The Baptist: A Life for God

Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist 

June 24, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate one of the greatest figures of the Bible, John the Baptist. He prepared the way for the Lord.

John the Baptist
Icon of St. John the Baptist (16th c.) Dionysiou Monastery

When I think of John’s role in Salvation History, I am reminded of a captivating poem by Geoffrey Brown, author of Road of the Heart Cave:

The Heart Cave

I must remember

To go down to the heart cave
& sweep it clean; make it warm
with a fire on the hearth,
& candles in their niches,
the pictures on the walls
       glowing with a quiet light.
       I must remember

To go down to the heart cave
       & make the bed
with the quilt from home,
strew
the rushes on the floor
hang
lavender and sage
         from the corners.
         I must go down

                                           To the heart cave & be there
                                           when You come.


John the Baptist went down to the heart cave of our human perception of God.  He understood, in an inexpressible way, that God was about to do something astounding in human history.  God was about to become part of it!

John understood this with unquestioning faith, the way we understand heaven but cannot rationalize it. Understanding it, he knew that the world needed to turn itself toward God – to repent – in radical and ardent expectation.

This was his call and his message – this extraordinary man, dressed in his camel hair vestments, preaching at the desert’s edge.

We might pray to John today to be turned from anything that distracts us from God, to long for God’s presence in our hearts and in our world, to love deeply and make a welcome home for Christ within us.

( On this Feast, 53 years ago, my entrance companions and I professed our vows. I think of all of them with love today. May I humbly ask you, dear readers, to join me in prayer for us as we thank God for the gift of our lives in Mercy.)

Music: Apolytikion of the Synaxis of St. John the Baptist ( Dismissal Hymn of the Assembly for St. John the Baptist from the Greek Liturgy)

Be Light!

Thursday, April 4, 2019

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Jn5_35 light

Today, in Mercy, the Gospel gives us Jesus claiming his throne. He is setting his disciples straight before he is no longer with them. He drives home each of the pillars of his Messiahship, like so many stakes in the ground:

  • I have testimony greater than John’s.
  • The works that the Father gave me to accomplish,these works that I perform testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me.
  • The Father has testified on my behalf.
  • I came in the name of my Father.

Jesus is saying these things to his persecutors, but he says them for the benefit of his surrounding disciples. He wants them to remember these things to sustain them in the dark times to come.

In this passage, Jesus also pays a glorious compliment to John the Baptist:

He was a burning and shining lamp.

Now Jesus wants his followers, fired by their faith, to burn with an even greater light. He wants us to do the same, to burn with a flame steadied by Christ’s assurances, by the stunning testimony of his Passion, Death and Resurrection.

Music:  But Who May Abide the Day of His Coming – Handel

But who may abide the day of His coming, and who shall stand when He appeareth? For He is like a refiner’s fire.

Begin …

Monday, January 7, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, in this week after the Epiphany, we continue with John’s inspirational readings. They are intended to deepen us in love, truth and simplicity.

mt4_15

And we also have several Gospels this week that take us with Jesus as he begins his public ministry.

Today’s Gospel opens with a tinge of sadness. Jesus has just heard that John had been arrested. Reality dawns on them both that theirs will be no easy missionary journey. Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if these cousins could have teamed up, gone about preaching unhindered by the fears and bullying of the powerful?

But a free and easy story is not the one God chose to tell us, because our own stories are not always free and easy. Some, yes, more so than others. But all people suffer in some way and we all need a God who understands and shares that suffering.

So, “hearing that John had been arrested”, Jesus bravely begins. He goes to the Capernaum lakeshore where the common people gather to refresh themselves. He will find them hungry, confused, sinful, questioning, bereft, and battered. And he will begin by feeding and soothing them.

Where would Jesus begin with you? If you sat along that seashore in those first days, what would you lay before his tender mercy? Perhaps the need does not belong precisely to you, but to someone you love, someone who needs love in a harsh world.

Picture yourself there this morning. The sun begins to warm the salty edges of the sea. The crowd is large but quiet, as if they think themselves in church. Jesus looks out over all the gathered. But for one moment, his eyes meet yours, and that moment is enough to begin.

