St John the Baptist is an imposing figure in all four gospels and was, without a doubt, an imposing figure during his ministry. In last week’s gospel (Second Sunday in Advent Matthew 3:5) we heard that, “At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him.” He was a compelling figure and this caused him problems. St John didn’t want recognition, he wanted to proclaim the Truth that is Jesus Christ, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30). The followers of St John, being loyal, had a hard time letting go of the idea that St. John was the Christ, so he sent them to Christ to ask the question, “are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3). St. John knows who Christ is, so he basically says to his disciples, “go ask Him yourself.” Christ gave a very common-sense answer, “What are you seeing? The blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. (Matthew 11:2 – 11).
The dilemma of St. John should be something familiar to all of us. Receiving recognition and praise from people around us is pleasant and attractive, but that is not who we are supposed to be. In our interactions with other people, family, friends, coworkers, we receive some recognition. St. John the Baptist should be an example to us in the way we live our lives. That may seem surprising. We tend to see St. John as a heroic figure in the Gospels, but that is the point. The focus of St. John’s life should be the focus of our lives, to point to something greater than ourselves, God.
The idea that we are backed up by a greater reality, God, is important to any of us who have some authority. Parents are a great example. Little kids think of their parents as all-powerful. As they grow older, they start to see the human weakness of parents and family members in general. All of us, as individuals, are weak and short-sighted. We need to be a part of something greater than ourselves. Family is supposed to fill that need, but a greater reference source is the Body of Christ.
Parents, and grandparents, put a huge amount of energy into taking kids to Mass and getting them ready to receive sacraments. We all need to remember that, when we have authority over others, like parents, what we pass on is not supposed to be us, but the teaching of Christ. This is the example of St. John the Baptist. He wanted to direct people to Truth but needed to emphasize that the Truth of God is revealed by Christ, not me. We have access to full human life because Christ came into the world. We get this in the teaching of the Church, but most of all in the sacramental life of worship in the Church. As an example, to parents and grandparents, do you pray as a family? Do your kids see you go to confession? I don’t have kids, but, by observation, I know that taking children to Mass on Sunday is a project on the order of the Normandy invasion. Kids might sometimes complain, “Why do you have to go to Mass?” Don’t forget to point out that, at Mass, Christ is present in the Eucharist. Remind them that you didn’t make this up, you need God’s help in life, and the kids do as well. As a priest, I can sympathize with the dilemma. Sometimes, after Mass, people will thank me for a good homily. I feel gratified, but the point of Mass is the Consecration, not the homily.
At Christmas, we hear a lot about St. John the Baptist. He has a message for us. The good things we have in life come from God. Christ is the Light of the World (John 8:12). We have access to God in the sacramental worship of the Church and teaching of the Church. Like St. John, we are called to pass that on.