We all know the story of St. John the Baptist. Born to Zechariah and Elizabeth in their old age, he was Jesus’ cousin. When Mary visited Elizabeth to share the good news of the coming birth of Christ, the infant John “leapt with joy” in his mother’s womb. He’s remembered as the last of the prophets whom God empowered to foretell the coming of the Messiah. John preached repentance (Matthew 3:2-8). He began his ministry in the desert, the wild man of God living on grasshoppers and honey and dressed in camel skins. He must have been an amazing sight to the fastidious Jews. But like them, John felt the oppression of the Roman Empire and longed for God to send His chosen family a Messiah that would give the Jews an earthly kingdom. John was a powerful and gifted preacher and he gained many followers. He’s probably known best as the one who baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. He looked up and saw Jesus approaching and proclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” We hear the priest echo John’s words at each Mass when we gaze upon the Body of Christ in the Eucharist.
John’s life and ministry always pointed the way to Christ. He never sought power or glory for himself. When his followers reported to him that Jesus was baptizing and that many people were now following Him, John’s beautiful response remains an inspiration to us: “…this joy of mine has been made complete. He must increase; I must decrease”(John 3:30). What’s true for John is true for us as well. For God’s mighty work to be accomplished in us, we have to get out of His way. God asked John to spend his life preaching repentance and preparation for Christ’s coming. John was God’s prophet and at our baptism, each one of us claims a share in Christ’s divine offices of “priest, prophet, and king (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 897-913). Looking at your own life, how well are you living up to St. John the Baptist’s example? Does your life point others the way to Jesus? We might think it’s intimidating to compare ourselves to a prophet like John. But in many ways we’re living in times very much like John’s own.
He was imprisoned for speaking truth to power. In his case, he defended the sanctity of marriage and the king threw him in jail and later had him beheaded in order to impress a woman. John preached the freedom of God’s heavenly peace, yet he was thrown into prison. Locked in darkness, John came to bear witness to the Light of Christ. John baptized our Redeemer in water, but received for himself the martyr’s baptism of blood. Yet John let nothing stand in the way of his message and his mission. We’re each called by God to a unique mission which only we can fulfill. God doesn’t expect you to be another John the Baptist or Mother Teresa or Fulton Sheen. He wants you to fulfill your calling and your mission. These days, the truth of Christ is under assault on every front. Our Bishops stand in opposition to a government which thinks it can define our faith for us. When asked to put Caesar before Christ, our Bishops have said, “No!” Our culture sees the Church as out of step with modern times.
And we are. If we’re to be true to our Savior, we have to stand up for His Truth, which is unchanging. Like John the Baptist, we must constantly point to Christ, no matter the consequences. John wasn’t afraid to tell the king the truth about marriage. Catholics must also defend marriage as a Holy Sacrament between one man and one woman. We are called to defend life and that puts us at odds with those who support abortion, euthanasia, human cloning and embryonic stem cell research. Like John we have to raise the cry of outrage when anyone or any institution threatens God’s gift of life. We do this through the life-affirming example of how we life. We support the Church and the affiliated organizations which defend life and the free practice of our faith. We pray. We peacefully protest. And we vote in support of those candidates who also support life and freedom of faith. The Catholic Church proclaims at every Mass, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” Our lives must echo those words as well. He must increase and we must decrease. Our mission is to be Christ to one another and to live joyfully, despite the culture, and despite the government. And while actual martyrdom may not be something we share with St. John, we may very well experience the loss of friends or family who reject our faithful commitment to Christ and His Church. Like John, we must keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and invite the Lord to lead us through whatever may come. John challenged the king and lost his head. But if he hadn’t challenged him, he might have lost his soul. Our cultural wilderness is starving for the love and charity of Christ. Will you decrease so that He may increase?
“Behold, I will send my messenger and he shall prepare the way before Me.”