May 6, 2022: ST. JOHN, BEFORE THE LATIN GATE
May 6, 2022: ST. JOHN, APOSTLE, BEFORE THE LATIN GATE
Rank: Greater Double.
Blessed John the Apostle, being put into a vessel of boiling oil, by the protection of divine grace came out unhurt. Alleluia.
O God, who seest us assaulted with evils on every side; grant we beseech thee, that the powerful intercession of blessed John, thy Apostle and Evangelist, may always be a protection to us. Through Thee, O Christ, who liveth and reigneth with the Father, in unity of the Holy Ghost, God, World without end. Amen.
The Beloved Disciple John, whom we saw standing near the Crib of the Babe of Bethlehem, comes before us again to-day; and this time, he is paying his delighted homage to the glorious Conqueror of death and hell. Like Philip and James, he too is clad in the scarlet robe of Martyrdom. The Month of May, so rich in Saints, was to be graced with the Palm of St. John.
Salome one day presented her two sons to Jesus, and, with a mother's ambition, had asked him to grant them the highest places in his kingdom. The Saviour, in his reply, spoke of the Chalice which he himself had to drink, and foretold that these two Disciples would also drink of it. The elder, James the Greater, was the first to give his Master this proof of his love; we shall celebrate his victory when the sun is in Leo; it was to-day that John, the younger Brother, offered his life in testimony of Jesus’ Divinity.
But the martyrdom of such an Apostle called for a scene worthy the event. Asia Minor, which his zeal had evangelised, was not a sufficiently glorious land for such a combat. Rome,—whither Peter had transferred his Chair and where he died on his cross, and where Paul had bowed down his venerable head beneath the sword,—Rome alone deserved the honour of seeing the Beloved Disciple march on to Martyrdom, with that dignity and sweetness which are the characteristics of this veteran of the Apostolic College.
Domitian was then Emperor,—the tyrant over Rome and the world. Whether it were that John undertook this journey of his own free choice, and from a wish to visit the Mother-Church, or that he was led thither bound with chains, in obedience to an imperial edict,—John, the august founder of the Seven Churches of Asia Minor, appeared before the Tribunal of pagan Rome. He was convicted of having propagated, in a vast province of the Empire, the worship of a Jew that had been crucified under Pontius Pilate. He was a superstitious and rebellious old man, and it was time to rid Asia of his presence. He was therefore sentenced to an ignominious and cruel death. He had somehow escaped Nero's power; but he should not elude the vengeance of Caesar Domitian!
A huge cauldron of boiling oil is prepared in front of the Latin Gate. The sentence orders that the preacher of Christ be plunged into this bath. The hour is come for the second son of Salome to partake of his Master's Chalice. John's heart leaps with joy, at the thought that he,—the most dear to Jesus, and yet the only Apostle that has not suffered death for him,—is, at last, permitted to give him this earnest of his love. After cruelly scourging him, the executioners seize the old man, and throw him into the cauldron; but, lo! the boiling liquid has lost all its heat; the Apostle feels no scalding; on the contrary, when they take him out again, he feels all the vigour of his youthful years restored to him. The Prætor's cruelty is foiled, and John, the Martyr in desire, is to be left to the Church for some few years longer. An imperial decree banishes him to the rugged Isle of Patmos, where God reveals to him the future of the Church, even to the end of time.
The Church of Rome, which counts the abode and martyrdom of St. John as one of her most glorious memories, has marked, with a Basilica, the spot where the Apostle bore his noble testimony to the Christian Faith. This Basilica stands near the Latin Gate, and gives a title to one of the Cardinals.
In honour of the great Apostle of love, we give the following Sequence, composed by Adam of Saint-Victor.
The happy realm of grace, (where the King of glory is seen by the soul's unfettered ken,) gives union with his God, and equality with Angels, to John, whose revelations have made known to men the mysteries of heaven.
He drank of the living waters that spring up to life eternal, when he leaned on his Lord's breast. The wonderful miracles he wrought have made him shine as a bright light in the Church. He quenched the heat of the boiling oil.
Men know that the torments for him are cruel beyond measure; yet do they wonder within themselves, how a man can be a Martyr, and feel no pain?
O Martyr, O Virgin, O guardian of the Virgin by whom the world received Him who is its glory! pray for us to this Jesus, from whom, and in whom, and by whom, are all things.
O thou that wast loved above the rest!—by thine intercession and prayers, render propitious unto us the Jesus, by whom thou wast loved.
Lead us to the Fountain, that art a stream! Lead us to the Mountain, thou that art a hill! O thou, whom grace made so wholly pure, pray for us that we may see the Beloved. Amen.
