My favorite stories of the saints have always been the stories of the martyrs. Virgin martyrs, early Church martyrs, North American martyrs—saints who loved Our Lord so completely that, however their hearts may have faltered previously, they were ultimately willing to give up their lives for him.
St. John the Apostle was the only of the apostles to not die of martyrdom. And yet he’s one of my all time favorite saints.
It’s not because he was boiled alive in hot oil (and miraculously survived). It’s not because he was later exiled to the island of Patmos to live out the rest of his days in solitude, falling into spiritual ecstasy and writing the Book of Revelation. It’s not even because, on the morning of the Resurrection, he beat the first pope as they ran to discover the empty tomb.
John reclined against Jesus’s Heart at the Last Supper. At the very hour when Jesus instituted the Eucharist, the new and eternal covenant in His flesh, and on the very night when Our Lord gave us the Most Blessed Sacrament in which, to this very day, He gives us Himself, His very Heart, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity—St. John leaned back into this mystery. He rested with it. Rested against it. Immersed himself in its reality.
Imagine, for a moment, listening to the Heartbeat of the Word of God. His joy as he spoke the words, “I have long desired to share this Passover with you.” His silent agony at the suffering he was about to endure.
There’s only one other person who had a closer heart bond with Our Lord. The woman whose heart pumped blood into His tiny body as He was formed in her womb. The woman whose heart was pierced with seven swords of sorrow for the suffering her Son endured. The woman to whom Jesus said, on the day after His Beloved Disciple reclined against His Heart, “Behold your son.”
And from that very hour, John took her into his home. As we who hear and receive Our Lord should take her into our homes, where she can teach us to listen better, to attune our hearts to His, to be known as His beloved disciples.
John begins his Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word.” Despite the fact that his feast day falls within the Octave of Christmas, he doesn’t start us off with an infancy narrative, describing how the Messiah was born. He goes to the heart, telling us Who the Messiah Is.
“God is love,” he tells us in 1 John.
“Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:38)
And this Heart, this Eucharistic Heart, this Sacred Heart, is the center of all that John has to tell us about Our Lord. Because this Heart should be the King and Center of our lives.
John did big things, sure. Great things. God called him to be an apostle and an evangelist. A priest, a teacher, a son to His own Mother.
In order to be the saints He’s calling us to be, we don’t have to do or be all those things. But we should learn to be attentive to the Heart of Our Lord as John was. To go where He wills. To love who He wills. To surrender whatever He wills.
St. John, apostle and evangelist, pray for us.