JUNE 24, 2009, ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST: LUKE 1:57-66, 80

 

LOOK FOR THE ONE WHO COMES AFTER ME. My brothers, it was to us that this message of salvation was sent forth.Ē Saint John the Baptist has been a major figure in the Gospel message from the time of our Lord himself. He was an outspoken, prophetic man of a strikingly decisive character. He had been marked out from his conception as destined by God for a more than ordinary role in the affairs of his day. Already in the womb, Luke tells us, he responded to the presence of the newly conceived Savior as his mother heard the voice of Mary, who greeted her with joy. The striking assurance that John displayed throughout his life would appear to be rooted in the deep-seated, intra-uterine experience of joyous encounter with the Son of God through the visit of Mary, his relation according to the flesh. ďWhat will this child turn out to be?Ē, his neighbors wondered as they witnessed the extraordinary events surrounding his birth.

 

Only in recent times, after the discoveries at Qumran, has it become possible to obtain some plausible, detailed explanation of how he was prepared for the mission assigned him by God. Luke stated in regard to John that ďThe boy grew and was strengthened in spirit, and was in the desert until the day of his showing in Israel

There is nothing in the accounts of Johnís public ministry to suggest he was ever plagued by self-doubt. From the first his message rings out with impressive forcefulness in witness against prevailing attitudes and lifestyles. He announces that the times are critical; disaster threatens. Only by a conversion of heart can anyone be saved from the wrath to come. Saint Mark opens his Gospel with this urgent message of which John in the desert is a symbol as well as its prophetic voice. His dress, his separation from the city, and his simple, austere diet all conspire to witness to the arrival of a time of radical change and call for a new beginning that is signified by his baptism of metanoia, that is by a change of mentality.

 

When Jesus himself prepares to enter upon his active ministry, he submits to Johnís baptism, and insists upon receiving it when John recognizes him as Godís chosen one. In accepting to be baptized by the hand of John, Jesus, as Pope Benedict points out, adopts the ascetic life of which the Baptist is the representative. Ascending from the waters our Lord goes out into the desert where he is tempted, thereby becoming the founder of what would become the monastic way of life. Saint Benedict was later to recognize the role of John the Baptist in these beginnings, and so dedicated a chapel he built at Monte Casino in Johnís honor, making him a patron of Benedictine monks.

 

We are all familiar with the subsequent history of John, how he proved faithful to his prophetic witness, pointing out Christ to his most promising followers who left him to become collaborators with Jesus in his mission to found the New Israel. In the end, the Baptist proved to be too blunt for the authorities in his fervent witness to Godís holiness. He is imprisoned and finally beheaded by Herod at the behest of Herodias and her daughter when he refuses to be silenced.

 

Johnís witness, however, continued on, during Jesusí lifetime. Indeed, any number of people thought the Lord was John the Baptist as he went about announcing the arrival of the end times and the need for metanoia by way of preparing the coming of the kingdom of God.

 

Johnís mission continues through the centuries. As Cardinal Danielou explains, the Baptist carries on his mission of preparing hearts for receiving the message of the Gospel by his intercession obtaining the grace needed to recognize in the person of Jesus, the Son of God, announced by the voice from heaven as Jesus ascended from the baptism of John. John is not only Patron of those who follow Jesus as members of the Benedictine family, he prepares the way of the Lord in the desert of our world. As we honor him today at this Eucharist, we thank God for the witness of this holy prophet. May we too experience something of that same pure joy that was the first expression of Johnís encounter with Jesus, his Savior and ours. &


Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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