August 28, 2016

The Passion of Saint John the Baptist

The beheading of St. John the Baptist

August 29th, the Church celebrates the passion of Saint John the Baptist. He was the cousin of Jesus, the son of Elizabeth and Zachariah, and the nephew of the Blessed Virgin Mary. John heralds Christ in his miraculous birth and his ministry as preacher, and martyr. Apart from Jesus and our Lady, John the Baptist is the only one whose birth and death are commemorated by the Church. Mark's Gospel relates the events of his execution (Mark 6:17-29):

"Herod was the one who had John the Baptist arrested and bound in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, whom he had married. John had said to Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife." Herodias harbored a grudge against him and wanted to kill him but was unable to do so. 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. She had an opportunity one day when Herod, on his birthday, gave a banquet for his courtiers, his military officers, and the leading men of Galilee. Herodias’ own daughter came in and performed a dance that delighted Herod and his guests. The king said to the girl, "Ask of me whatever you wish and I will grant it to you." He even swore many things to her, "I will grant you whatever you ask of me, even to half of my kingdom." She went out and said to her mother, "What shall I ask for?" She replied, "The head of John the Baptist." The girl hurried back to the king’s presence and made her request, "I want you to give me at once on a platter the head of John the Baptist." The king was deeply distressed, but because of his oaths and the guests he did not wish to break his word to her. So he promptly dispatched an executioner with orders to bring back his head. He went off and beheaded him in the prison. He brought in the head on a platter and gave it to the girl. The girl in turn gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb."

"A Voice Crying Out in the Wilderness"

It is John the Baptist who urged repentance and proclaimed to the world the imminence of the Messiah. On the day of Christ's baptism, John immediately recognized Jesus as the long awaited "Anointed One". Later, upon hearing of John's imprisonment, Jesus said, "Then why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: ‘Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you.’ Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he" (Matthew 11:9-11). In reflecting upon the passion of John the Baptist, we call to mind the wisdom of Saint Paul: "The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed in us." (Romans 8:18) O God, who willed that Saint John the Baptist should go ahead of your Son both in his birth and in his death, grant that, as he died a Martyr for truth and justice, we, too, may fight hard for the confession of what you teach.

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