We are delighted to meet thee again, dear Disciple of our risen Jesus! The first time we saw thee, was at Bethlehem, where thou wast standing near the Expected of Nations, the promised Saviour, who was sweetly sleeping in his Crib. We then thought on all thy glorious titles: Apostle, Evangelist, Prophet, high-soaring Eagle, Virgin, Doctor of Charity, and, above all, Jesus’ Beloved Disciple. To-day, we greet thee as Martyr; for if the ardour of thy love quenched the fire prepared for thy torture, thy devotedness to Christ had honestly and willingly accepted the Chalice, of which he spoke to thee in thy younger years. During these days of Paschal Time, which are so rapidly fleeting by, we behold thee ever close to this divine Master, who treats thee with every mark of affection. Who could be surprised at his partiality towards thee? Wast thou not the only one of all the Disciples, who stood at the foot of the Cross? Was it not to thee that he gave the care of his Mother, and made her thine? Wast thou not present when his Heart was opened, on the Cross, by a Spear? When, on the morning of the great Sunday, thou repairedst with Peter to the Tomb, wast thou not, by thy faith, the first of all the Disciples, to honour Jesus’ Resurrection? Oh, yes! thou hast a right to all the special love wherewith Jesus treats thee;—but pray to him, for us, O blessed Apostle!
We ought to love him for all the favours he has bestowed upon us; and yet we are tepid in his love,—we humbly confess it. Thou hast taught us to know the Infant Jesus, thou hast described to us the Crucified Jesus; show us now the Risen Jesus, that we may keep close to him during these last few days of his sojourn on earth. And when he has ascended into heaven, get us brave hearts, that, like thee, we may be prepared to drink the Chalice of trials which he has destined for us.
Rome was the scene of thy glorious confession, O holy Apostle! She is most dear to thee; unite, then, with Peter and Paul in protecting her. If the palm of Martyrdom be in thy hand as well as the pen of the Evangelist, remember it was at the Latin Gate that thou obtainedst it. It was in the East thou didst pass the greater part of thy life; but the West claims the honour of counting thee as one of her grandest Martyrs. Bless our Churches, re-animate our Faith, re-kindle our Love, and deliver us from the Antichrists, against whom thou warnedst the Faithful of thine own times, and who are causing such ravages among us. Adopted son of Mary! thou art now enjoying the sight of thy Mother's glory: oh! present to her the prayers we are offering to her during this Month, which is consecrated to her, and obtain for us the petitions which we presume to make to her.
Another account of St. John before the Latin Gate.
When the two sons of Zebedee, James and John, strangers as yet to the mystery of the cross and the nature of Christ's kingdom, had, by their mother Salome (St. Matth, xx. 21; St. Mark, x. 35), besought our Lord to allot them the two first places in his kingdom, (implied by sitting at his right and left-hand,) he asked them whether they were disposed to drink of his cup, or, in other words, to suffer with him, in which case they should not fail to be considered in proportion to their pains and fidelity. The two disciples answered boldly in the affirmative, assuring their divine Master that they were ready to undergo anything for his sake. Our Lord thereupon foretold them that their sincerity should be brought to the trial, and that they should both be partakers of his cup of sufferings, and undergo bitter things for the honour and confirmation of the Christian religion. This was literally fulfilled in St. James, on his being put to death for the faith by Herod: and this day's festival records in part the manner in which it was verified in St. John. It may be said, without any violence to the sense of the words, that this favourite disciple, who so tenderly loved his Master, and was so tenderly beloved by him, drank of his chalice, and experienced a large share of its bitterness, when he assisted at his crucifixion; feeling then in his soul, by grief and compassion, whatever he saw him suffer on the cross. This was further fulfilled after the descent of the Holy Ghost, when he underwent the like imprisonment, scourging, &c. with the other apostles, as is recorded in the fifth chapter of the Acts. But our Saviour's prediction was to be accomplished in a more particular manner, and still more conformable to the letter, and which should entitle him to the merit and crown of martyrdom; the instrument whereof was Domitian, the last of the twelve Cæsars.
