Today, the Church continues to walk through Ordinary Time. While there is much to write about the liturgical season and the Bible readings, it’s important that we don’t forget what today’s feast day would have been. As a “little Easter,” every Sunday bumps smaller feast days. And so, if today were not Sunday, we would be celebrating the Passion of Saint John the Baptist.
With due respect to Sunday, the lessons of the passion and beheading of Saint John the Baptist are very much needed today. Are we willing to stand up for what is right? Are we willing to speak unpopular truth? Are we willing to suffer for the sake of righteousness?
The man of the desert was raised up by God and given the spirit and power of Elijah. He only knew truth and its power. Saint John would be a man only for God and is hailed as the last of the Old Testament prophets.
The test of the last prophet is still one that is battled by the children of God, namely, the sanctity of marriage. At the time of Saint John, the local king took his brother’s wife as his own. This act violated the moral law of God. No one spoke. Everyone looked the other way. No one cared to speak the truth or to give a sincere act of charity to the king. No one that is, except Saint John. He spoke the truth and called the king to repentance.
The king did not convert and was intrigued by the prophetic denunciation and its boldness. The wife, however, was not amused at all. In an act of deception that has still inspired poets and artists to this day, the wife used her daughter to allure her husband into a promise that led to the beheading of Saint John the Baptist.
And so it goes, evil thought it had won. And yet, in a reciprocal and providential move that no one could have imagined, it was the death of Saint John that fully initiated the public ministry of the Lord Jesus. God was bringing forth an immense good from an evil act of injustice.
While not enjoyable or pursued for its own sake, suffering for the sake of righteousness can be a witness and grace to those who do not walk the path of truth. In general, attempts to silence, shame, isolate, harm, insult, or slander the one who stands for truth are often derived from a lack of knowledge, a will untrained by virtue, or a misunderstanding of intention.
There are times, however, in which persecution is planned and purposely malicious, seeking nothing other than the destruction of goodness and those who seek to share and live by it.
In Western societies today, the persecuted are not always given physical punishment. Sometimes the suffering is social, occupational, economic, or recreational. For example, an employer may refuse to promote an employee because he has publicly defended traditional marriage. And there are so many more issues—protection of unborn persons, the public harm of capital punishment, the proper acknowledgment of two genders, and the preeminence of parental authority—that will not find tolerance, but only persecution in many Western societies today.
As we see in his precursor, Saint John the Baptist, so the Lord Jesus also suffered for the sake of righteousness. He calls us to follow him: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?”
Each of us, therefore, is invited to take up our cross, die to ourselves, and seek righteousness.
In an age when the human person is approached so often as a means of pleasure or utility, when so many are convinced that their personhood and dignity (and those of others) are based on what they can accomplish, control, or hoard, we are reminded that as human beings we are worthy of love and respect.
Our identity demands reverence and protection from our neighbors and our culture. If this dignity is offended, diminished, or discarded in any way, then we are called to voice concern or opposition, offer fellowship to those in need, stand up for our neighbors and the displaced—whether that’s the unborn, the immigrant, the terminally ill, those with special needs, or others—and show a willingness to fight and suffer for the sake of righteousness.
We are called to follow Saint John the Baptist, unite ourselves with the Lord Jesus, and seek goodness and righteousness in our world today.
Follow Father Jeffrey Kirby on Twitter: @fatherkirby