Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

6/24/2014 (7 months ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Let us consider what the Lord meant by John's greatness. Let us further consider the joy and freedom which it brought to his life.

In a beautiful excerpt from a sermon of St. Augustine on John the Baptizer, the great Bishop of Hippo calls us to pause and reflect on the reason we celebrate his first birth - 'The Church observes the birth of John as in some way sacred; and you will not find any other of the great men of old whose birth we celebrate officially. We celebrate John's, as we celebrate Christ's. This point cannot be passed over in silence, and if I may not perhaps be able to explain it in the way that such an important matter deserves, it is still worth thinking about it a little more deeply and fruitfully than usual.'

The Nativity of John the Baptist

The Nativity of John the Baptist

Highlights

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

6/24/2014 (7 months ago)

Published in U.S.

Keywords: John the Baptist, freedom, holiness, happiness, holiness, living faith, saints, prophecy, prophetic, penance, repentance, Deacon Keith Fournier


CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - John the Baptizer is a man to be imitated in both life and death. We can learn from him how to live our lives as joyful penitents; ever aware of our utter dependency on God's grace. It is sin which leads us into slavery and takes away our joy. Only by being freed from its entanglement can we become happy and flourish in both life and death.

The last prophet of the Old Testament, the forerunner of the Messiah, was killed by a corrupted King who gave in to lust, pride and grandiosity. John never stopped bearing witness to the truth. He had the eyes to see that Truth was fully revealed in Jesus, the one whom he proclaimed the "Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world." (John 1:29)

St. John the Baptizer was a simple man, not a member of the elite. He was stirred by conscience and the Holy Spirit to throw convention to the wind. He paid dearly for it. As Christians we inherit the abundant fruit of his daring and liberating choices. The way he exercised the great gift of his human freedom instructs us in exercising our own.

On June 24 in the Western Liturgical calendar we celebrate the Birth of John the Baptizer. Our Gospel at the Vigil Mass recounts the visit of an angel to his father.  (Luke 1:5-17) On August 29, we commemorate his death by beheading. The Gospel passage at Mass for his martyrdom is taken from Mark's account of a corrupt King named Herod who unlawfully married his own brother's wife. Her name was Herodias. (Mk. 6:17-29)

John confronted Herod over the matter. He called him to account for his unlawful and immoral behavior. A true prophet of God, John did not fear the powerful. He cared enough about their souls that he called them to repentance when they exercised their power in a corrupt manner or when they failed to choose what is true and good.

Even after Herod had John imprisoned, the King still listened to him. The Gospel text tells us, '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.'

Herod could have met the Lord Jesus Christ, whom he had longed to see in person. However, he gave himself over to a life of immorality and disordered passion. As a result of wrong choices he lost his capacity to see the truth and choose to follow it. It is a sad story, repeated throughout history.   

Herodias held a grudge against John because he had the audacity to question her behavior. She wanted him killed. Herod did not grant her request. Instead, he kept him imprisoned. Unsatisfied, Herodias hatched a plot against John. She had her own daughter seduce Herod while he was entertaining guests,  through a dance.

Overcome with lust, in a drunken fit of grandiosity, Herod promised the girl she could have anything in return for that dance. As a part of a plot which her own mother had hatched, she asked for the head of John the Baptizer. After his martyrdom, his disciples took away his body and laid it in the tomb. Most of them became disciples of Jesus. 

The last prophet of the Old Testament, the forerunner of the Messiah, was killed by a corrupted King who gave in to lust, pride and grandiosity. John never stopped bearing witness to the truth. He had the eyes to see that Truth was fully revealed in Jesus, the one whom he proclaimed the 'Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.' (John 1:29) Because of this, the Christian tradition has hailed him as a martyr.

Other than the Lord Himself and His Blessed Mother, Mary, John is the only Saint for whom we celebrate both his birth and his death. Since the first century, the day of a Christian martyrs Death was considered dies natalis, the day of his or her birth to eternal life. So, in a sense, today we celebrate the second birth of John.

