Today’s Gospel: Mark 6:17-29
St. John the Baptist has always been such a peculiar figure in the New Testament; as a child, I was intrigued by his zealous prophesying about Jesus as the Messiah, and I imagined him as a strange man of asceticism wandering the desert wearing a hair shirt while eating locusts with honey. Personally, I was never drawn to him as I was to his mother, St. Elizabeth; perhaps it’s because I’m a woman, or perhaps it is because Elizabeth is my namesake, but whatever the reason, I didn’t quite find St. John the Baptist as a relevant person.
As our modern culture increases its hunger for faster and better everything – technology, careers, accomplishing tasks, etc. – asceticism becomes more appealing to me. While our family does not live in an urban setting by any means, we still dwell in a small, rural town full of generations of Mennonites and farmers. At times it is still too much for me to be constantly surrounded by the hustle of others’ lives around me; there is an odd, distant longing in my heart that beckons me for the desert, to refresh my soul in solitude, in which there is no one else but me and my God.
St. John the Baptist, being the prophet who paved the way for Jesus, carried the wisdom to know when to preach and live among the people and when to draw away from them in prayer and contemplation, even in self-renunciation. I’m not saying we all need to abandon our lives in favor of hair shirts and locusts, but it behooves us to look to St. John the Baptist in light of a timeless need: the need for our souls to be filled and refreshed by a timeless God who never changes or grows old and dies.
And as St. John the Baptist faced his own martyrdom, which we commemorate today, he foreshadowed the truth that all of us are called to some form of martyrdom as Catholic-Christians. Most of us will never literally die for our faith as he did, but we all are called to die to ourselves, to make a daily offering of our sins and weaknesses – even our hopes and dreams – at the foot of the Cross in favor of God’s will for our lives.
From St. John the Baptist’s nativity to his martyrdom, he is more than just a prophet or Biblical witness: he is a role model for us as we consider the meaning and fruitfulness of our own lives, from our new life in Christ through our Baptism to the death that is destined for us and will hopefully lead to eternal life.
How am I being called to die to myself today? Am I fully living the spiritual charisms with which God has blessed me? Do I need to seek spiritual direction or refreshment in attending a retreat?
St. John the Baptist, you recognized Jesus in the womb of your mother, St. Elizabeth, and were both kin by blood and Baptism to our Lord. Pray for us, that we, too, may pave the way for Jesus in our modern world. Journey with us so that we may live our Baptismal vows faithfully and fruitfully from this day until our death, when we hope to enjoy everlasting life with you and the angels and saints who glorify God for eternity. Amen.
Copyright 2014 Jeannie Ewing