Of all the Biblical Saints, none has ever fascinated me – nor inspired me – as much as Saint John the Beloved Disciple, whose feast day the Church celebrates today. Traditions tells us that St John the Beloved Disciple and St John the Evangelist are one and the same person, even if there are questions surrounding the authorship of the Johannine epistles and the Book of Revelation.
John fascinates me for three very particular reasons.
The first of these reasons is the Gospel written by John. This one is entirely different to the other three – ‘Synoptic’ -Gospels. Whereas those describe the imminence of God, John’s work focusses on the transcendence of God – in this respect it is quite mystical in nature, filled with symbolism. There are many details found in John’s Gospel which are not recorded in the other three. The whole Gospel is comprised of four broad sections – the Prologue, the Book of Signs, the Book of Glory and the Resurrection Epilogue.
Opening his Gospel, John tells us that the Word was with God from the beginning and is Himself God; He came into the world and His life is light for the whole human family, a light shining in the darkness and which the darkness cannot overcome. This Word, this divine Light, “became flesh and made His dwelling among us”. John then describes the ministry of John the Baptist, the “voice crying in the wilderness” in order to “make straight the way of the Lord”. The Baptist then identifies Jesus as the Messiah, the divine Light, the Word made flesh. John’s Gospel is a beautiful work with a deep and complex theology behind it and supporting it. For me, more than anything, St John is the Apostle of the Blessed Sacrament. The sixth chapter of the Gospel gives us the ‘Bread of Life discourse’. In this, Jesus describes Himself very explicitly as “the living Bread that came down from Heaven; whoever eats this Bread will live forever; and the Bread that I give is My Flesh for the life of the world”. And we know all too well the effect of this explicit teaching about the Eucharist being the true Flesh and Blood of Christ – “As a result of this, many of His disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied Him.”
The second reason for my fascination with St John is his beautiful closeness to the Lord – John is, after all, “the one whom Jesus loved”. The account of the Last Supper recalls that John rested his head upon the breast of Jesus. Is not such a gentle familiarity what we seek with the Lord, and what He seeks with us? Our faith is, after all, entirely based upon our having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ – and the depth of the intimate rapport between Jesus and St John is very much a model for us to imitate. This is not a relationship defined by fear, but by pure love.
The third reason is the Blessed Virgin and Her relationship to John, a relationship defined and instituted by Christ Himself upon the Cross, with John representing all of humanity even as it is to him specifically that the Lord entrusts the Blessed Virgin – “When Jesus saw His Mother standing there, and the disciple whom He loved, He said to His Mother, ‘Woman, behold Your Son’. Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold your Mother’. And from that hour, the disciple took Her into his home.”
These few lines have captivated and fascinated me for many, many years now, and I read them over and over and ponder them ceaselessly. I want to make a place for this Woman in my home, in my heart, just as John did. He is my model in this endeavour and I ask his help constantly in achieving it. To this end, I have a little prayer which I pray every morning and in this, St John is referenced directly for this intention.