As we anticipate this feast of the Church, we recognize that our life should be consumed for the sake of the Gospel. We don't even have to lose our heads, only join our hearts to His and live out our lives as devoted men and women to our Lord Jesus Christ.
WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - On August 29 we will celebrate the Memorial of the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist. Seen as the last prophet of the Old Testament and the first prophet of the New, St. John has always been an icon of one who not only spoke the truth but also challenged his hearers with a call to action. He knew that truth always demanded a decision.
Like his successor, St. Paul, who described his own vocation in Galatians 1:15, John the Baptist was set apart by God from his mother's womb and called by His grace. Even before his birth, he leaped for joy as he came into the presence of the Son of God within Mary's womb.
Truly he was, as Isaiah said, one crying in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord. His burden was to awaken the people to this incredible good news, letting them know that the one for whom they had been waiting - the Messiah - would be coming soon.
St. John the Baptist also wanted to be sure that the way was prepared for His coming - recognizing the way that had to be prepared was not a road of stones and dirt, but a highway of the heart. He called for people to repent and be baptized, washed of the burdens of this life that they could hear the Words of the Master when He came.
This baptism was only a foreshadowing of the one to come in Christ's Church. While his prepared the way, the sacrament would be a conveyor of grace.
On this feast day, however, we are focused on martyrdom, his beheading. He died for the faith for which he lived. The consequences of his heralding the good news and a call to righteousness cost him his life.
He was condemned by the decree of King Herod, who himself was caught in the clutches of a vengeful wife, Herodias, formerly the wife of his brother, Philip. He was also held captive by the throws of lust toward the daughter of Herodias. The account of Herod's treachery contains more drama than a modern day soap opera.
St. John's martyrdom reminds us that the most important vocation for all Christians, Catholic and Protestant alike, is living out the Gospel. We are called to proclaim the Good News of Christ both in word and deed, which sometimes can put us in some tense situations.
Let's face it, the Gospel can become inflammatory and even more so as a culture moves farther and farther away from core values of moral living. For this reason we are reminded by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 4 that we must speak the truth in love.
For several decades both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have been calling upon Catholic Christians be become involved in the New Evangelization. In fact, Pope Benedict has made this the theme for World Youth Day 2013 in Brazil.
Over the years, evangelization has been stereotyped as an attempt by self-righteous individuals to impose their values on others. Nothing could be further from the truth!
Evangelization is a movement that begins in the heart, where a Christian, whose life has been given over to Jesus Christ, eagerly shares that good news of the coming of Christ and His Kingdom into the world.
The believer also wants to let all know of Christ's passion, death and resurrection which has overcome the world, the flesh and the devil. More than anything, he or she wants others to be able to participate in this glorious and wondrous relationship with the living God, the fullness of which is found in the Catholic faith.
Such a testimony doesn't come from self-righteous individuals, but those who have encountered the living Christ through His Word and Sacraments.
From the Gospel reading appointed for the Memorial in Mark 6:17-29, we read "Herod feared John, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man, and kept him in custody. When he heard him speak he was very much perplexed, yet he liked to listen to him."
The King, although living a life of debauchery, felt something kindle in his heart when John preached. The truth was making an impact. As with any move of grace, the devil is quick to distract by re-ignited the fires of passion that the soul might be once again consumed with lust.
How like today, where the people who are hearing the Gospel and also being bombarded by messages laced with sensuality and images that inflame. It's no wonder they condemn the messenger as self-righteous as everything in them is being drawn away from the righteousness of God.
However we find the world, giving up on sharing the gospel is not an option. I'm an example of one who was touched by God's grace as my life was moving in the opposite direction.
Bill Bright was a Protestant minister who gave rise to the largest college movement for Christ in America as well as other parts of the world - Campus Crusade for Christ. He used to say, "success in witnessing [Ed - evangelization] is simply sharing Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit and leaving the results to God."
While we may not be able to control the recipient, we can prepare ourselves for the work of evangelization. The keys are found in Herod's assessment of St. John the Baptist. He was holy and righteous.
By living our faith on a daily basis, through such disciplines as prayer, reading Scripture, attending daily Mass, praying the Offices of the Church and the Rosary, we can become equipped with His love and grace for this work. Our sharing of His Gospel can come through the power of His Spirit.
Many have described the results of evangelization as being a new birth - as men and women of all ages are "born again" by water and the Spirit. How does this new birth begin? By those in the womb of life encountering the One in Mary's womb and leaping for joy.
Randy Sly is the Associate Editor of Catholic Online and the CEO/Associate Publisher for the Northern Virginia Local Edition of Catholic Online (http://virginia.catholic.org). He is a former Archbishop of the Charismatic Episcopal Church who laid aside that ministry to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church.
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