Beheading of St. John the Baptist

Scripture Readings: 2 Thess 3:6-10,16-18; Mk 6:17-29      

In one Charlie Brown comic strip, Lucy and her younger brother, Linus, are uncharacteristically holding hands and smiling benevolently at each other on a bright December day before Christmas. Lucy says, “We’re brother and sister and we love each other.” Charlie Brown throws his hands up into the air, and declares, “You’re hypocrites, that’s what you are! Do you really think you can fool Santa Claus this way?” Lucy replies with smug confidence, “Why not? We’re a couple of sharp kids, and he’s just an old man.” In the last frame Charlie Brown leans his head against the trunk of a leafless tree and says, “I weep for our generation!

Now that’s not a bad way to describe prophets like Jeremiah and Ezekiel, or the greatest of them all, John the Baptist. They weep and intercede for each generation. They know who is coming to gather the wheat and burn the chaff, whose eyes are all seeing and whose face is like the sun shining in all its splendor.

John the Baptist is a hard act to follow, but he is a good role model for monks, he lived in desert places (Lk 1:80). He was a man of prayer who taught his disciples how to pray (Lk 11:1). He fasted often (Lk 5:33), abstaining from wine and living on an austere diet of locusts and wild honey (Mk 1:6). He practiced self-renunciation saying, “He must increase and I must decrease” (Jn 3:30). He proclaimed the need to share one’s goods with the poor (Lk 3:10-14). He was truly seeking God, waiting for the One who was to come (Lk 7:18-23). He was celibate, and lived in poverty. And he was attentive to the Word of God, quoting by heart from the prophet Isaiah, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’ ” (Jn 1:23). From the warm safe little cell in his mother’s womb to the dark dangerous cell in Herod’s prison, John the Baptist was a monastic prophet who wept and interceded for his generation as we try to do for ours today.

In Christ, we are all called to be priests, prophets and kings. Even a lawyer can be a Christian prophet! When a large pharmaceutical company stopped using mice for their lab experiments and started using lawyers instead, they were asked why and replied: “First, there are more lawyers than mice. Second, our scientists don’t get attached to lawyers the way they do to mice. And third, there are some things that mice just won’t do!” Now, not all lawyers are like that. In the year 1756 there was a good Christian Quaker named John Woolman who was 36 years old. His conscience bothered him for handling the sale of slaves until he finally decided there was one thing he would not do: he would no longer write a bill of sale for clients selling slaves. He believed slavery was wrong, and he suffered economically for his change of heart. He wrote in his journal: “When I ate, drank and lodged with people that lived in ease on the toil of their slaves, I felt uneasy … I frequently had conversation with them in private concerning it. I saw so many vices and corruptions spreading, occasioned by this slave trade … that it appeared to me as a dark gloominess hanging over the land… In the future the consequences will be grievous to posterity.1 He wrote this over a hundred years before the terrible human suffering of the Civil War.

Like John the Baptist, and the prophetic John Woolman, we are called to be prophets who weep and intercede for our generation. We know that widespread disbelief about the value of human life in the womb has already caused grievous sufferings for our most defenseless little ones in wombs that are no longer safe. As prophets for our times, we know that repentance, a change of mind and heart, is the way to heaven, because Jesus will forgive every sin, even abortion.