So the soldiers did this. But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, 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 to his own home. (John 19:25-27)
May God bless you on this 3rd Day of Christmas! Today we observe the Feast of St. John the Evangelist, author not only of one of the Gospels, but (possibly) also three New Testament letters and the Book of Revelation. St. John has traditionally been represented by an eagle because he “soars” to greater heights, theologically speaking, than the other Evangelists. He is also known as “The Beloved Disciple” because in his Gospel he often refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”.
Many people have wondered over the centuries why John makes such a point of depicting himself as The Beloved Disciple. On one level, of course, it must reflect his lived experience: John the Apostle must have had an especially close relationship to Jesus during his time on Earth. As always, however, it goes deeper. John is beloved because he is a disciple who himself loves much – so much that he alone of the Apostles follows Christ all the way to Calvary and stands with the Blessed Mother and Mary Magdalene at the foot of the Cross. He is our model in loving discipleship.
I want to focus on this last point, because so many people are suffering in various ways – in my home right now we are praying for a number of families who are experiencing illness, employment problems, divorce, and other hardships. Modern mental health professionals confirm the words that Charles Dickens put in the mouth of one of his characters in A Christmas Carol more than a century and a half ago: “it is at Christmastime that want is most keenly felt.” This is always a very hard time of year for our brothers and sisters who are in distress, aggravated for almost two years now by the seemingly endless Covid crisis: many people, especially the elderly, are suffering from the effects of isolation and loneliness on top of whatever other ailments they might have. I think the passage from John’s Gospel at the top of this post has a special import for those who find themselves standing at the Foot of The Cross in the midst of this festive season: all who join their suffering to His are his Beloved Disciples; the Mother of Jesus is your mother, and Christ your Brother suffers with you.
May you experience all the joys of Christmas on this 3rd day of the blessed season!
Featured image: The Crucifixion, attributed to Gillis Congnet, 16th century
Music for Christmas
Among its other blessings, the Christmas season is a time when we hear many old and beautiful musical expressions of the Christian faith. “O Holy Night” is one of my favorites. The original French lyrics were written by Placide Cappeau in 1843, and set to music by composer Adolphe Adam. The song was first performed in 1847. Unitarian minister John Sullivan Dwight translated Cappeau’s words into English in 1855. The lovely rendition of “O Holy Night” below is sung by Kalean Ung Breen, with Dave Beukers playing accompaniment on the piano.