In a beautiful excerpt from a sermon of St. Augustine on John the Baptizer, the great Bishop of Hippo calls us to pause and reflect on the reason we celebrate his first birth:

'The Church observes the birth of John as in some way sacred; and you will not find any other of the great men of old whose birth we celebrate officially. We celebrate John's, as we celebrate Christ's. This point cannot be passed over in silence, and if I may not perhaps be able to explain it in the way that such an important matter deserves, it is still worth thinking about it a little more deeply and fruitfully than usual.'

Let's do just that. St Matthew records these words of Jesus concerning the one who prepared the way for Him: 'I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.' (Mt. 11:11, 12)

Let us consider what the Lord meant by John's greatness. Let us further consider the joy and freedom which it brought to his life. 

Our image of John is often as the austere ascetic, the odd fellow who lived in the desert eating an odd diet thundering to Israel about repentance. We forget the joy that was associated with his birth and the happiness which accompanied his prophetic life and vocation. He always pointed the way to Jesus. 

So must we, in our own age and in our daily lives. When we begin to really understand this we will also comprehend the freedom John the Baptizer experienced in both life and death. He said yes to who he was born to be and said yes to who he was called to become, all the way into eternity.

In so doing, he is an example for each one of us. He prepared the way for each one of us to follow. When Our Lady went to visit her kinswoman Elizabeth - she carrying the Incarnate Word and Elizabeth carrying John - the Gospel tells us: 'When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said:"Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.

'And how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.' And Mary said: 'My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.' (Luke 1: 41-47)

Living in the first home of the whole human race, his mother's womb, this last Prophet of the Old Testament and First Prophet of the New responded to the arrival of Jesus the Savior with a dance of Joy. St. John the great theologian records in his Gospel where John the Baptizer explained the reason for his joy, 'The one who has the bride is the bridegroom; the best man, who stands and listens for him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. So this joy of mine has been made complete. He must increase; I must decrease.' (John 1:29 - 30)

John the Baptizer was a man of joy precisely because he was a man of humility! The two are connected. He was a man who understood that life wasn't all about him. He emptied himself willingly and was thus able to reveal Jesus to others. He was the 'best man' at the wedding.

His humility opened a space within him for true joy to take root and set him free! John is a sign of contradiction for this present age, which, like herod, is drunk on self worship and lost in narcissistic self absorption. He points to the path to true freedom, living a lifestyle of self emptying.'He must increase and I must decrease'. This way of living leads to becoming a new creation. (2 Cor. 5:17)

John is a man to be imitated in both life and death. We learn from him how to live our lives as joyful penitents; ever aware of our utter dependency on God's grace. It is sin which leads us into slavery and takes away our joy. Only by being freed from its entanglement can we become happy. (See, Romans 6: 6, 7 and Gal. 5:1)  John still points to Jesus, in both his birth and his martyr's death. That is why we celebrate both.

Two millennia after his illustrious mission as the harbinger of Christ, we readily accept, as we should, his prophetic role in the revelation of God's plan of salvation and the advent of the Gospel. Yet, how might we have seen John if we had been his contemporaries? Would we have so readily accepted him, or might we have rejected him as a fanatic or extremist?

Let's face it: John was peculiar. He dressed like a cave man, ate insects and railed at politicians for their fornication and marital infidelity. He sequestered himself in the desert where he tirelessly initiated converts fleeing the sinful pollution of the cities. He proclaimed the end if the people failed to repent and he used vivid and mystical imagery. In the popular "media" of the day, he was portrayed as a nut and dangerous fanatic.

By standing apart, boldly calling out evil doers without regard to their prestige or rank, by challenging his own co-religionists, John made himself terribly unpopular. At the end, he publicly and relentlessly criticized the personal behavior of the most powerful politician in Judea, Herod. As a result he was arrested and executed as a traitor.

Today we tend to reject those who similarly publicly decry sin and heresy. Street preachers, prophets and clerics who confront sinful policies, bad behavior and false ideologies are decried as trouble makers, fanatics and dangerous "extremists".

St. John the Baptizer was a simple man, not a member of the elite. He was stirred by conscience and the Holy Spirit to throw convention to the wind.He paid dearly for it. As Christians we inherit the abundant fruit of his daring and liberating choices. The way he exercised the great gift of his human freedom instructs us in exercising our own.

