Feast Day of Saint John the Apostle

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 Saint John the Apostle

[1] In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. [2] The same was in the beginning with God. [3] All things were made by him: and without him was made nothing that was made. [4] In him was life, and the life was the light of men. [5] And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

John 1: 1-5

Saint John, the Apostle whom Christ loved, was the youngest of the Apostles.  Born perhaps around 6-15 AD he and his brother James, sons of Zebedee and Salome, were fishermen on the Sea of Galilee.  Called by Christ to follow Him, they were nicknamed by Him Boanerges, sons of thunder, perhaps because of their asking Christ to call down lightning on those who did not follow Him, or perhaps a playful jab at the disposition of old Zebedee.

The two brothers were ambitious, asking Christ to allow them to sit by His side.  He promised them only that they would drink from the cup He drank and be baptized in His Baptism.  John’s brother James became the first of the Apostles to die a martyr’s death.

John far outlived all the other apostles, dying in exile on Patmos circa 100 AD.  He witnessed the small defeated movement of the followers of Jesus after the Crucifixion swell into a mighty Church sweeping into every corner of the Roman Empire and beyond.  He was the last living link to Christ and he set down what he remembered in that theological masterpiece, the Gospel of John.  The other three Gospels give us Christ in unforgettable prose, the Gospel of John gives us Christ in lambent almost poetry, that has illuminated the humanity and the divinity of Christ  for countless Christians down through the long ages.  Through disciples like Saint Ignatius and Saint Polycarp he passed on to Christians who had never heard Christ the pure teaching of Christ that he had heard, and the love of Christ that burned within him.

In John 21: 22 Peter receives a very mild rebuke from Christ when Peter wonders if John is to tarry until Christ comes again:  “What is that to thee, follow thou me!”  There is an old legend that Saint John went into his tomb still living, perhaps to remain there miraculously alive until the Second Coming.  In this legend there is a boulder of truth.  The Gospel of John, more than any other single document, has helped keep alive in Christians something of the passion and the love of Christ that amazed the Apostles.  In that Gospel, John does remain alive here on the Earth, as he prepares each Christian who reads it to follow the same Christ that he followed down the dusty trails of Galilee, Samaria and Judea so long ago. 

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  1. John 19:26,27 ; “When Jesus therefore had seen his mother and the disciple standing whom he loved, he saith to his mother; Woman, behold thy son. After that he saith to the disciple: Behold thy mother. And from that hour the disciple took her to his own.” Douay-Rheims version.

    To be suffering the cruelty of the crucifixion and lungs now filling with fluids, our Lord gives us a Great Gift…His mother. Saint John takes her as his own. We too are presented with the same offering. Will we take her as our own? Jesus is suffocating and struggling to breathe, and his offering to give us his own mother is in part, his last will and testament.

    The greatest Gift, giving us himself in the Eucharist, is connected to his mother. For he clothed himself in the very flesh and blood of his virginal mother. This connection and Saint John’s opening his heart to accept Mary as his own, is the beginning of the holy phrase and truth: Ad Jesum per Mariam.
    (To Jesus through Mary)

    May our gracious acceptance of Christ’s offering lead us to be like Saint John.
    A beloved disciple.

  2. I’m interested in religious symbolism in art, but I don’t know too much. That picture (specifically, the object above the chalice) was new to me, so I looked it up. It refers to a legend of St. John, that the Emperor Diocletian tried to kill him by putting poison into his cup. St. John blessed it before drinking, and the poison emerged as a serpent.

    The picture is by El Greco. He painted several variations on it.

  3. To be at the foot of the Cross is to be united in Truth. Only one of the twelve had the moxie, the agape love, to be at the bleeding feet of Christ during his crucifixion, of course along with Our Lady and Mary Magdalene.

    Saint John is “the man,” of humility and courage.


    Thanks for your curiosity and inquiry. I enjoyed your addition.
    Diocletian was Satan personified.
    I love the look El Greco convey’s to the beholder of the work. To me, it’s as if he is saying to Satan; Take your best shot. You’ll never conquer.

  4. “To me, it’s as if he is saying to Satan; Take your best shot. You’ll never conquer.”

    El Greco was a true master. That is what is conveyed to me in the expression of Saint John and his stance. It is almost as if he is saying, “That is the best you’ve got?”

  5. The Catholic Faith in New Zealand takes its Apostolic succession from St. John.
    St. Polycarp who was instructed by John, instructed St. Irenaeus who was then appointed as Bishop of Lyons. The bishop who was sent to bring the faith to NZ in 1838 was a Bishop Pompallier who was a bishop from Lyons, hence our Apostolic succession is from John.
    My parish of St. Thomas Aquinas here in Tauranga was the first parish established in NZ by Bp. Pompallier in 1840 when he sailed down the coast from Russell ( Kororareka) in the Bay of Islands to the Bay of Plenty after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi which established British sovereignty over NZ, sailed into the Tauranga Harbour and set up a mission on the shore of Otumoetai – a beachfront suburb of Tauranga near where I live and said the first Mass on the Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas in 1840.

  6. But Don, I clicked on random articles on the internet and copied what I thought I remembered from them! Surely you’re not questioning me, are you?

    Sigh. There is so much to be learned from the legends of the faith, and so little of it I know. On the one hand, I can understand the impulse that has sought to trim away the unverifiable in the pursuit of accurate Church history. I even applaud it. But on the other hand, that shouldn’t have been read as a license to throw the legends away, rather than pass them down to the next generation of the faithful.

    People need legends. We know that Superman isn’t real, but we share stories about him because he’s a cultural benchmark. They say what we’re supposed to be, in an intellectually lively way. As Catholics, we have stories of the saints to inspire us, stories with the added value of being true. But was there such harm in having anecdotes and fictions as well? Did the Golden Legend and Dante’s Divine Comedy really do so much damage to society? Are we better off with academics arguing about the correct date of St. Dominic’s birth, while we leave children to ponder the nature of evil while watching Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees?

  7. “But Don, I clicked on random articles on the internet and copied what I thought I remembered from them! Surely you’re not questioning me, are you?”


    There is a good book waiting to be written on the Apostle John, legends and all. In the midst of all the scholarship on Saint Paul, there is a relative paucity on Saint John, and a good argument can be made that in regard to early Christianity Saint John’s influence looms larger.

  8. I believe earlier discussion centered around whether, or not, one should pray for the unrepentant who continue to commit serious sin. John said that he will not advise us to pray for these, whom he termed “enemies of the Cross”.
    Timothy R.

  9. What a saint! He spent between 55 and 60 years faithfully serving Jesus after the Ascension and is still praying for us from Heaven. According to the testimonies of 15 witnesses to the Knock Apparition (Ireland August 1879) St. John appeared along with Mary and Joseph, with angels hovering over the altar, on which stood the Lamb (Jesus Christ) John was wearing a bishop’s hat, holding a book…

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