Music: Lord, You Have Come to the Lakeshore

Choices

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

          Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/082918.cfm

Today, in Mercy, we memorialize the Passion of St. John the Baptist, his imprisonment and beheading at the hands of Herod, the whim of Herodias, and the weakness of Salome. This incident, with its accompanying history and ensuing repercussions, is a classic psychological study in good and evil.

IMt 6_24_Baptist

The characters have repeated themselves in every generation:

Herod: the weak, corrupt, fearful man whose entire energy is spent satisfying himself at the cost of others
Herodias: the faithless, power-hungry schemer who will use any means to advance herself – the holder of grudges
Salome: the spineless sycophant who submits to her mother’s evil agenda is order to preserve her privilege
John: the enlightened protester who suffers the ultimate sacrifice for his beliefs

The passage, like all Bible stories, offers us an opportunity to measure ourselves, and our choices, against these ancestors. 

Bits of each of them rise up in us, challenging us over the course of a lifetime. Our challenges may not have the sweeping dramatic overtones of this story, but they still have the power to color our entire character.

  • Do I use my power for or against others?
  • Do I try to hurt, or shun, others because of my harbored grudges and selfish agendas?
  • How do I respond to the pressure to cooperate with, or ignore, evil?
  • Could my commitment to Christ withstand even death – not only physical death, but the death of a relationship, job, dream, or cherished possession?

John the Baptist dies because he has confronted the sins of Herod, Herodias and Salome. But they cannot disentangle themselves from their knotted immorality. They conspire to take John’s life physically, ultimately eternally strangling their own.

We all have choices – big and small. For George Jones in the attached song, the choice was about drinking. But the song works for whatever choice might divert us from the path to wholeness in God. Maybe we can plug in our own challenges as we listen. Maybe we can be braver the Herod, Herodias and Salome. Maybe John will inspire us!

Music: Choices – George Jones

John the Baptist – God’s Surpriser

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Solemnity of St. John the Baptist

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/062418-day-mass.cfm

sandal unworthy copy

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate John the Baptist of whom Jesus said, “no man greater has been born of women”.

Today’s Gospel talks about the surprise conception of John, and all the drama surrounding his birth. Several other Gospel passages tell us about John’s preaching, his challenges to Herod, and his eventual martyrdom at the request of Salome. These are worth a read today, if you have a little time, just to be reacquainted with this extraordinary man.

http://www.usccb.org/bible/matthew/3

http://www.usccb.org/bible/matthew/11

http://www.usccb.org/bible/matthew/14

John the Baptist was the living bridge between the Old Law and the New. He was the doorway from a religion of requirements to a religion of love. That bridge and doorway were built on a baptism of repentance in order to clear one’s heart to receive the Good News.

The magnificent Greek word for repentance is “metanoia” which indicates a turning of one’s mind and heart after realizing a new truth. Metanoia is to have awareness dawn on us, and to feel sorrow for our former blindness or hardness of heart.

May our prayer today help us to receive the grace of metanoia wherever our spirits are hardened or closed – or just plain deadened by routine. May we hear the Baptist calling to us, “Prepare your hearts – EVERYDAY- for the Lord. There is always room for you to be surprised by God.”

Music: Ut Queant Laxis ( English translation below)

“Utqueant laxis” or “Hymnus in Ioannem” is a Latin hymn in honor of John the Baptist written in Horatian Sapphics and traditionally attributed to Paulus Diaconus, the eighth-century Lombard historian. It is famous for its part in the history of musical notation, in particular solmization (do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do). The hymn is sung to a Gregorian chant, and introduces the original do-re-mi music.

1. O for your spirit, holy John, to chasten
Lips sin-polluted, fettered tongues to loosen;
So by your children might your deeds of wonder
Meetly be chanted.

2. Lo! a swift herald, from the skies descending,
Bears to your father promise of your greatness;
How he shall name you, what your future story,
Duly revealing.

3. Scarcely believing message so transcendent,
Him for a season power of speech forsaketh,
Till, at your wondrous birth, again returneth,
Voice to the voiceless.

4. You, in your mother’s womb all darkly cradled,
Knew your great Monarch, biding in His chamber,
Whence the two parents, through their offspring’s merits,
Mysteries uttered.

5. Praise to the Father, to the Son begotten,
And to the Spirit, equal power possessing,
One God whose glory, through the lapse of ages,
Ever resounding. Amen.