The Lord desires our human flourishing and happiness. He wants us to be free. He invites us to choose Him over our own selfish pursuits. In that continual choosing we are freed and made new.  In Jesus Christ we have been given all that we need to overcome the obstacles which impede us from that freedom.

Because of sin, our freedom was fractured. Through grace given by the splint of the wood of the Cross it can be  healed. By cooperating with grace, we are capacitated to choose what is true, to choose the good. In those choices we become the men and women the Lord wants us to become, as we are re-created in Christ.

Notice the language with which we discuss eternal life and heaven. We speak of receiving the receiving the 'beatific vision' when we finally stand in His presence and enter into the fullness of communion.  The word 'beatitude' actually means happiness! Living in the Lord will make us happy; not only in the life to come - but beginning in this life.

Too often we associate repentance with some kind of wrong- headed self hatred. To the contrary, for those who have been schooled in its lessons like John the Baptizer, the way of voluntary penitence and conversion becomes the path to true joy. Blessed John Paul II wrote frequently about human freedom. In one of his letters of instruction on the Christian family he wrote these insightful words: 'History is not simply a fixed progression toward what is better - but rather, an event of freedom. Specifically, it is a struggle between freedoms that are in mutual conflict: a conflict between two loves - the love of God to the point of disregarding self and the love of self to the point of disregarding God.' (John Paul II, Christian Family in the Modern World, n. 6)

This conflict between two loves, this 'event of freedom', is played out on a daily basis. The recurring questions of Eden echo in our personal histories. How will we exercise our own human freedom? At which tree will we make our choices? Will it be the tree of disobedience, where the first Adam chose against God's invitation to a communion of love, or the tree on Golgotha's hill where the second Adam, the Son of God, brought heaven to earth when He stretched out His arms to embrace all men and women, bearing the consequences of all their wrong choices and setting them free from the law of sin and death? (Romans 8:2)

John the Baptizer was free. He knew the answer to those questions. He freely gave himself away in love for Love. That response in our lives is the path to true freedom. Living that way, we can also grow in courage and be used by the Lord in ways which will surprise us.  

Let me conclude with some words from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one's own responsibility. By free will one shapes one's own life. Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude.

'As long as freedom has not bound itself definitively to its ultimate good which is God, there is the possibility of choosing between good and evil, and thus of growing in perfection or of failing and sinning. This freedom characterizes properly human acts. It is the basis of praise or blame, merit or reproach. The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to 'the slavery of sin.' (CCC 1731 - 1733).

The choice is ours. Just as it was with John the Baptizer. He shows us the way to give away our own freedom in love - and find it made new in the One who truly sets us free. (John 8:36).

---


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'


2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for January 2015
General Intention:
That those from diverse religious traditions and all people of good will may work together for peace.
Missionary Intention: That in this year dedicated to consecrated life, religious men and women may rediscover the joy of following Christ and strive to serve the poor with zeal.



Comments


More U.S.

The Prophetic Dream of Don Bosco and the Leadership of the Pope

Image of The saint saw the Church as a great Ship of Peter surrounded by a flotilla of other vessels. They were engaged in intense warfare. At the helm of the Church was the Pope who at one point in a fierce battle fell mortally wounded. The enemies of the Church closed in sensing this was their moment. In the vision two columns then emerged from the great ocean

By Deacon Keith Fournier

This vision could describe what is occurring in our own day. Visions use symbols to communicate. They often have numerous applications and interpretations. We have been blessed with successors of Peter who are steering Christ's Church through those two columns, ... continue reading


For the first time in 100 years, Yosemite National Park hosts extremely rare sighting of the Sierra Nevada red fox Watch

Image of For the first time in 100 years, the Sierra Nevada red fox has been spotted in the Yosemite National Park.

