Memorial of the Passion of Saint John the Baptist
Thursday, August 29, 2019
Today, in Mercy, we commemorate the Passion of John the Baptist who, besides Mary, was the greatest saint embracing both the Old and the New Testaments.
When I was young, the memorial was simply referred to as “The Beheading of John the Baptist”. The term “passion” captures its meaning so much more clearly:
- it inclines us to realize the similarities between John’s passion and death and that of Jesus.
- it shifts the power of the event to John, who chose his fate by the courage of his witness, rather than to see Herod, the “beheader”, as the agent of the story.
John’s whole prophetic life was part of his “passion”. It inevitably led him to this ultimate confrontation with evil.
Walter Bruggemann, in his transformational book “The Prophetic Imagination” writes about prophets. He indicates that prophets emerge in the context of “totalism” – those paralyzing systems which attempt to control and dominate all freedom and possibility.
Totalism kills ideas, hope, freedom, choice, self-determination, and creativity for the sake of controlling reality for its own advantage. Totalism is the ultimate “abusive relationship “.
Brueggemann defines the prophet as one engaged in these three tasks:
- the prophet is clear on the force and illegitimacy of the totalism.
- the prophet pronounces the truth about the force of the totalism that contradicts the purpose of God.
- the prophet articulates the alternative world that God has promised, and that God is actually creating within the chaos around us.
Every age requires prophets because every age is infected with “Herods” trying to thwart God’s reign of love, mercy, truth, freedom, and joy. In our own time, the poison of totalism is quite evident in those systems fueled by racism, militarism, financial duplicity, desecration of the earth, and the sad array of other ideologies that cripple humanity.
Today, as we pray with this great saint, may we be inspired to respond to our own prophetic call – to be prophetic signs of love, mutual reverence, joy, Gospel justice,and lavish mercy for our world.
Music: I think of this song by Simon and Garfunkel as the modern day song of John the Baptist.