Nativity of John the Baptist (June 24, 2018)
Francis de Sales wrote: "I have often wondered who is the most mortified of the saints that I know, and after some reflection I have come to the conclusion that it was St. John the Baptist. He went into the desert when he was five years old and knew that our Savior came to earth in a place quite close by, perhaps only one of two days' journey. How his heart, touched with love of his Savior from the time he was in his mother's womb, must have longed to enjoy Christ's presence. Yet, he spends twenty-five years in the desert without coming to see our Lord even once; and leaving the desert he catechized without visiting him but waiting until Our Lord comes to seek him out. Then, after he has baptized Jesus, he does not follow him but stays behind to do his appointed task. How truly mortified was John's spirit! To be so near his Savior and not see him, to have him so close and not enjoy his presence! Is this not a completely detached spirit, detached even from God himself so as to do God's will and to serve God, as it were to leave God for God, and not to cling to God in order to love him better? The example of this great saint overwhelms me with its grandeur." (Stopp, Selected Letters, Page 74)
"How truly mortified was John the Baptist's spirit." What does Francis de Sales mean? The American Heritage Dictionary defines mortify as "to discipline by self-denial or self-inflicted privation." John did, indeed, discipline himself: he denied himself many things in order to be faithful to his understanding of who God wanted him to be: a light to the nations, a light to highlight the coming of Jesus.
Think about it: John spends thirty years in the desert preparing to announce Christ's coming. Despite growing up in the same general area, John meets Christ only once - when he baptized him at the Jordan River - only to remain behind as Jesus recruited others to be his apostles and disciples! John never sees his cousin again before dying in prison at the hands of one of King Herod's executioners.
John was faithful to the role God wanted him to play in the plan of salvation: John played that role supremely well. Listen to what Jesus himself said: "I tell you the truth: among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist." (Matthew 11:11) "Yet," Jesus continues, "Anyone who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." John shows us that being faithful to God's will often requires that we deprive ourselves of the desire to "have it all" and to dedicate ourselves to discerning - and embracing - our unique roles in God's plan of salvation.
In ways unique to our states and stages of life, God calls us, too, to be "a light to the nations." Are we prepared to practice the discipline that being that light may require? Are we prepared to follow Christ by staying right where we are?