The greatest born of women…
Jesus declared: “Of all men born of women, none was greater than John the Baptist.” (Mt 11:11) Jesus rarely offered praise as to the qualities of others, but He did in the person of His cousin, Saint John the Baptist.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church encourages us to honor the saints and highlights two specific areas in which the saints can motivate and encourage us to pursue a pathway of holiness and become the saints that we are all called to become. As Jesus stated: “Be holy as your heavenly Father is holy.” (Mt 5:48)
First, the saints can pray for us; they have a power of intercession before the Throne of God. Being God’s friends, they can indeed help us through their prayers. Second, their holiness of life! Like all of us born in Original sin and struggling to overcome our bad inclinations, the saints had to work, and work hard, to conquer the moral evils in their lives. Instead of capitulating to their desires, following the suggestions of the devil, and becoming enamored with the world, they decided to follow Christ—His words, teaching, and example. The saints serve as brilliant models of virtue for us to strive to emulate, imitate, and pattern our lives after as examples for others.
Therefore, let us lift our gaze to one of the most brilliant stars shining in the firmament of heaven, Saint John the Baptist, to seek his intercession and strive to imitate his holiness of life. Indeed, we become like those whom we associate and communicate with.
1. THE MARIAN ENCOUNTER. Even while in the womb of his mother, Saint Elizabeth, the Baptist had a unique encounter with the Blessed Virgin Mary. When Mary greeted Elizabeth the infant in her womb, John, leaped for joy. John was purified and sanctified in his mother’s womb by the word of Mary and the silent Presence of Jesus in the womb of Mary. May we allow Mary’s words and prayers to purify and sanctify us. “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.”
2. A CHILD IN OLD AGE. Saint Elizabeth and the infant John the Baptist teach us a very important and pertinent message: human life is precious and sacred from the very moment of conception until natural death. From the book of Job: “Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb; the Lord gives and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21) Let us always respect life, and leave human life and its destiny in the Providential Hands of our loving Father.
3. NAME: JOHN! His name was given by the Archangel Gabriel to Zachary in the Temple; thus his father and mother named him John! As the prophet reminds us: “I have called you by name from your mother’s womb to be a prophet to all the nations.” (Jer 1:5)
4. DESERT EXPERIENCE. Before launching into his busy ministry of preaching, baptizing and pointing the way to Jesus, the Baptist went through an intensive period of preparation. He spent long years in the desert. While there he learned from experience the value of key virtues that would help him arrive at the apex of sanctity. What were some of these practices? Silence, so as to hear the voice of God. Prayer, intimate communion with God. Penance, the Baptist practiced intense penance, fasting, mortification and self-denial to dominate the cravings of the flesh. Detachment in dress in the sense that he wore camel’s fur and rough dress. All of these practices were preparing him to live out a very austere, fervent and authentic mission.
5. VOCATION: PREPARATION. All of us have a double vocation. The universal vocation is to holiness, to become the saint that God has called us to be. Second, is our specific vocation. This we discern with the help of God’s grace and proper discernment. As John prepared for his vocation, so should we strive to be faithful to our vocation. For most it is marriage; for others it is the single life; still for others it is the priesthood, or Religious life for men or women. Some men have a double vocation: the priesthood and Religious life, living in community as brothers, as is the case with the Oblates of the Virgin Mary, the religious community of the author. The better the preparation for each one of us to live out our call to holiness and our specific vocation, the more efficacious the results.
6. BAPTISM: REPENTANCE. One of the primary roles in the mission of this great saint, John the Baptist, was to administer a baptism of repentance, disposing many to receive the Baptism of Jesus. The Baptism of John was a call to repentance, to renounce sin in all its forms and follow a life of justice, honesty, and virtue.
