I have written much on my old blog on St. John the Baptist, one of my favorite saints. It is clear that the Byzantine Catholics, and the Eastern Orthodox Church have a strong devotion to this saint, which seems to be lacking in the Latin Rite. Remember, however, that the Knights of Malta hold St. John as their main patron, and the cathedral in Valletta not only is dedicated to him, but holds the famous Caravaggio Beheading, a magnificent painting.
I think that one of the reasons why Westerners no longer have great love for this cousin of Our Lord, and called by Christ, the “greatest man”, huge praise from God.
Matthew 11:9-11 Douay-Rheims
9 But what went you out to see? a prophet? yea I tell you, and more than a prophet.
10 For this is he of whom it is written: Behold I send my angel before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee.
11 Amen I say to you, there hath not risen among them that are born of women a greater than John the Baptist: yet he that is the lesser in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
Yet, the West seems not to honor John as it should. Why? Perhaps this pericope shows us the mystery of John the Baptist.
First of all, Christ raises up John while he is still in his mother’s womb. John was born without Original Sin, although conceived in Original Sin. The First Baptized becomes the Baptizer.
Therefore, he is “greater” because of his purity of heart, mind, soul, body, imagination, will. He reaches perfection through Christ immediately, not through the struggle most of us have to endure; all those steps related in the perfection series.
John is greater than all others as he is chosen and given grace to prepare the earth for the Incarnated One. John prepares even some of the to-be-called apostles to follow Christ. John’s service and humility outshine that of all other saints, baptizing Christ and being aware that his days are numbered when the Messiah appears.
Yet, this man keeps preaching and baptizing until he is arrested and finally killed. He is fearless in the face of death, and unlike those prophets died before him,he sees the King and the Kingdom of God clearly. He is the last prophet of the Old Testament and the first prophet in the New Testament.
Second, John dies for Truth, for Christ. We call St. Stephen the First Martyr of the Church but St John is the last martyr killed by the Jews, as were all his brother prophets, for Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Prophet and martyr, John remains a saint “for our times”.
Perhaps, I shall pray in St. John’s Cathedral again someday.
But, one big reason that Westerners, especially the English and Americans are mystified by St. John, is that he shows us the zeal. For many people, zeal is a dirty, dangerous word, connected to terrorism, pogroms, holocausts, religious civil wars, and so on. Zeal, for most Catholics, is to be avoided. One must not “rock the boat” or be “too zealous” for the faith. Oh no, to be zealous is to be “extreme” and we cannot in our mediocre culture, live with extremists.
In the book, Jesus Living in Mary: Handbook of the Spirituality of St. Louis de Montfort, 1994, Montfort Publications, the author notes this:
St. Thomas Aquinas presents zeal as an intense impulse of love and friendship: “Zeal, considered from any of its aspects, flows from an intensity of love. . . . The love of friendship seeks the good of the friend. When it is intense, then, it impels the one who loves to act against anything that might impede the friend’s good. Thus, those are said to be zealous for their friends if they strive to repress words or deeds contrary to these friends’ good.”
The expressions of zeal that Montfort employs in this communication have been constants throughout his life. They have tempered and matured, but they have never ceased developing: zeal for the Cross, and zeal for divine Wisdom. No power on earth can separate him from these. In LPM, Montfort manifests the same “divine jealousy” that Paul experienced in his soul with regard to Christians he had evangelized: “Remember, then, my dear children, my joy, my glory and my crown (Phil. 4:1), to have a great love for Jesus and to love him through Mary. Let your true devotion to your loving Mother Mary be manifest everywhere and to everyone, so that you may spread everywhere the fragrance of Jesus and, carrying your cross steadfastly after our good Master, gain the crown and kingdom which is waiting for you” (LPM 2).
All my life, I have heard people tell me I am too zealous, too extreme. I do not fit into the ordinary middle-class life into which I was, gratefully, born. Zeal scares people. Zeal demands attention and an answer. If one is zealous for truth, deceit becomes angry. If one is zealous for charity, one is considered naive or imprudent. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta has just as many critics as supporters.
Those who are passionate about real Catholic education and homeschool have plenty of opposition. Those who stand up against the sins of the nation, and I do not have to list those now enshrined in law, are criticized for being un-American, hateful. Those who defend the family are seen as cultural dinosaurs, and their zeal is mocked.
If John the Baptist teaches us one lesson, especially today on this, his second feast of the liturgical year, it is that zeal allow Christ to come into the world. He prepared the world for the coming of the Messiah and suffered the consequences of a world so evil it could not accept the Second Son of the Blessed Trinity. The Cross, as well as the Beheading of St. John the Baptist, shows us the seeming victory of mediocrity over truth and zeal.
True zeal bubbles out of love, out of purity of heart. False zeal grows out of egotism.
May our love lead to real zeal.
From today’s NO:
Jeremiah 1:17-19 Douay-Rheims
17 Thou therefore gird up thy loins, and arise, and speak to them all that I command thee. Be not afraid at their presence: for I will make thee not to fear their countenance.
18 For behold I have made thee this day a fortified city, and a pillar of iron, and a wall of brass, over all the land, to the kings of Juda, to the princes thereof, and to the priests, and to the people of the land.
19 And they shall fight against thee, and shall not prevail: for I am with thee, saith the Lord, to deliver thee.
May I also add, that Herod, accordingly to today’s Gospel, was afraid of St. John, as Herod knew he was a good and holy man. Interesting. Even those who do evil recognize good, but want to destroy good.