The Happy Priest: John the Baptist and the New Evangelization
Precisely because of the essential mission of John the Baptist in the mystery of the Incarnation, today's feast day, The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist, interrupts the regular cycle of Sundays of Ordinary Time
What will it take to evangelize modern man? What methods can we use? The frustration lies in the fact that for most people in the pews, so little really sticks. So many people live out their lives as if Jesus never existed. So many Catholics no longer join us for Sunday Mass. Today's feast day reminds us of the challenge that Blessed Pope John Paul II gave us during his pontificate. He called us to the "new evangelization."
"John heralded his coming by proclaiming a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel; and as John was completing his course, he would say, 'What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. Behold, one is coming after me; I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of his feet'" (Acts 13: 24-25).
The Nativity of John the Baptist reminds us of the fundamentals of our Catholic Faith: "For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man" (Nicene Creed).
Christopher West, in his new book, At the Heart of the Gospel, writes: "At the heart of the Gospel lies the 'great mystery' of the marriage of divinity and humanity in the person of Jesus Christ. In the fullness of time, the two - God and Man - become one in the flesh of the God-Man. Our belief in the Incarnation of God's Son 'is the distinctive sign of Christian faith' (CCC 463). It's a mystery so resplendent and grand, so captivating and magnificent, it never ceases to ravish the hearts of those who glimpse its glory" (page 7).
And yet so many people live out their lives as if Jesus never existed. So many Catholics no longer join us for Sunday Mass. Today's feast day reminds us of the challenge that Blessed Pope John Paul II gave us during his pontificate. He called us to the "new evangelization."
What will it take to evangelize modern man? What methods can we use? What should our liturgy, preaching, community and our catechesis look like? Much has been tried and much has been discussed over the decades since the Second Vatican Council, but for some reason, the frustration lies in the fact that for most people in the pews, so little really sticks.
John the Baptist used new ways to evangelize the people of his time.
The witness of John the Baptist begins with his birth. The miraculous circumstances of his conception and birth direct our attention to the mysterious and the transcendent.
As an adult, his chosen surroundings bear witness to a different reality. John is a man of the desert. He totally separates himself from the world in order to give testimony of another world.
Moreover, John's manner of dressing bears witness as well. He does not clothe himself in the garments of the leaders of his day
The gospels tell us that he eats locusts and wild honey. Like his living conditions and his dress, his food is also simple.
John's preaching is a witness of the truth. His message is effective because he is completely empty of himself. He does not preach himself. He points to someone beyond himself. "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" (Matthew 3: 11).
John, the great witness, preaches the truth of Christ to the massive crowds of people that listen to him.
These are people who are hungry for the truth.
They are tired of the burdens imposed upon them by their own leaders, the Pharisees and the foreign leaders represented by King Herod.
The human soul cannot be kept locked up in the body by repressive systems that continue to lie.
John's ultimate witness comes in his death.
John is a man who is one with his mission and his message. His is incapable of denying either one. In any age the truth will always meet opposition. In any age, there are those who hear only what they want to hear. In any age, there are those who will do anything in order to continue living a lie - even kill.
John the Baptist is still relevant for us because as in any age, our age has an urgent need for disciples like John the Baptist. Our world has an urgent need for witnesses.
John the Baptist immerses himself with the people that he came to prepare for the coming of Jesus. He is not stuck in an office or a member of some committee. Flashy programs and advertising campaigns do not move people. Authentic Christians do.
We can look to the witness of the John the Baptist and from him we can learn how to evangelize a challenging world.
People cannot resist a witness like John. Many people provide messages that they themselves do not live up to. But John not only preaches a message, he is the message. Because his beliefs and his actions are one and the same, people listen to what he says. He is an authentic witness ...
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