By Abigail James (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

In the first confirmed sighting in nearly 100 years, the rare Sierra Nevada red fox has been captured with motion-sensitive cameras in the Yosemite National Park. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "We are thrilled to hear about the sighting of the Sierra Nevada red ... continue reading


Disaffected Colorado teenager who tried to join ISIS gets four years in prison Watch

Image of After serving four years in prison, 19-year-old Shannon Conley must spend three years of supervised release and serve community service.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Poor choices made in youthful hast have consequences. Nineteen-year-old Shannon Conley, from Colorado has been sentenced to four years in prison for attempting to join Islamic State. At the heart of this disturbing story is an Internet romance that went ... continue reading


Coin collectors of the world eagerly line up to see 1822 Half Eagle at convention Watch

Image of Historically, nearly 18,000 of the $5 pieces were minted in 1822. As the concentration of gold was lowered in coins after 1834, most of the earlier coins were melted down for gold.

By Troy Dredge, Catholic Online

One of the rarest coins in the U.S., the 1822 Half Eagle, originally worth only $5, will make its first public appearance in more than three decades in Long Beach this weekend. There are only three of the coins known still in existence. The coin will go on ... continue reading


California's Kern County declares state of FISCAL EMERGENCY with plunging gas prices Watch

Image of Supervisors adopted a plan to immediately begin scaling back county spending rather than making deep reductions all at once in July.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Kern County, in central California, relies heavily on its petroleum industry for tax revenues. While motorists nationwide are currently enjoying lower gas prices, this spells certain disaster for the County of Kern - officials there have declared a fiscal ... continue reading


Could terrorists attempt to attack the White House with a drone? Crash sparks debate over future use of drones in war Watch

Image of A small, four propeller drone, crashed on the White House lawn, spurring a discussion on whether drones may be used by terrorist groups in the future.

By Matt Waterson (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

A two-foot-long, four propeller drone crashed onto the White House grounds yesterday, raising troubling questions that drones could be utilized by terrorists or other potential murderers to attack the White House or other U.S. government institutions that have ... continue reading


The Thrill of the Chaste: Matt C. Abbott Interviews Dawn Eden Watch

Image of Dawn Eden, author of the highly-acclaimed My Peace I Give You and the Catholic edition of The Thrill of the Chaste

By Matt C. Abbott

Being a member of the Mystical Body of Christ, and receiving Jesus' own Body and Blood in the Eucharist, has given me a deeper understanding of the meaning of being embodied. I see more clearly how chastity enables one to love fully in each relationship, in the ... continue reading


GOP teams up with Israeli prime minister to forcefully override Obama's Iran policy Watch

Image of

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

House Speaker John Boehner is seeking to enlist Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to support a congressional plan to override President Obama's Iran policy on March 3. Boehner hopes to bring Netanyahu to a joint session of the House and Senate. Boehner ... continue reading


The Prophetic Connection Between the March for Life and the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Watch

Image of

By Deacon Keith Fournier

It is no accident that the March for Life always falls within the National Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It is prophetic.We have been thrown together in a common defense of life in a western culture which has lost its moral compass. Our Marching together ... continue reading


Early Christian Deacon and Martyr Vincent Calls Us to Heroic Christian Witness in a Hostile Culture Watch

Image of Vincent was born in the Third Century in Huesca, Spain and born again to eternal life only four days into the fourth century. He lived in Saragossa where he served the holy Bishop Valerius as a Deacon.He was one of the scores of Christians who suffered brutal persecution under the evil Roman emperor named Diocletian. Diocletian is associated with the last of the ten persecutions of the nascent undivided Christian Church of the first millennium of our history.  Like many early deacons of the undivided Church such as Stephen, Lawrence and Ephrem, the hagiography which has been passed down through the Church records his holiness of life and heroic virtue. He lived the way he died, as a sign of the power of the Gospel and the truth of the presence of the Risen Jesus Christ in our midst.

By Deacon Keith Fournier

The Deacon Vincent was a man like us who encountered the same Risen Lord Jesus whom we have encountered. He struggled with the choices which always accompany living the Christian life in the midst of a culture which has squeezed God and His truth out of the ... continue reading


All U.S. News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19
1 Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope ... Read More

Psalm, Luke 1:69-70, 71-72, 73-75
69 and he has established for us a saving power in ... Read More

Gospel, Mark 4:35-41
35 With the coming of evening that same day, he said ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for January 31st, 2015 Image

St. John Bosco
January 31: What do dreams have to with prayer? Aren't they just random ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter