Thursday, December 27, 2012
Fr. Andersen: Homily on St. John the Apostle
A homily by Fr. Eric M. Andersen, Sacred Heart in Gervais, Oregon
December 27th, 2012 St. John the Evangelist, Apostle
It is said that the greatest sacrifice of love to God is martyrdom, but second to that is the sacrifice of virginity. Our saint today is called the beloved disciple. He is one who followed the Lamb wherever He went. But God did not demand his blood from him in martyrdom. St. John lived out the white martyrdom, offering to God his virginity.
Tradition tells us that St. John left “not only his father Zebedee, but even his betrothed, when everything was prepared for the marriage” (Gueranger, The Liturgical Year, Vol. 2, pg. 250).
The Old Roman Ritual contains in it two blessings of wine on the feast of St. John. This wine is blessed at the end of the Mass after the Last Gospel is read and is then to be drunk at dinner on the feast. The story comes to us that in Ephesus, St. John preached the Gospel and “idol-worshippers stirred up a riot among the populace, and they dragged him to the temple of Diana and tried to force him to offer sacrifice to the goddess. Then the saint proposed this alternative: if by invoking Diana they overturned the church of Christ, he would offer sacrifice to the idols; but if by invoking Christ he destroyed Diana’s temple, they would believe in Christ. To this proposal the greater number of the people gave their consent. When all had gone out of the building, the apostle prayed, the temple collapsed to the ground, and the statue of Diana was reduced to dust.”
In response, the high priest Aristodemus incited the people against the apostle. He then challenged St. John, saying: “If you want me to believe in your God, I will give you poison to drink. If it does you no harm, it will be clear that your master is the true God.” St. John consented. But first Aristodemus had two condemned criminals released from prison and, in the presence of the crowd, gave them the poison to drink so that St. John would have to watch them die and it would fill him with a greater fear for his own life. “Then the apostle took the cup, armed himself with the sign of the cross, drained the drink, and suffered no harm, and all present began to praise God” (Voragine, The Golden Legend. Vol. I., p. 53).
“St. Clement relates. . . that the blessed John once converted a handsome but headstrong young man and commended him as a ‘deposit’ to a certain bishop. Some time later, however, the young man left the bishop and became the leader of a band of robbers. Eventually the apostle came back to the bishop and asked him to return his deposit. The bishop, thinking that he was talking about money, was taken aback, but the apostle explained that he meant the young man whom he had so solicitously entrusted to his care. The bishop answered: ‘O my venerable father, that man is dead, spiritually at least; he lives on yonder mountain with a band of thieves and has become their chief.’ At that the saint tore his mantle, beat himself about the head with his fists, and cried: ‘A fine guardian you have been for the soul of a brother whom I left with you!’
“Quickly he ordered a horse saddled, and rode fearlessly toward the mountain. The young man, seeing him coming, was overwhelmed with shame, mounted his horse and rode off at top speed. The apostle, forgetting his age, put spurs to his mount and chased the fugitive, calling after him: ‘What, my beloved son! Do you flee from your father, an old man, unarmed? My son, you have nothing to fear! I shall account for you to Christ, and be sure I will gladly die for you, as Christ died for all of us. Come back, my son, come back! The Lord himself has sent me after you!’ Hearing this, the young man, filled with remorse, turned back and wept bitterly. The apostle knelt at his feet and, as though repentance had already cleansed it, began to kiss his hand. Then he fasted and prayed for the penitent, obtained God’s pardon for him, and later ordained him a bishop” (Voragine, 53-54).
“According to St. Jerome, Saint John stayed on in Ephesus into his extreme old age. He grew so feeble that he had to be supported by his disciples on his way to the church and was hardly able to speak. At every pause, however, he repeated the same words: ‘My sons, love one another!’ One day the brethren, wondering at this, asked him: ‘Master, why are you always saying the same thing? The saint replied: ‘Because it is the commandment of the Lord, and if this alone is obeyed, it is enough’” (54-55).