7. HUMILITY OF THE BAPTIST. The humility of the Baptist was extraordinary. His dress, his words, and his mere presence radiated profound virtue, and one of the hallmarks of his virtuous life was that of humility. Meditate briefly on some of the words of this great and humble man of God referring to Jesus:
- “He must increase, and I must decrease.” (Jn 3:30)
- “I am not worthy even to untie His sandal strap.” (Jn 1:27)
- “I am just a voice of one crying out in the desert: prepare the way of the Lord.” (Jn 1:23)
- “I am the friend of the Groom; when He comes, I disappear.” (Jn 3:29)
- “I should be baptized by you (referring to Jesus) and you come to me?” (Mt 3:13)
8. The Baptist was called to carry out one of the key moments in the Life of Jesus: baptizing Jesus in the Jordan River. Not only did the Baptist carry out this important moment of baptizing Jesus, but also he was present during a Trinitarian Theophany. This means that the Baptist witnessed a revelation of the greatest Mystery in the Catholic faith: the most Blessed Trinity—the belief in One God and three separate Persons. At the Jordan River the voice of God the Father could be heard; Jesus entered into the Jordan River; and the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a dove. The Baptist can help us to appreciate our own Baptism more, but also strive to understand, inasmuch as is possible, the profound mystery of the Blessed Trinity. In fact, the Blessed Trinity lives in our soul in the moment of our Baptism. How sublime, but how true!
9. PENITENTIAL LIFE-STYLE. The Baptist serves as a counter-cultural model for the modern world. Most especially this becomes manifest in two areas: 1) manner of eating; 2) style of dress. In our modern world that promotes the opposite, the Baptist can help us to be counter-cultural and even to swim against the current. In a society prone to gluttony, wasting food, exotic and luxurious eating, the Baptist by his lifestyle points to frugality and austerity in eating, and even a call to fasting. In a world prone to vanity, immodesty and even provocative dress, the Baptist teaches by his lifestyle the importance of detachment and modesty in wardrobe. Our Lady of Fatima stated that many immodest fashions would enter the world that would offend God greatly. The Baptist ate locusts and wild honey, and wore camel’s fur. How radically different from our modern lifestyle! Perhaps we should eat less, buy less, and pray and fast more!
10. COURAGE AND FORTITUDE OF THE BAPTIST. The Baptist was not like a reed blown by the wind. He cared little about public opinion, nor did he suffer from the lack of human respect. He had clarity of vision. He understood with absolute clarity his mission or vocation. He had no identity crisis as so many have today. He never buckled under pressure. The Baptist had the courage to denounce King Herod publicly without fear of the consequences for himself. He called a spade a spade, and called Herod out for living with Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. This was no ordinary public scandal. It was not only adultery, but public, scandalous and incestuous adultery!
11. PERSECUTION FOR THE TRUTH. Herod had the Baptist arrested, but Herodias hated the Baptist for his public reprimand of them. The Baptist was thrown in a dark, damp, humid, smelly prison cell. He was living out one of the Beatitudes that Jesus preached: “Blessed are you when you are persecuted for my sake; for yours is the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Mt 5:10) If we decide to follow Christ, sooner or later persecution will knock at our door. Rejoice! Our reward in heaven will be great!
12. THE MOST NOBLE OF DEATHS! The Baptist met his death in the context of Herod’s birthday celebration. The exotic and sensuous dance of the daughter of Herodias (Salome was her name) delighted Herod. Under the influence of wine, the King made the extravagant promise of giving the girl anything she might ask for, even to half of his Kingdom. Moved by envy, hatred and revenge, the mother told the girl to request the head of the Baptist on a platter. Executioners were dispatched, the Baptist was decapitated, and his head brought on a platter into the birthday party and given to the girl, who gave it to her mother.
13. MODEL FOR SOCIETY ON CHASTITY AND MARRIAGE. The primary reason for the death of the Baptist was precisely this: to defend the indissoluble character of holy matrimony. The shedding of the blood of the Baptist was an eloquent testimony for the defense of marriage and the sinful character of adultery, unfaithfulness, and incest. In a society where marriages are being rent asunder, especially due to impurity, the Baptist raises the banner of purity, faithfulness, and commitment to one’s promises.
14. DOUBLE LITURGICAL CELEBRATION. The Church has such a great honor and esteem for Saint John the Baptist that twice a year he is celebrated. He is celebrated for his birthday, June 24th. Then he is celebrated for his birthday into Heaven, August 29th – also known as the Passion of Saint John the Baptist. Like the Baptist, may we live and die being faithful to the Lord.
15. JOHN THE BAPTIST: A MODEL FOR US TO FOLLOW. Let us strive to pay more attention to the Presence and Person of Saint John the Baptist in Sacred Scripture. He is an Advent model; also, a Lenten figure; but also, a perennial figure—a saint that we should pray to, imitate, love, and long to be united with one day in Heaven.