[Station at St. Mary Major’s]
St. John the Evangelist, who is referred to in the Gospel as “the beloved disciple”, was a Galilean, son of Zebedee and Salome, and brother to St. James the Greater, both of whom were fishermen. The two were called by Jesus to be disciples as they were mending their nets by the Sea of Galilee. They also were dubbed “Sons of Thunder” by Our Lord mainly because of their volatile temperaments which, in John’s case, was greatly calmed once he began to follow the Messiah.
Jesus showed St. John particular instances of kindness and affection above all the rest. He had the happiness to be present with Peter and James at the Transfiguration of Christ, and was permitted to witness His agony in the Garden. He was allowed to rest on Our Savior’s bosom at the Last Supper, and to him Jesus confided the care of His holy Mother as He hung dying on the Cross.
St. John was the only one of the Apostles who did not forsake the Savior in the hour of His Passion and Death.
He also was the first to reach the empty tomb on Easter morning. After Pentecost, John accompanied Peter to Samaria to spread the Word to the people there and was present at the Council of Jerusalem in c. 49. After that he traveled to Asia Minor. Some believe Our Lady accompanied him there and lived in Ephesus, where she died and was assumed bodily into Heaven. Saint Paul also affirms that John, along with Peter and James, were “these pillars” of the Church.
It seems that St. John remained for a long time in Jerusalem, but that his later years were spent at Ephesus, whence he founded many churches in Asia Minor. St. John wrote his Gospel after the other Evangelists, about sixty-three years after the Ascension of Christ; also three Epistles, and the wonderful and mysterious Book of the Apocalypse or Revelation. He was brought to Rome and, according to Tertullian, was cast into a caldron of boiling oil by order of Emperor Domitian. Like the Three Children in the fiery furnace of Babylon, he was miraculously preserved unhurt.
He was then exiled to the Island of Patmos, where he wrote the Apocalypse, but upon Domitian’s death in 96, returned to Ephesus, where he wrote his gospel along with his three epistles. He has always been depicted with an eagle to signify the soaring majesty of his writings which were indeed so brilliant theologically that some came to call him “John the Divine.”
In his last years, he continued to visit the churches of Asia. St. Jerome relates that when age and weakness grew upon him so that he was no longer able to preach to the people, he would be carried to the assembly of the faithful by his disciples, with great difficulty; and every time said to his flock only these words: “My dear children, love one another.”
St. John died in peace at Ephesus in the third year of Trajan (as seems to be gathered from Eusebius’ history of the Saint); that is, the hundredth of the Christian era, or the sixty-sixth from the crucifixion of Christ, St. John then being about ninety-four years old, according to St. Epiphanius.