The Birth of John the Baptist
June 24, 2012
No other saint, save St. Paul, can “boast” of two feast days in the Roman Catholic calendar … The Church celebrates the birth and death of John, “greater than whom no other man born of woman” exists! Today, we revel in his glorious birth. Later this year, in August 29, we will commemorate his tragic beheading … tragic in man’s eyes, but glorious in God’s – and for many generations since!
Greatness is what we associate with John, no doubt about it. But the road to greatness was never sweet nor easy, notwithstanding the glorious and hopeful prophecies of old that foreshadowed the coming of someone who was referred to in the first reading “as concealed in the shadow of [God’s] arm” or “a polished arrow,” “through whom [God] shows His glory.” (Is 49:1-6)
When I look at the mystery of human pain and suffering, it is hard to wax lyrical and hopeful. When I see endless tragedies brought about by human sinfulness and greed, by “man’s inhumanity to man,” I see, not glory, but often, misery. My heart goes out to all those who suffer at the hands of criminals, of sociopaths, of heartless leaders whose only goal is to advance their own personal agenda. My thoughts turn to hapless Christians who are steadily and surely, not slowly, but rapidly being persecuted in intolerant areas of the world, where religion does not liberate, but enslaves – or at least, the fundamentalist, intolerant interpretation of such in many places all over the world!
Let us face it! … John the Baptist, too, was a victim of intolerance … He was a martyr of truth – truth that made someone powerful ever so uncomfortable as to hatch out a plan to silence him forever!
But martyrs and great men and women are made of stern stuff such as a passionate and committed dedication to truth, cost what might. And cost him dearly, that dedication, indeed, it did!
Today, as we honor him who paid so dearly so that we might come to know Him who he offered his life dearly for, we look deeply at ourselves, and like the psalmist, what do we see?
We see a weak person. I see a weak man in me, maybe half-decided to go that extra mile, half willing to do as John did, and I, along with the rest of us weak humanity, now confess together with the psalmist: “O Lord, you have probed me and you know me: you know when I sit and when I stand; you understand my thoughts from afar … Truly you formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb.”
But what then does all this tell us? What stuff are we made of? What destiny awaits us all as sons and daughters of God? The second reading gives us a clue… Like David, beloved of God, we are all made and created “after God’s own heart.” We are all supposed to have been put on earth “to carry out [God’s] every wish.” We are all supposed to do a John by “proclaiming a baptism of repentance.” In short, we are all called for greatness.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said that “nothing is more simple than greatness.” “Indeed,” she wrote, “to be simple is to be great.”
Maybe we can learn a lesson or two from John today. In birth, he is an epitome of simplicity. In death, he, too, was the personification of simple greatness. He simply lived and lived simply – simply for God’s glory, and for the fulfillment of His will.
In our days and times, we have become too complicated. We have put so many barriers to greatness. We have gotten used to doing things in half-measures. We have refused to go with the flow of things and we have become too calculating, too shrewd to even say “yes” to a simple call from the Lord. Our lives have become too “iffy” with a lot of conditions and prerequisites. We will follow the Lord, if the conditions are right … if those who work with me are the right persons … if I have all that it takes to do what I need to do … when and if all conditions are just right.
John the Baptist, on the contrary, had no “ifs and buts.” He just went with the flow … with the will of God, as to merit the wonder of his neighbors: “What will this child be?” Yes, what shall we all be?
Don’t you think it would do us all good to be described very simply as individuals who simply went along with the guidance of the “hand of the Lord?” No ifs, no buts … no barriers and conditions or prerequisites …
His greatness lies in this … allowing himself to be guided as the Lord willed. No wonder the best one-line chapter that describes his great life was simply this: “The child grew and became strong in the spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel.”
Indeed, to be simple, - and obedient and humble, for that matter – is to be great!