Saint John the Apostle has been a frequent friend of my soul during the past year. During the Lent, I marveled at his steadfast presence below the cross of Christ; at Easter, I ran to see the empty tomb with him; at each celebration of the Eucharist, I try to recall the way he leaned on Christ’s beating heart at the Last Supper. As the youngest apostle, he’s someone in whom my own youthful heart can find solace. Known as the “Beloved Disciple”, Saint John is a powerful intercessor for each human heart’s journey into deeper intimacy with Christ.
Getting to know this saint a little better over the past several months led me to discover that his feast day is celebrated on December 27th. So, when I opened my Magnificat to the daily Mass readings for that day, I expected to see “Saint John the Apostle” at the top of the page, indicating his memorial. Instead, I found “The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph” printed there. I was, admittedly, a little sad that my new saint friend’s feast was overshadowed, but I’m quite sure that Saint John would be more than happy to share a celebration with the Holy Family. In fact, I soon found the overlap of feasts to be extremely fitting.
Why? What does Saint John have to do with the Holy Family? For me, the Feast of the Holy Family draws to mind images of Jesus as a young child, surrounded by His mother and father in a quiet, private home. My own mind often regards the Holy Family as a model to be imitated, but as an exclusive, private bond between the three holiest of hearts. Of course, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph lived lives more worthy of imitation than anyone; their familial bond is certainly one to be emulated. But Jesus’ words when He’s grown and breathing His last show us that we are called to step through the door of His quiet Nazareth home instead of reverencing it from afar.
These are the last words Jesus leaves with Saint John: “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, 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 into his home.” John 19:26-27
Saint John has everything to do with the Holy Family... and so do we. Jesus’ request to John is meant for each and every one of us: Will you be part of my family? At the foot of the cross, where Saint John took Mary into his care, we are called not only to imitate the Holy Family, but to enter into it quite intimately. But how exactly do we enter into the humble home of a carpenter’s Son? In this Christmas season, we can follow Saint John’s example in (at least) two ways.
- Get to know Mary. Some of my most fruitful and favorite friendships are those in which my friend has come to know my family well and I have come to know my friend’s family well. It is natural and good to want to know those who belong to the ones we love; Jesus’ entrustment of Mary to Saint John (and vice versa) speaks to the very heart of friendship and familial relationship. So, let us enter more deeply into friendship with Him by coming to know His Blessed Mother. Consider reading a Marian book title, praying a daily decade of the Rosary, or completing a Marian Consecration! (Bonus: Since Pope Francis declared this as the Year of Saint Joseph, why not get to know him a little better, too?)
- Step outside of yourself. I’ve found that as a college student, it’s easy to surround yourself entirely with twenty-somethings. During some semesters, I’ll realize that I haven’t said a word to a person under the age of 18 for weeks at a time. As Christians, in fact as humans, we should not surround ourselves only with people similar to us. It is good for children to know the wisdom of the elderly, for single people to witness holy marriages, and for empty-nesters to know the heart of the young. It must have been a bit strange for Saint John to step into his new role. A widowed, mature, grieving mother was Saint John’s new companion… someone completely different than himself in many respects. Christ makes it clear that the Christian family is made most holy in all of its different faces together. And, in fact, He gives these unusual companions as a gift for our benefit and for that of the world. When was the last time you reached out to your grandparent or shared in a child’s simple joys? I encourage you to send a text, write a letter, or give the gift of your time to someone whose current spot in life is different from your own.
With Saint John by our side, let us knock at the door of a little Nazareth home, wrap Mary in a hug, give Saint Joseph a handshake, and take the Christ Child into our arms. It is a great joy to be welcome in this Holy Family!
Kathryn Hurd is a senior studying strategic communications and anthropology at K-State. She's a maker, a walker, a butterfly-spotter, and a lover of a good children's book. You can read more of her words, ramblings, and random interests here.