Memorial of the Passion of Saint John the Baptist, August 29
May Each of Us Have the Courage to Stand Firm in the Truth of the Gospel Message, Never Wavering in Our Testimony of God’s Love and Mercy.
“The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” – We find these words in Saint Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, words which speak of the true meaning of the cross, one which each of us must bear at different times in our lives.
Today, we read about the ultimate cross which John the Baptist had to bear. The drunken oath of a king with a shallow sense of honor, a seductive dance of a step-daughter, and the hateful heart of an adulterous queen – all combined to bring about the martyrdom of a true prophet, whom Christ would declare, “Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist.”
Considered the greatest of prophets, John suffered the same fate of so many Old Testament prophets who came before him: rejection and martyrdom. The “voice of one crying out in the desert” did not hesitate to accuse the guilty, did not hesitate to speak God’s Truth, placing his own life in danger.
But why? What possesses an individual that he should endanger his very life, to the point of martyrdom, for a belief, a faith which he carries so strongly in the depths of his heart?
Today, we celebrate the Memorial of the Passion of Saint John the Baptist, cousin of Jesus, about whom John’s own father, Zechariah, would prophesy eight days after John’s birth, “And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.”
This great religious reformer was sent by God to prepare the Jewish people for the arrival of the Messiah, prophesied since the fall of Adam and Eve. John’s vocation was one of selfless giving, in which he would call to mind the need for atonement and reconciliation in one’s heart with God, saying to those who approached him, “I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire.”
Scripture tells us that many people followed John looking to him for hope, perhaps in anticipation of some great messianic power or sign. But John never allowed himself the false honor of receiving these people for his own glory. He knew his calling was one of preparation. When the time came, he led his disciples to Jesus.
John the Baptist’s life and his ministry were fueled by one flaming passion, one burning desire only – to point others to the coming of God’s Kingdom, and to the Messiah who would lead them there.
The same was the case with Saint Paul, for his mission was very similar to John’s, leading people to Jesus. Paul once wrote, “…we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
There is not one person reading this, except for maybe those who are in their early teens, who has not endured suffering in one form or another, who has not borne some form of the cross; and I, personally, am no exception to this – the loss of a spouse to death, multiple joints being replaced and numerous surgeries, in addition to current health issues.
And when we reflect upon suffering, it is present in so many different forms – emotional, psychological, physical, even spiritual – and the list of individual examples can seem endless. What we do know about suffering is that we are not alone. Even Christ, who is the Eternal Word made flesh, accepted suffering in His Life, even to the point of His own horrific and agonizing death upon His Cross!
Suffering, even martyrdom – to which Christians in different countries are still being subjected – is a fact of life. And John became the very first person who believed in Christ, who knew who He was, who did not flinch from preaching God’s Truth – and who suffered martyrdom as a consequence!
Repeating the question I had asked earlier: “Why? What possesses a person to endanger his or her very life, to the point of martyrdom, for a belief, a faith which is carried so strongly in the depths of one’s heart?”
There is only one answer which makes any sense – a deep, abiding love for the God who has created us and given us the gifts of life and faith. For those who truly believe and trust unreservedly in His providential Love and Mercy, God will not abandon us, but rather will fill us with His Holy Spirit to strengthen us during our times of greatest trial – so that we may ultimately receive our eternal reward.
We see this in the life of Saint Paul and his various missionary journeys, which eventually took him to his own death in Rome. We see this in the lives of Saint Peter and the other Apostles, who accepted martyrdom as the ultimate victory over death – a victory unto eternal life. And in today’s Gospel, we see this same martyrdom in the death of John the Baptist, a cross of suffering which he freely accepted – which, for him, ultimately became his cross of victory!
The cross, no matter how difficult or heavy it may seem at times, becomes the means by which we become united to Christ in His own suffering. The cross becomes the means by which we find eternal life.
That is why our cross, in whatever form it may appear, when freely accepted just as our Lord freely accepted His, and just as so many martyrs accepted theirs, takes upon itself a priceless value! That is why our own sufferings can become a source of great grace and purification – not only for ourselves, but also for those for whom we wish to offer our sufferings!
Jesus once asked a question which should cause each of us to reflect upon our own journey of faith, “…what can one give in exchange for his life?”
Everything we have is an out-right gift from God. When looked at with the eyes of faith, even our sufferings, the crosses we bear, can be seen as a gift, for the cross is God’s invitation to each and every one of us to live in closer communion with Himself.
“The message of the cross”, as Saint Paul tells us, is all about victory – Jesus’ victory over death culminating with His Resurrection and Ascension. And, with the help of God’s grace, the cross becomes for each of us our victory – victory over sin, and our own personal resurrection into God’s Heavenly Kingdom!
May John’s example of faith and perseverance, through the many hardships which he endured, become a model for each of us in the lives we live. And may each one of us, both you and I, have the courage to stand firm in the Truth of the Gospel message, never wavering in our testimony of God’s unfathomable Love and limitless Mercy.
For the cross, freely embraced and resolutely borne with God’s grace, becomes our key to eternal life! †
Please Comment, Like and Share, and Suggest to your Facebook friends – to spread the message of God’s Merciful Love.
Por favor Comente, Le Gusta y Comparta, y Sugiera a tus amigos en Facebook – en difundir el mensaje del Misericordioso Amor de Dios.
Scripture for the Day
- “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)
- “Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist.” (Matthew 11:11a)
- “And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.” (Luke 1:76-77)
- “The LORD called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name. He made of me a sharp-edged sword and concealed me in the shadow of his arm. He made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me.” (Isaiah 49:1b-2)
- “I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire.” (Matthew 3:11)
- “…we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:23-24)
- “What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life?” (Matthew 16:26)
- “…If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
- “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39)
- “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22b)
- “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church.” (Colossians 1:24)
- “[God] will repay everyone according to his works: eternal life to those who seek glory, honor, and immortality through perseverance in good works.” (Romans 2:6-7)
Prayer for the Day
Who are the Light of the minds that know You,
the Joy of the hearts that love You,
and the Strength of the wills that serve You.
“Grant us so to know You, that we may truly love You,
and so to love You that we may fully serve You,
Whom to serve is perfect freedom,
in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”Saint Augustine of Hippo