Nativity of St. John the Baptist
- The one who is coming after me is mightier than I (Mt. 3:11)
The greeting of the angel who appeared to Gideon was: “The Lord is with you, O champion” (cf. Jdgs. 6,12-13). “My Lord,” replied Gideon immediately, “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are his wondrous deeds of which our fathers told us when they said, “Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ For now the Lord has abandoned us and has delivered us into the power of Midian.”
I feel like Gideon many times when life gets tough for me, not to say impossible: I doubt seriously God’s presence; I get disillusioned; I settle for just trying to save and protect what I could; I am content, like the widow of Zarephath, with simply eating and then die, or resign myself to the miserable life of the poor which St. Vincent de Paul bewailed and regarding which I repeat after him: “After all this, what can be done? What will happen? The only thing left is to die.”
But, then, I do not think the Lord would want me to live that kind of a life of disappointment, of resignation to situations of misery that can be changed, a lackadaisical life, living which is tantamount to being dead in the midst of life (cf. Media vita in morte sumus at ). In fact, according to the narrative, the objection that Gideon presented elicited a challenge from the angel who said: “Go with the strength you have and save Israel from the power of Midian. It is I who send you.” And with regard to St. Vincent, the miseries of the poor, far from being a reason for him to despair, actually challenged him to help the poor and make sure he and others care for them in every way.
No excuse is valid then. As miserable as the human condition may be, there is no giving up on human beings. One is allowed to protest and point out that one is neither high-born nor strong, but God does not really say that he is counting on anyone’s nobility or power. What is asserted time and again is that God, when all is said and done, counts on his own power, which is made perfect in human weakness.
And it is not that God has not been with me either; rather, I have not presented myself to him. Is it because I feel I have to be sought out by the Lord first? The truth is, though, I have been sought out and chosen, not unlike Yahweh’s Servant, from birth, and given a name before birth in a similar fashion that John the Baptist got his name. For anyone who believes in Christ is part of “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people … who in times past were not a people, but are now the people of God” (cf Lumen Gentium 9). And included, for sure, among the chosen are the laity who “likewise share in the priestly, prophetic, and royal office of Christ and therefore have their own share in the mission of the whole people of God in the Church and in the world” (Apostolicam Actuositatem 2; cf. Lumen Gentium 31).
I too am challenged, therefore, to present myself and to step up to the plate. Probably not in the stark and striking manner of the John the Baptist crying out in the desert, wearing clothing made of camel’s hair and having a leather belt around his waist, and whose food was locusts and wild honey. But, yes, in the way that John the Baptist spoke truth to power and had the courage of his convictions, going to death, according to St. Vincent, not so much in defense of faith as in defense of virtue, a martyr because he was consumed with virtue (cf. number 175 at ).
St. Vincent’s John the Baptist typifies the missionary of virtue who is a martyr because he is well mortified and obedient, discharges his duties perfectly, lives according to the rules of his state in life, shows through his bodily and spiritual sacrifices that God alone deserves to be served and ought to be preferred above all earthly advantages and pleasures. Such a missionary is a martyr because he makes known the truths and teachings of the gospel, not by words but by conforming his life to that of Jesus Christ, and so he gives witness to truth and holiness before believers and unbelievers alike. He is a martyr who lives and dies thus, pointing to Jesus not to himself, recognizing his need to decrease so Jesus may increase, his emptiness so he may be full of Jesus.