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SUNDAY HOMILY: The Happy Priest - John the Baptist is the Witness

By Fr. James Farfaglia
12/9/2012 (5 years ago)
Catholic Online (

Saint John the Baptist, a difficult personage of the Bible to understand and perhaps even to relate to, is very relevant for us today.

P>CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - Why is an obscure figure of the Bible relevant for us today? Why does the Catholic Church, on the Second Sunday of Advent, present John the Baptist for our reflection?

Saint John the Baptist commands our interest because he is a witness.  By his witness, he reminds us that we are called to be witnesses.  And in any age, to be a witness is challenging.

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 transcendent.

An angel announces his birth to a woman well beyond childbearing years.  His father is struck dumb for his disbelief.  As an infant, John, leaps in his mother's womb when he is in the presence of the Messiah's mother. 

Upon his birth, he is given not his father's name, but rather the name, John, which translates "Yahweh is gracious". With the giving of this name spoken by the angel, John's father, Zechariah, recovers his power of speech.

Thus the miraculous circumstances surrounding his beginnings give witness to a sacred world, a world reaching beyond time and space.

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.  Within his solitude he is able to hear the voice of God.

Between the center of Judea and the Dead Sea exists one of the most austere deserts of the world.  John the Baptist made this place his home.

"For God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low and the valleys filled up, to make level ground, so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God" (Baruch 5: 7).

John's manner of dressing bears witness as well.  He does not clothe himself in the garments of the leaders of his day.  And just as his location is counter-culture, going against the prevailing wisdom of his day, so also is his dress. 

Through his garment of camel's hair, John shows how important it is to be simple and detached from the things of this world. 

Riches make a soul soft and incapable of the rigorous walk of faith.  Obsession with the latest fad clouds our minds and prevents us from focusing on the things that are really important. 

John's food also bears witness.  The gospels tell us that he eats locusts and wild honey.  Like his living conditions and his dress, his food is also simple.

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 because he himself is authentic.

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.

"One mightier than I is coming after me.  I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.  I have baptized you with water; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit (Mark 1: 7-8).

Like Paul who comes after him, John is completely lost in the One whom he proclaims.

For this very reason Jesus cries out to the crowds: "I tell you, of all the children born to women, there is no one greater than John; yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he"  (Luke 7: 28).

John, the great witness, preaches the truth of Christ to the massive crowds.

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.

"The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God" (Luke 3: 4-6).

To those seeking the baptism that John offers the people in the waters of the Jordan, God gives the multitudes an opportunity to repent of their sins.  John's baptism is a testimony of the baptism that will eventually come through Jesus Christ.

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.  Jesus makes this very clear to those wishing to be his disciples.  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.

King Herod personifies those human beings who from the beginning of time until the end of time, choose to live a lie, rather than the truth.

From the depths of the dungeon, John's martyrdom is a testimony that every disciple of Jesus must never be afraid to proclaim the truth.   

Saint John the Baptist, a difficult personage of the Bible to understand and perhaps even to relate to, is very relevant for us today.

He is a great witness precisely because he is the link between the Old and New Testaments.  He is the last of the prophets who announces the coming of the Messiah.  He is the first of the disciples who proclaims his coming: "Behold, there is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world" (John 1: 29).

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.

We must witness that our identity is centered on true spirituality, and that our morality derives from that spirituality. 

We must witness that our faith challenges many of the values of the dominant secular culture.

We must witness that our traditions have great meaning for us.

We must witness that challenging commitments offer firm principles by which we may live our lives.

We must witness that adherence to traditional morality often comes at a considerable personal cost: perhaps of losing family, friends, even jobs.

We must witness that what we have found in Christ Jesus is true, real and worth living out to the ultimate consequence.

We must witness that our seeking solely for lasting happiness as the meaning of life is an indictment of the falsehoods of past generations.

We must witness by striving for personal holiness, authenticity and integration.  Witness has no room for complacency, hypocrisy, or self-indulgence.

To be a witness in this way is not an easy task.  We may stumble and fall many times.  However, the Lord will magnify our frail efforts into enormous accomplishments for the fulfillment of his salvific plan.

Advent is a special time of the year.  Let us come closer to Christ so that we can become a witness like Saint John the Baptist.

Father James Farfaglia is a contributing writer for Catholic Online and author of Get Serious! - A Survival Guide for Serious Catholics.  You can visit him on the web at and listen to the audio podcast of this Sunday homily.  


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