Today is the feast of the decapitation of Saint John the Baptizer. He was decapitated not far from where these donkies are standing, not far from where I would have been a hermit had not logistical difficulties come up at the last second before getting on the plane. I still have the ticket to Tel Aviv…
The liturgical festivities today are festive — however gut-wrenching it is to think about John getting decapitated in prison — because we stand in awe of his steadfast witness to our Lord Jesus, of whom he was the precursor, the greatest prophet. “Behold the Lamb of God”, he proclaimed, words we here echoing throughout the Church universal during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The Mass, mind you, is the Wedding of the Lamb, with the two wedding vows — This is my Body, given for you in sacrifice… This is the Chalice of my Blood, shed for you in sacrifice. Jesus made it possible that marriage become a sacrament with the two becoming one through the grace of our Lord which makes true love of the other possible. Without that grace, the question is “What can you do for me?” With that grace, the question is, “How can I love you even more just for you, in the Lord?” When that selfless love is mutual, how wonderful! Saint John wanted this greatness for all, but Herod was giving a bad example to the nation and the world. He risked his life and was, in fact, martyred for this. What a great saint!
When I was a kid, I was a parishioner of Saint John the Baptist parish of the monastery of that name in Collegeville. Yikes! This picture here is of the statue in the baptistry. I was fascinated by this extremely austere statue, but gave it a wide bearth. A bit frightening. I chose the name John the Baptist for my Confirmation name, along with Saint John the Evangelist, since, in fact, I was allowed two names. Perhaps it was decided that I needed all the help I could get, brat that I was!
Saint John was born without original sin because of the miracle of grace wrought by our Lord at the visitation of Mary to John’s mother Saint Elizabeth. John leaped in the womb of his mother, rejoicing in the Holy Spirit at the presence of the Lord of all in the womb of Mary. Awesome.
John was a pure soul, agile in spirit. When the Lord of all, innocent of all sin, came to baptised with his baptism unto the remission of sin, John balked, saying that he instead needed to be baptised by Jesus. Our Lord insisted about the fulfillment of justice. John immediately understood and baptised Jesus. The purpose of the water, you see, was to have the Israelites admit that they were more guilty than the soldiers and charioteers of Pharaoh during the exodus of old. They had drowned for having enslaved the Hebrews. Now it was their turn to imitate this drowning, saying that they themselves were guilty of enslaving each other in sin. Jesus going to be baptised, innocent that He was, carried this statement to the Father: “Treat Me, Father, as if I were guilty of all the sins of all, from the first man to the last, so that I might have the right in justice to have mercy on them, I having taken on the consequences of their sin, death.” Later Jesus spoke of the baptism for which He came, His exodus, His death on the Cross. That John recognized all this in an instant speaks much of John. Wow! What a pure, agile soul in the Lord! Yikes!
John castigated the hyposcrisy of the scribes and pharisees, asking their politically correct selves just who it was who told them to repent, for it wasn’t God, but thier own politically correct stupid selves. Everyone else was getting baptised, so that thought that only for that reason they had better be seen there. John called them out on their hypocrisy. Yikes! The greatest prophet!
In my seminary days, Saint John was always, always condemned as being a freak, someone who did nothing other than condemn others, showing them their sin, and that no one but no one was to ever but never imitate him. This is so stupid. Instead, Saint John was so enthralled by the mercy of our Lord that he wanted everyone to know this mercy. But we cannot know the Lord’s mercy unless we are able to receive it first of all by knowing that we are sinners. If we have no one to help us to know our sin, we will die in our sin and go to hell. Much better to know our sin, seek mercy, and go to heaven absolutely rejoicing!
There are so many still among us ecclesiastics who castigate anyone who would dare challenge people to actually know the mercy of our Lord, encourage confession and true rejoicing. Because of this, there are always priests still getting their heads chopped off for doing what John did. The cry of some still goes up: “Don’t condemn sin! Don’t condemn abortion! Don’t condemn contraception! Don’t condemn divorce and remarriage! Don’t condemn homosexual acts! Don’t condemn — should I say it? — don’t condemn pedophilia! Don’t do any of that because there will be an incidence of controversy, and we are politically correct, keeping the status quo! There, I said it.
Today, more than ever, we need the example of Saint John the Baptizer. Saint John, pray for us that we might know your fortitude and rejoicing in the Lord! Pray for us that we might one day meet you in heaven, thanking you for your great example and prayers, thanking you for having encouraged us to confess our sins, our many sins. Thanks, Saint John!