Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Happy patronal feast day, St. John's!

Today is the feast day of St. John - the evangelist and the apostle. The only of the disciples who authored a Gospel (which is why we call him the evangelist, or "Gospel-writer"), St. John was also known as the disciple whom Jesus loved, and he is the one who Jesus chose to take Mary into his home after the crucifixion - another sure sign that our Lord held him in the highest regard. After the death and resurrection of Jesus, John seems to have traveled and preached the Gospel before finally settling in the city of Ephesus. He is, of course, the patron saint of our Catholic parish here in Oxford, Miss.

Symbols of St. John

There are two main symbols that have come, over the centuries, to be associated with St. John. One of the symbols is the eagle. In the Bible, the Prophet Ezekiel described a vision of heaven where, around God's throne, were seraphs with the faces of a man, a lion, an ox and and an eagle. Over time, each of the four Evangelists (Gospel writers) became associated with one of these four symbols: Matthew with a man, Mark with a lion, Luke with an ox and John with an eagle. It is said that John became associated with the eagle because his Gospel (especially in the prologue) is so theological in nature, soaring, as it were, towards heaven - like an eagle.

The other symbol of St. John is the chalice. This association with the Evangelist comes from John's presence at the Last Supper (he was the only Gospel-writer who was also a Disciple of Christ), and from Jesus' words to John and his brother James: "My chalice, indeed, you shall drink." (Matthew 20:23). Often, St. John's chalice is depicted with a serpent crawling out of it. This image comes from a story about St. John in his latter days. The story says that someone tried to kill John by offering him a poisoned chalice of wine. Before drinking, John made the sign of the cross in blessing over the chalice and, when he did so, the poison took the form of a serpent and slithered out of the chalice. John then drank the remaining wine, unharmed.

St. John's Love

Because of the story of the poisoned chalice, it has become a tradition for priests to bless bottles of wine on St. John's feast day (today). In fact, in our parish, we have the blessing of wine after the Mass, in honor of St. John. Wine that has been blessed on St. John's feast day is often called the "Love of St. John." This blessed wine may be used for special occasions throughout the year.

Here is a traditional way of drinking "Love of St. John" with your family and friends. It comes from

When it is drunk on his Feast Day, we drink it before dinner as a toast to St. John. The Father of the house lifts his glass toward Mother and says, "I drink you the love of St. John." The Mother replies "I thank you for the Love of St. John" and then turns to the oldest child, lifts her glass, and says, "I drink you the love of St. John..." -- and on it goes down the line until each has been toasted.
The wine may be drunk as is, out of the bottle, or may be prepared as in this recipe:
St. John's Love (serves 8)
1 quart red wine
3 whole cloves
1/16 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 two-inch cinnamon sticks
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup sugar
Pour the wine into a large saucepan. Add the remaining ingredients. Boil for 5 minutes (this pretty much evaporates all of the alcohol). Serve hot, clinking glasses with the toast "Drink the love of St. John!" I suggest doing this in front of a roaring fire!