St. John the Evangelist –
Many thanks to the generous benefactors for this beautiful gift to the parish and to the artist Robert Senior. Why did we chose St. John the evangelist? For various reasons which I’ll explain in the future. A kind parishioner has written the following short account of St. John’s life –
St John The Evangelist
St John was the youngest of the apostles, probably about twenty-five years old when he was called with his brother James by Jesus to be one of his disciples. Despite his youth he had a prominent position in the group of Twelve and was always among the small group Jesus took with him on specific occasions. He was with Peter and James when Jesus entered Peter’s house in Capernaum to cure his mother-in law (cf. Mk 1:29); with the other two, he followed the Teacher into the house of Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue whose daughter he was to bring back to life (cf. Mk 5:37); he followed him when he climbed the mountain for his Transfiguration (cf. Mk 9:2). He was beside the Lord on the Mount of Olives; and, lastly, he was close to him in the Garden of Gethsemane when he withdrew to pray to the Father before the Passion (cf. Mk 11:33). Shortly before the Passover, when Jesus chose two disciples to send them to prepare the room for the Supper, it was to him and to Peter that he entrusted this task (cf. Lk 22:8).
St John is often referenced as ‘the disciple that Jesus loved’. He accompanied Christ through his Passion from Gethsemane to the crucifixion and was the only disciple to stand at the foot of the cross while all the others had abandoned Jesus in fear and confusion. Here Our Lord gave the final assurance of his confidence in St John by entrusting the care of his holy mother to him and designating him as her son in his place thereby extending to us all the maternal care of Our Lady.
After Christ’s ascension the apostles took up their various missions while it is believed St John mostly stayed in Jerusalem presumably to stay with Our Lady. St Clement of Alexandria tells us that John assisted at the council which the apostles held in Jerusalem in the year 51 and at the council at which the remaining living apostles held in Jerusalem in the year 62. It is widely believed, although there is no definitive account, that St John and Our Lady at some point took up residence just outside Ephesus. St Timothy (a disciple of St Paul) was Bishop of Ephesus at the time St John lived there and according to an account written by St John Damascene (in 675) St Timothy and St John were both present at Our Lady’s Assumption.
St John founded many churches in Asia Minor and his two disciples, Polycarp and Ignatius became Bishops respectively of Smyrna (Izmir in modern Turkey) and Antioch (Syria). In the year 95 St John was apprehended by the proconsul of Asia and sent to Rome where miraculously he was preserved from death when he was thrown into a cauldron of boiling oil. He was subsequently exiled to the island of Patmos where he received the heavenly visions which he recorded in the Apocalypse. In 97 his exile was voided and he returned to Ephesus from where he continued to travel around Asia Minor founding churches and appointing bishops.
The Church Fathers tell us that it was principally to refute the heresies of Cerinthus which denied the divinity of Christ, that St John wrote his Gospel. St Thomas Aquinas writes in the prologue to his commentary on St John’s Gospel, ‘While the other Evangelists treat principally of the mysteries of the humanity of Christ, John, especially and above all, makes known the divinity of Christ in his Gospel’. The Gospel of John is certainly the most mystical and theological of all the Gospels. According to Clement of Alexandria: ‘John, perceiving that the other Evangelists had set forth the human side of the Person of Jesus, at the insistence of his disciples composed a spiritual Gospel.’ St John himself tells us explicitly what the object of his Gospel was: ‘Many other signs also did Jesus in the sight of His disciples which are not written in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that by believing you may have life in his name’
St John is usually symbolised by an eagle as explained by St Thomas Aquinas: ‘The other three Evangelists, concerned with those things which Christ did in his flesh, are symbolised by animals which walk on the earth, namely, by a man, a bull calf, and a lion. But John flies like an eagle above the cloud of human weakness and looks upon the light of unchanging truth with the most lofty and firm eyes of the heart. And gazing on the very deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which he is equal to the Father, he has striven in this Gospel to confide this above all, to the extent that he believed was sufficient for all.’
St John is the only Apostle not to be martyred, rather dying of natural causes in his nineties. St Jerome tells a famous story of “blessed John the evangelist” in extreme old age at Ephesus. He used to be carried into the congregation in the arms of his disciples and was unable to say anything except, “Little children, love one another.” At last, wearied that he always spoke the same words, they asked: “Master, why do you always say this?” “Because,” he replied, “it is the Lord’s command, and if this only is done, it is enough.”
St John The Evangelist, pray for us.