SATURDAY HOMILY: The Heedless
Artistic depictions of the Baptist, both on canvas and on the big screen, give a picture of a fiery, wild-eyed ascetic yelling at sinners, "Repent." This caricature, like all caricatures, is an exaggeration.
John the Baptist was an ascetic and a powerful preacher. But I would argue that he definitely was not an angry man who yelled at sinners. If he was angry at all, he wasn't angry at sinners. Rather, he was angry at sin. Would that all Christians were as upset with sin as was St. John the Baptist!
His message was strong and yet multitudes flocked to hear him and to be baptized by him. Even Herod Antipas whom John had publicly denounced for living in sin with his brother Philip's wife (who was also Herod's own niece) was drawn to him. "When he heard him speak he was very much perplexed, yet he liked to listen to him" (St. Mark 6:20)
In contrast, his "partner," Herodias, loathed John because he had called them out for their sin. John told Herod: "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife" (St. Mark 6:18). Herodias hated John for this and wanted to kill him and eventually had her way.
In Herod and Herodias we see two distinct reactions to the preaching of John. Herod, although "perplexed" by the Baptist's message, took pleasure in listening to him. This leads me to wonder if John the Baptist's life had not ended so soon whether Herod might have eventually converted. On this we can only speculate.
What is clear is that Herod was unfazed by the Baptist's indictment against him and Herodias. The only reason he put John in prison in the first place was to placate her.
Herod's impassivity toward John's rebuke is explainable when one considers the unspeakable sins and atrocities that Herod had witnessed while growing up in the uber dysfunctional household of his deranged and murderous father, Herod the Great.
The elder Herod executed countless numbers of his subjects and royal household as well as his wife, Mariame, and three of his sons. It was also this Herod who was responsible for the massacre of the Holy Innocents whose feast we will celebrate on December 28. Given this family history, Herod's marriage to his brother's wife must have scarcely seemed a sin.
As we have noted, Herodias' reaction to John's reproof was anything but passive. She harbored a deep hatred for John and would not rest until he was finally silenced once and for all. Fact is what she really hated was the truth of which John was merely the messenger.
As Christians, we are called to be messengers of the truth. And if we fulfill this task we will meet the likes of Herod and Herodias. Some will listen to us and remain indifferent. Others will take offense at us even if we have done our best to "speak the truth in love."
To my knowledge, one of the best ways to gain experience as a messenger of the truth is to stand and quietly pray on the sidewalk in front of an abortion mill. You don't need to bring anything with you except maybe your Rosary beads. It isn't even essential that you bring a pro-life sign or even literature.
Just stand there and pray. Soon enough you will meet the heedless Herods and the hateful Herodiases. If you're normal, the former will frustrate you and the latter will infuriate you. At that moment, think of the Baptist and ask him to help you and to help them.
As the world grows darker and evil appears to be gaining ground, God needs more John the Baptists, more faithful witnesses to the truth. Will you answer the call?
Let us turn to Holy Mary, the Queen of Martyrs, asking for her help and protection.
Fr. G. Peter Irving III is a priest of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and is Pastor of Holy Innocents Church, Long Beach, California.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: Fr. G. Peter Irving III, Holy Innocents Long Beach, St. John the Baptist, pro-life apostolate, speaking the truth in love,
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