On December 27th, during the Christmas octave, the Church celebrates the feast day of St. John the Evangelist. St. John is known for many things, most notably:
1) For authoring five books of the Bible, including one of the four Gospels and the Book of Revelation.
2) For being called “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 20:2) or “the beloved disciple”.
3) For being in Jesus’ inner circle along with his brother James and Peter.
4) For reclining on the chest of Jesus at the Last Supper.
5) For being the only one of the 12 disciples who stayed with Mary and the other holy women at the foot of the Cross.
6) For being the disciple to whom Jesus entrusted the care of the Blessed Mother.
7) For being called “The Apostle of Love” for his extensive writing on the virtue of charity.
What is not commonly known about St. John is that he has a strong connection to the Sacred Heart of Jesus devotion. This connection has its origin at the Last Supper when John rested his head on the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
About 400 years before devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus became widely popular through St. Margaret Mary Alocoque, two 13th century nuns living in a monastery in Germany had a special devotion to the Sacred Heart: St. Gertrude the Great and St. Mechtilde.
In St. Gertrude the Great’s book, Herald of Divine Love, she speaks of her mystical experience with Jesus and St. John the Evangelist:
“Once on the feast of St. John, the beloved disciple, St. Gertrude exerted herself during the Matins to praise the disciple whom Jesus loved above the rest of His Apostles and lo! our Savior appeared to her, accompanied by this dear saint, whom He gave to her for a special protector. St. John spoke to St. Gertrude most kindly, instructed her regarding many mysteries and bestowed upon her precious graces…”
St. John invited St. Gertrude to rest with him on the chest of Jesus, just as he had done at the Last Supper. After doing so, St. Gertrude and St. John entered into a dialogue about what they had just experienced in the intimacy they shared with Jesus’ Heart:
St. Gertrude: “Well-beloved of the Lord, did these harmonious beatings which rejoice my soul also rejoice thine when thou didst repose during the Last Supper on the bosom of the Savior?”
St. John: “Yes, I heard them, and my soul was penetrated with their sweetness even to its very center.”
St. Gertrude: “Why, then, hast thou spoken so little in thy Gospel of the loving secrets of the Heart of Jesus?”
St. John: “My mission was to write of the Eternal Word . . . but the language of the blissful pulsations of the Sacred Heart is reserved for latter times , that the time-worn world, grown cold in the love of God, may be warmed up by the hearing of such mysteries”.
Four centuries later, in 1673, on the very same day (the feast of St. John the Evangelist), Jesus appeared to St. Margaret Mary and showed her His Sacred Heart displaying His Divine Love in the form of flames. He said to her,
“My Heart is so full of love for men that It can no longer contain the flames of Its burning love. I must discover to men the treasures of My Heart and save them from perdition.”
So, we see that not only can the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus trace its roots to the Gospel of St. John, but also that St. John himself, as a saint in heaven, is closely associated with the promulgation of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in our modern times, when the world is “grown cold in the love of God.”
The Church has taken St. John, the “disciple whom Jesus loved” as the disciple who best represents each individual Christian. Just as St. John was given the Blessed Virgin Mary to be his mother, so also was he given the Heart of Jesus to be his strength to stand at the foot of the Cross.
This article has been updated and was originally published in December 2012. © The Catholic Company. All rights reserved.