Q: Several Gospel passages refer to “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Every time that I hear these passages, I wonder: Didn’t Jesus love all his disciples? Did Jesus really love one disciple more than the others? Who is being designated by this strange expression?
A: This expression, found only in the Gospel of John, is puzzling in itself. Also, why is “disciple” used as a person’s name? According to Nelson’s Complete Concordance of the New American Bible, the term disciple (in the singular) is used twice in Matthew, not at all in Mark, twice in Luke and 18 times in John. The plural form is used many times in all the Gospels.
When Peter goes to learn news about Jesus’ trial, he is accompanied by “another disciple,” who is known to the high priest (see 18:15-16). Scripture scholar John L. McKenzie wrote that this might be the Apostle John (Dictionary of the Bible).
On Easter Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene reports the empty tomb to Peter and “the other disciple.” They both run to the tomb and confirm that it is empty. Peter is allowed to enter first (see 20:2-8). This “other disciple” is almost certainly the Apostle John.
The “beloved disciple” stands next to Mary at the foot of Jesus’ cross; he is told to care for her (19:26-27). The resurrected Jesus appears at the Sea of Galilee to seven disciples: Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, the sons of Zebedee (James and John), plus two unnamed disciples (21:2). In verse seven, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” is the first to realize that Jesus is the man standing at the shore while they fish. That disciple exclaims, “It is the Lord!”
After everyone has eaten bread and fish by the seashore, Jesus speaks with Peter, telling him to “feed my lambs,” “tend my sheep” and “feed my sheep” (21:15-17). Then Peter questions Jesus about this disciple whom Jesus loved (21:20) and who had reclined next to Jesus at the Last Supper (13:23-25).
Around the year 180, Irenaeus of Lyon identified the “beloved disciple” as the Apostle John, whom Irenaeus also presumed wrote the Gospel of John. Over the centuries, Christians have generally shared these two assumptions.
In his Introduction to the New Testament (Doubleday, 1997), Raymond E. Brown, S.S., identified three other theories about the identity of the beloved disciple. First, that he is a known New Testament figure (such as Lazarus, John Mark or Thomas). Second, that he is not a historical person but a symbol for the ideal disciple.
Brown continues: “Third, still other scholars (with whom I agree) theorize that the Beloved Disciple was a minor figure during the ministry of Jesus, too unimportant to be remembered in the more official tradition of the Synoptics. But since this figure became important in Johannine community history (perhaps the founder of the community), he became the ideal in its Gospel picture, capable of being contrasted with Peter as closer to Jesus in love.”
The identity of “the beloved disciple” is an intriguing question, but what matters even more is that our faith is as alert and as generous as this disciple’s.
What Are Rogation Days?
Q: In looking through a pre-Vatican II missal, I recently came across the term “Rogation Days.” I had never heard of these and had no idea what the term means. Do they still exist? If not, what happened to them?
A: In the Dictionary of the Liturgy (Catholic Book Publishing Company), Father Jovian Lang, O.F.M., describes these as “days of special prayer and penance formerly prescribed on the three days before Ascension....The primary purpose of the prayers was to ask for protection, appease Divine Justice, and beg for a fruitful harvest.”
The major Rogation Day was eventually celebrated on April 25, not because that day is the feast of St. Mark but instead to replace a festival honoring the pagan god Robigus. There were also minor Rogation Days. Both sets of days were dropped in the 1969 revision of the Roman Calendar.
Episcopal conferences were encouraged at that time to designate special days of prayer and thanksgiving for a good harvest and for human labor. The U.S. bishops asked that Labor Day and Thanksgiving Day Masses include these themes.
Q: Why do Catholics baptize babies? It seems quite obvious to me that you have to be an adult in order to follow Jesus. Where does the Bible say that babies should be baptized?
A: In Philippi, St. Paul baptized his jailer “and all his family” (Acts 16:33). That does not prove that children were included, but it seems possible, even likely. In Ephesians 6:1-3 we read: “Children, obey your parents [in the Lord] for this is right. Honor your father and mother. This is the first commandment with a promise, ‘that it may go well with you and that you may have a long life on earth.’”
St. Paul also writes, “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is pleasing to the Lord” (Colossians 3:20).
Why would St. Paul write advice to children if they were not considered part of the Church?
The strongest biblical evidence for baptizing children is probably Matthew 19:13-15. “Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked them, but Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’ After he placed his hands on them, he went away.”
The Greek verb koluein, translated as “not prevent,” was earlier used in Mark 10:14 and in Luke 18:16 in the same context. It appears again in Acts 8:36 when the Ethiopian eunuch asks, “What is to prevent my being baptized?” This verb is used again when Peter is ready to baptize the Roman centurion Cornelius (Acts 10:47) and when Peter later justifies that decision (11:17). Is all this a coincidence? Maybe, maybe not.
The Introduction for the Rite of Baptism for Children quotes John 3:5 (“Unless a man is reborn in water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God”) and then comments: “The Church has always understood these words to mean that children should not be deprived of Baptism, because they are baptized in the faith of the Church, a faith proclaimed for them by their parents and godparents, who represent both the local Church and the whole society of saints and believers: ‘The whole Church is the mother of all and the mother of each’ [St. Augustine of Hippo].
“To fulfill the true meaning of the sacrament, children must later be formed in the faith in which they have been baptized. The foundation of this formation will be the sacrament itself that they have already received. Christian formation, which is their due, seeks to lead them gradually to learn God’s plan in Christ, so that they may ultimately accept for themselves the faith in which they have been baptized” (#2-3).
The Church has baptized children since the first century of its life. Was it mistaken about this for another 15 centuries until this practice was challenged by some Protestant Reformers? I doubt that.
Consciously or unconsciously, parents are always passing on values to their children. Why shouldn’t they pass on their faith? To insist that only adults can be baptized risks the heresy of Pelagianism, which said that human effort matters most regarding salvation.
Every baptized person needs to mature in his or her faith. If the Church baptized only adults, that would almost guarantee a false sense of security, a conviction that ongoing conversion is no longer necessary. That is not the Good News that Jesus preached. Only in heaven will we have “arrived.”
Q: When Jesus appears to seven apostles who had been fishing all night without success in the Sea of Galilee after his resurrection, he tells them to cast their net on the other side of the boat (John 21:6). They do so and immediately they fill their net. Then the Gospel tells us that they had 153 fish. Does that puzzling number have any special significance?
A: St. Jerome suggested that 153 was the total number of fish species, according to knowledge at the time of Jesus. If that is true, this number would emphasize that the Good News is to be preached to all peoples on earth.
We may think that is already obvious, but as we read in Acts of the Apostles (especially chapters 10 through 15) and elsewhere in the New Testament, there were significant tensions when the Good News was preached to gentiles as well as to Jews.
No explanation of the 153 fish has found universal acceptance.
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