he had received the Blessed Eucharist, he was the only one of the Apostles privileged to rest his head on the breast of Jesus. He stood at the foot of the Cross on Mount Calvary and heard his Master entrust to him with His dying breath the most precious treasure which still remained to Him on earth, the Blessed Virgin Mary. “Son, behold thy Mother.”
It is true that Jesus loved all His Apostles, to all of whom He granted the happiness of enjoying His company, listening to His teaching, and witnessing His miracles. Even so, He had a special affection for St. John. This was because John was a virgin when Jesus called him, and remained so all his life. The state of virginity is especially pleasing to God. It makes us like the Angels and, in a sense, superior to them, since these pure spirits are naturally chaste, and we can only succeed in being so by means of great self-control. “Blessed are the clean of heart,” says Jesus in the Gospel, “for they shall see God.” (Mt. 5:8)
The privilege of the vision of God is attributed in a special way to the clean of heart. Therefore St. John, the virgin Apostle, begins his Gospel with a description of the intimate life of the eternal God. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God; and the Word was God.” (John 1:1) He soars above the earth an eagle, as St. Jerome observes, and penetrates into the presence of God Himself.
We know that we shall never be called to scale such heights. We may not even have a vocation to live as virgins. But we are all required to be clean of heart. Purity is a virtue which all Christians should possess in whatever manner is appropriate to their position in life. Let us examine ourselves strictly on this matter and make suitable resolutions for the future.
2. St. John proved himself worthy of His Master's special favour. He never deserted Christ. He was present at the Agony in Gethsemane. He was in the courtyard of the High Priest when Peter denied Christ, but he remained faithful. He was the only Apostle present at the foot of the Cross on Mount Calvary, where he was privileged to hear Our Lord's last words.
After the Resurrection John was one of the first to hurry to the sepulchre. Like the other Apostles, he proved his undying love for Jesus by enduring the pains of martyrdom, although his life was miraculously spared. He spent his long life studying how to love and serve Jesus Christ. Can the same be said for us? We have not been granted the privileges given to St. John, but we have received countless favours from God. Let us learn from the example of this great Apostle how to co-operate generously with the grace of God.
3. Both in his Gospel and in his letters St. John continually emphasises the virtue of charity. He stresses the need for love of God and love of our neighbour. “God is love,” he writes, “and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in Him.” (1 John 4:16) According to St. Jerome, when the Apostle John was almost a hundred years old and lacked the strength to speak for very long, he was accustomed to go supported by his disciples to gatherings of the faithful. There he repeated on every occasion the same exhortation: “My children, love one another.” His followers grew tired of this and finally asked him why he kept repeating the same phrase. “Because that is God's command,” he replied, “and if we do no more than obey it, that is sufficient.”
Let us meditate on his words and let us remember that our love for God is futile unless it is accompanied by a practical love for our neighbour. The love of God cannot be separated from the love of our fellow-men.