The following is the summary of my daily Mass homily from this past Monday
August 29th, Feast of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist
St. John the Baptist was the great Forerunner of our Lord – he preceded the Savior in his conception and birth, in his ministry and death. Today we celebrate the feast of the martyrdom of the greatest of the prophets, he who was the voice crying in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord.”
It is quite interesting to note, however, that St. John the Baptist did not die explicitly for his confession of the Christ – rather, he suffered and was killed on account of his defense of the sanctity of marriage. When King Herod married his deceased brother’s wife, Herodias, St. John pointed out that this was an unlawful marriage. And, while Herod always maintained a certain curiosity about John (proving that his own conscience was telling him that the Baptist was right), Herodias hated John vehemently.
And so, John the Baptist was arrested and imprisoned on account of the rage of Herodias – ultimately, he suffered martyrdom by beheading at the insistence of this vile woman and her daughter.
John did not die explicitly for his proclamation of the coming of the Messiah, but he was martyred for his witness to the truth about marriage and family – and, in this respect, he is a prophet of the grace which would come through the sacrament of Christian Marriage which Christ Jesus would institute.
John the Baptist died as a martyr for the dignity and sanctity of marriage and family life. In this respect, John is a great example for parish priests.
Consider the many parallels between the Baptist and the priest: Like the priest, John was celibate and, as a celibate, he was able to speak clearly and convincingly about married life. Like the priest, John was removed from society (both by his manner of dress and by the fact that he lived a desert life which was separated from the daily concerns of the consumer culture) and, precisely because he was in the world but not of the world, John was able to call men and women to a radical holiness.
There are, of course, many more parallels besides.
John died as a martyr, that is a “witness”, to the sanctity of marriage and family life. So too, the parish priest is dedicated in a particular way to helping the faithful to fulfill their vocations, especially the vocation to marriage (since most of the faithful in his parish will be called to the married state).
God gives us priests in order to help us become saints – that is what priests are for, to help us get to heaven. But we can only become saints through living out our own vocation well: A monk cannot be a saint by living like a married man, and a wife cannot become a saint by living like a cloistered nun. The job of the priest is to help each individual in his parish to live out the vocation to which God has called him. And, for the majority of the parishioners, this means learning to live holiness in the context of family life: Either as the husband or wife, or even as the child.
The only way that a priest is going to help people become saints is for him to hold up and defend the dignity and the sanctity of marriage and family life as a true means of growing in holiness.
We need to pray that our priests would follow the example of St. John the Baptist and be fearless in proclaiming all that God has to offer us in marriage and in the family. We need to pray that the good Jesus would strengthen our priests so that they might be clear and bold in teaching the truth about the family – both from the pulpit and (especially) in the confessional.
St. John Vianney once said, “There are no priests, only priests for whom there is not enough prayer.” Yes, let us pray for our priests, and pray the good Lord to send us more priests – that, through the intercession of St. John the Baptist, we might be granted true shepherds who will help our parishes to thrive and to grow in holiness through living out the vocation of marriage and family life according to the divine law.
But we need to be more specific. There are two areas which we really need priests to speak about with greater clarity and boldness – and always, always, always with charity!
First, there is the Church’s teaching on contraception. Contraception is destroying our marriages, ruining our families, corrupting the faithful, and (quite frankly) bringing great and terrible sorrows upon us all. We can scarcely imagine just how great an evil contraception is in our society and (sadly) in our Church.
And yet, many will say that contraception is “the Church’s worst kept secret.” I call it a “secret” insofar as nobody is talking about it – priests don’t preach on it, priests don’t ask about it in the confessional, parents neglect their duty and obligation to teach the truth to their children; almost nobody at all is speaking about contraception. And so, it is a “secret”.
However, I say it is the “worst kept secret” because, even though nobody ever talks about it or gives the Church’s official teaching – everybody knows it! Everybody (or nearly everybody) knows that the Church is against contraception – it seems that we’ve all just agreed to wink and smile and ignore our Mother.
Contraception cannot remain the “worst kept secret” any longer. The wreckage which contraception has caused in families and marriages has to stop. And so, pray. Pray, pray, pray! Pray the good Jesus to convert our priests and to give them the strength to follow St. John the Baptist in proclaiming the truth no matter what the cost.
Pray also that the Lord would send us more good and holy priests who will preach the truth with love and free our Church from this terrible scourge.
And finally, if only very briefly, we must mention the family Rosary. How can we every make it as a Christian family without the Rosary? And yet, how rare it is to hear priests preach about the Rosary or tell our mothers and fathers of the importance of gathering as a family every day to pray the Rosary together. How many graces are lost!
Pray the good Lord that he would strengthen and inspire his priests to preach the family Rosary with greater zeal, confidence, and love. Imagine all the good things our Jesus wants to pour out upon our families, if only we would pray!
St. John the Baptist was willing to lay down his life in defense of marriage and the family. Let us pray the Almighty Father to send his Church priests after the Heart of his own Son – priests who will bring about a renewal in marriage and family life, no matter what the cost; priests who will lay down their lives for the sheep.