John the Baptist


Yesterday we celebrated the Solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist. Once a month I am the spiritual director for the call-in spiritual direction show called "The Inner Life" on Relevant Radio. I began yesterday's show by talking about St. John the Baptist and what he has to teach us.

1. Humility. As the crowds came to John in the desert and wondered whether he might be the much-anticipated messiah, he could have claimed that title and had a great popular following. But he didn't. Committed to the truth, he pointed to the real messiah, his cousin Jesus. Humility means that we are honest with ourselves (and others) and that means recognizing that we are creatures in need of God. The world does not revolve around us. Or, as the common expression goes: "It's not about you!" The best definition of humility that I've heard is this: "Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less." In other words, humility does not mean putting ourselves down or beating ourselves us. When we do this we are still the center of our attention. True humility is taking the focus off ourselves and putting it on God and neighbor. That's exactly what Jesus said the greatest commandment was: loving God and neighbor. Humility is the foundation of the other virtues. Without humility, other virtues--patience, chastity, temperance, faith, hope, and even love--can become sources of the pride that precedes the fall.

2. Dying to self. John the Baptist shows us that the way to humility and holiness is to die to self. This means dying to our self-centeredness. It means drawing attention not to ourselves but to Christ. It means making an offering of ourselves to God for His service and glory. This is the meaning of John the Baptist's famous phrase which would be a good Scripture quote to memorize and keep in mind throughout the day: "He must increase; I must decrease" (John 3: 30).

3. Being the voice of the Word. When asked who he was, John replied, quoting Isaiah: "I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, make straight the way of the Lord" (John 1: 23). We are called to be People of the Word, people who pray with the Scriptures so that the Word of God becomes part of us. Then, as we go about our daily lives, we will give voice to that Word. That doesn't mean quoting Scripture passages at people as much as living the Word and expressing it through our words and the deeds which speak louder than words. It means giving flesh to Gospel values and witnessing to those values in the way we live.

4. Witnessing to the truth. John witnessed to the truth. He witnessed to Jesus who called Himself "the way and the truth and the life" (John 14: 6). He also witnessed to the truth of the moral order, confronting King Herod who was living in sin. This led to the ultimate witness of his martyrdom where he showed that moral principles are greater than physical life. We can paraphrase Jesus here: What does it profit a person to gain a few more years of earthly life and in the process lose his or her integrity, conscience, and soul? For most of us, witnessing to the truth won't lead to death but rather rejection or hurtful words. People will get angry at us or make fun of us and we will have an opportunity to die to human praise and our own vanity, our need to be accepted and liked. In that way, we will decrease but Jesus will increase.

St. John the Baptist, pray for us that we too may be courageous voices for Jesus in the world today!