Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Saint John the Baptist & The Power of Evangelization

Padre Paul’s Ponderings: Saint John the Baptist & The Power of Evangelization

Saint John the Baptist & The Power of Evangelization

As I look at my faith journey in life, one of the things that I’ll never forget is my experiences in high school in the early to mid 90s, when I got to know people from other faiths. I had joined an ecumenical Bible study/faith sharing group, and remember thinking wow, well maybe these other branches of Christianity have it all figured out, reforming some of the elements in Catholicism that went wrong through the years.

Obviously I’m still on “Team Catholic.” But as I look back on that time in my life, I’m grateful for having learned a bit about other Christians, and it was a largely positive experience that I believe has also helped me on my faith journey.

What I’ve come to appreciate is that our faith goes back to Christ founding the Church on Peter, but also the power of the Holy Spirit that continues to guide the Church through Tradition (the kind with the capital “T”) so we can understand what has been revealed to us at a deeper level. I’ve come to appreciate how the Church forms me, but also how the Church asks me to be an evangelist – something I would have done a little more of back in the 90s if I had it to do all over again bringing a more Catholic perspective to my Bible study club. That formation happens through ongoing learning about the faith and continually striving to grow in holiness through looking at my life and what needs to improve, and also through proclaiming the faith unapologetically as an apologist (or defender of the faith).

Tomorrow (June 24), we celebrate the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist. In His ministry, John pointed people to Christ; He prepares the way of the Lord. And as we look at him, I think we can be challenged to do two very important things: truly find conversion in ourselves, and the fortitude to proclaim the message of repentance and conversion to a world that really is not all that dissimilar from the world of John.

John was the son of a temple priest, Zechariah. And while Zechariah is a holy, just man, the same can’t be said for the other priests and leaders around him. Herod was the leader of Israel, a man known for violence and corruption, who famously killed the innocents in an attempt to kill Jesus. Many of the other priests were simply political appointees, not truly holy people. The Temple had fallen into decadence and corruption. Some saw this though and said enough is enough. The prophets famously do this, as does a group of Jewish ascetics called the Essenes. John may likely have been part of this group. And so growing in holiness himself, John goes out to the desert and the river Jordan. The Jordan River was what the Israelites crossed when they entered the promised land, so there is some symbolism there. John baptized as part of a cleansing ritual. A person would traditionally wash before going to the Temple, but the deeper symbolism in John’s baptism was you went out to the desert, and were baptized to be cleansed of sin. To become a new person. To be liberated from your past, and then enter into the promised land that is God’s Kingdom.

For us, I think that has to be a starting point, and that is so counter-cultural these days. There are many churches out there that attract people because they have nice music, or a feel-good message, but they don’t necessarily challenge people. It’s difficult to take a hard look at oneself and to say “I have to change.” It’s very easy to become complacent or drift from day to day. As I shared last week in my homily, I didn’t have any “wild and crazy” days, but there have been many moments I’d look back and say “gee what on earth was I thinking?” Here is where mercy meets the sinner. And t his is why we look inside and have that hunger to want to improve. But the Christian must always look deeper and have that balance, the balance that says yes, I am loved by God, but that love also requires a response. Which means we do an examination of conscience and look at our sins and name them. Whether it’s a habitual struggle, sins of the flesh, gossiping, apathy, laziness or whatever it might be, we all have room for growth. And I think a big part of what that comes down to is asking oneself “do I have Christ on the front burner?” Or, is God like volume 12 in an encyclopedia set in my life? John, remember, lives his life pointing to Jesus – “He must increase, I must decrease,” because it’s never about him. This is why we celebrate his feast at the summer solstice; it’s a reminder that on our own, we can only achieve so much – we always need Jesus and the light of God’s love to truly fill us. That conversion is also helped through prayer, and growing in our knowledge of the faith.

So once we have that interior conversion attitude down, we roll up our shirt sleeves and get to work. And the two big ways we get to work in God’s world are through words and actions that we also see in John’s life.

With respect to actions, whether it’s in our own families or our family of faith, we must always remember that what matters more than anything else is hearing the word of God and then doing it. From simple acts of charity like listening to a person, spending time with them, helping children with homework, donating to charity or volunteering, these are all simple ways we, like John the Baptist, can point to Christ.

Finally though, actions sometimes require evangelization. John the Baptist is ultimately martyred, as are so many Christians through the centuries. And while we have freedom of speech, let’s face it, there is a lot of intolerance out there because our message is counter cultural. I even remember someone saying in my ecumenical faith group that the Catholic Church didn’t preach the truth; I didn’t speak up then, though I would now. This is why we have to rediscover the importance of arguing, not shouting, because our Church teaches us how to formulate arguments – She gives us the “why” behind what She teaches through Tradition in the catechism. When you speak about the sanctity of human life in the womb, why we are against capital punishment, when you talk about marriage between a man and a woman, or say I do not support same sex couples adopting children, you’ll offend people. A priest friend to me remarked a person up and walked right out of Mass when he did just that once. But, remember, the point is not to shame people. The point is not to get into a shouting match, which is more common these days especially on social media. The point is to challenge. Because our goal in life shouldn’t be just to not offend someone, our goal should be the same as that of John – to help a person become a saint. So make sure to seek out ways to learn the faith – from joining a small group through our Synod in the archdiocese or finding some

great spiritual reading (including some great online resources and apps like Word On Fire, EWTN.com, or Hallow).

Zechariah at first doubted God’s power, which is why for a time during Elizabeth’s pregnancy he was unable to speak. But at John’s birth, we are told in the Gospel that “his mouth was opened” after he writes the name on the tablet of John. He then speaks blessing God. That’s what grace does – it frees us and allows us to also bless God and to proclaim him. Like Zechariah and his son, may we have that trust in God, and never fear proclaiming him to a world that needs to know him.

Have a blessed week,  ~Fr. Paul

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June 2024

 

 

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