The Beheading of John the Baptizer and the Path to Freedom
most powerful politician in Judea, Herod. As a result he was arrested and executed as a traitor.
Today we tend to reject those who similarly publicly decry sin and heresy. Street preachers, prophets and clerics who confront sinful policies, bad behavior and false ideologies are decried as trouble makers, fanatics and dangerous "extremists".
St. John the Baptizer was a simple man, not a member of the elite. He was stirred by conscience and the Holy Spirit to call a spade a spade, and throw convention to the wind.He paid dearly for it. As Christians we inherit the abundant fruit of his daring and liberating choices. The way he exercised the great gift of his human freedom instructs us in exercising our own.
The Lord desires our human flourishing and happiness. He wants us to be truly free. He invites us to choose Him over our own selfish pursuits. In that continual choosing we are freed and made new. In Jesus Christ we have been given all that we need to overcome the obstacles which impede us. Because of sin, our freedom was fractured. Through grace given by the splint of the Cross it is healed. We are capacitated to chosse what is true, to choose the good. In those choices we become the men and women the Lord wants us to become as we are recreated in Christ.
Notice the language with which we discuss eternal life and heaven.We speak of receiving the receiving the "beatific vision" when we finally stand in His presence and enter into the fullness of communion. The word "beatitude" actually means happiness! Living in the Lord will make us happy. Not only in the life to come, but beginning in this life. Too often we associate repentance with some kind of wrong- headed self hatred. To the contrary, for those who have been schooled in its lessons like John the Baptizer, the way of voluntary penitence and conversion becomes the path to true joy.
Blessed John Paul II wrote frequently about human freedom. In one of his letters of instruction on the Christian family he wrote these insightful words: "History is not simply a fixed progression toward what is better - but rather, an event of freedom. Specifically, it is a struggle between freedoms that are in mutual conflict: a conflict between two loves - the love of God to the point of disregarding self and the love of self to the point of disregarding God (John Paul II, Christian Family in the Modern World, n. 6)"
This conflict between two loves, this "event of freedom", is played out on a daily basis. The recurring questions of Eden echo in our personal histories. How will we exercise our own human freedom? At which tree will we make our choices? Will it be the tree of disobedience, where the first Adam chose against God's invitation to a communion of love, or the tree on Golgotha's hill where the second Adam, the Son of God, brought heaven to earth when He stretched out His arms to embrace all men and women, bearing the consequences of all their wrong choices and setting them free from the law of sin and death? (Romans 8:2) John the Baptizer was one of the freeset of men because he knew the answer.
Let me conclude with some words from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one's own responsibility. By free will one shapes one's own life. Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude.
"As long as freedom has not bound itself definitively to its ultimate good which is God, there is the possibility of choosing between good and evil, and thus of growing in perfection or of failing and sinning. This freedom characterizes properly human acts. It is the basis of praise or blame, merit or reproach. The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to "the slavery of sin." (CCC 1731 - 1733).
The choice is ours. Just as it was with John the Baptizer. He shows us the way to give away our freedom in love - and then truly find it made again - new in the One who truly sets us free. (John 8:36).
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: Freedom, John the Baptizer, John the Baptist, holiness, Mary, Mother of God, moral life, asceticism, sanctity, Deacon Keith Fournier
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