He was a tyrant, detestable to all men on account of his cruelty, and the author of the second general persecution of the church. In the beginning of his reign he accustomed himself to take pleasure in acts of inhumanity, spending part of his time in his closet in catching flies, and sticking them with a sharp bodkin. He debauched his own niece, and impiously took the titles of God and Lord, as Suetonius and Eusebius have recorded. He reigned fifteen years, that is, from the year of Christ 81 to 96. Tacitus says, that in cruelty he surpassed Nero, who often shunned the sight of barbarous executions, whereas Domitian was known to take delight in beholding them. He deluged Rome with the blood of its illustrious citizens, and out of a hatred to virtue, banished the philosophers; on which occasion, Epictetus (whose Enchiridion is the most perfect abstract of the justest sentiments of moral virtue ever published by a heathen) and Dio Chrysostomus, with others, were expelled the city. As for the Christians, not only the sanctity of their doctrine and manners was the strongest reproach of the crimes of the tyrant, but the general hatred of the heathens against them excited him to glut his insatiable cruelty with their innocent blood. St. John, who was the only, surviving apostle, and who at that time governed all the churches of Asia with the highest reputation which his dignity, extraordinary virtue and miracles had acquired, was apprehended at Ephesus, and sent prisoner to Rome in the year 95. The emperor did not relent at the sight of a man of his most venerable old age and countenance, which alone might suffice to command respect, but condemned him to a most barbarous death, by ordering him to be cast into a cauldron of boiling oil. The holy apostle was probably first scourged, according to the Roman custom with regard to criminals before execution, who could not plead the privilege of being Roman citizens. It is at least certain from Tertullian, St. Jerom and Eusebius, that, by the order of the tyrant, he was thrown into a vessel of boiling oil. The martyr doubtless heard, with great joy, this barbarous sentence, exulting at the thought of speedily rejoining his Redeemer, and desiring to repay love for love in the best manner he was able, and to die for Him who had laid down his most precious life to save us sinners from hell. The most cruel torments seemed to him light and most agreeable, because they would, he hoped, unite him for ever to his divine Master and Saviour: but God accepted his will, and crowned his desire; he conferred on him the honour and merit of martyrdom, but suspended the operation of the fire, as he had formerly preserved the three children from hurt in the Babylonian furnace. The seething oil was changed in his regard into a refreshing bath, and the saint came out more fresh and lively than he had entered the cauldron. Domitian, with most of the heathens, entertained a great idea of the power of magic, in which he had been confirmed by the reports concerning the prodigies pretended to be wrought by the famous magician, Apollonius of Tyana, whom he had sent for to Rome. He therefore saw this miracle without drawing from it the least advantage, but, like another Pharaoh, remained hardened in his iniquity. However, he contented himself after this with banishing the holy apostle into the little island of Patmos, one of the Sporades, in the Archipelago or Ægean sea. Domitian being assassinated the year following, his statues were every where pulled down, his name erased from all public buildings, and his decrees declared void by the senate. Upon which St. John returned to Ephesus, in the reign of Nerva, who by mildness, during his short reign of one year and four months, laboured to restore the faded lustre of the Roman empire.
This glorious triumph of St. John happened without the gate of Rome, called Latina, because it led to Latium. A church was consecrated in the same place in memory of this miracle, under the first Christian emperors, which has always borne this title. It is said to have been a Pagan temple of Diana, before it was converted to the worship of the true God. It was rebuilt by pope Adrian I. in 772. This festival has been kept in many places a holyday. In the twelfth century, and probably long before, till the change of religion, it was observed in England a holyday of the second rank, in which all servile work was forbid, except agriculture. Our pious Saxon ancestors had a singular devotion to St. Peter and St. John the Evangelist.
Our divine Saviour, as a mark of his special favour, and to put their love to the test, asked his two disciples, James and John, whether they could drink of the cup of which he was to drink. His sufferings he called his cup, first, because, out of the excess of his love for man, he was pressed with a burning desire to suffer and die for his redemption, as with a vehement thirst, which nothing but the ignominies and cruel torments of his cross could satiate. O ardent desire of Jesus to suffer for us! O love of his cross! Secondly, Because, among the Jews, a portion which fell to a person’s lot was called his cup, Jesus, by this expression, gives us to understand, that his cross and sufferings were allotted him by his eternal Father as his portion, and that from the first moment of his Incarnation he accepted it cheerfully from his hands, with an entire submission to his will, offering himself as a victim perfectly to accomplish it. He presents his cup to his servants to drink, because there is nothing which produces in them so perfect a conformity with himself, or improves more wonderfully all heroic virtues in their souls, or obtains more abundantly for them the greatest graces, provided we bear our cross with him, embrace it affectionately for his love, and offer our sufferings to him, uniting them with his. O precious cross! you are the high royal road to heaven, sanctified and made divine by our sovereign Head, who opened it, and shewed the way in which all his elect follow him. St. John suffered above the other saints a martyrdom of love, being a martyr, and more than a martyr, at the foot of the cross of his Divine Master, with the true lovers of Jesus, Magdalen and the Blessed Virgin mother. All his sufferings were by love and compassion imprinted in his soul, and thus shared by him. O singular happiness of St. John, to have stood under the cross of Christ, so near his divine person, when the other disciples had all forsaken him! O extraordinary privilege, to have suffered martyrdom in the person of Jesus, and been eye-witness of all he did or endured, and of all that happened to him in that great sacrifice and mystery! Here he drank of his cup; this was truly a martyrdom, and our Saviour exempted all those who had assisted at the martyrdom of his cross, from suffering death by the hands of persecutors. St. John, nevertheless, received also the crown of this second martyrdom, to which the sacrifice of his will was not wanting, but only the execution.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year – The Paschal Time, Vol. II, Dublin, Edition 1871;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. V, 1821; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume I, 1806.
St. John, the beloved disciple of Christ, pray for us.