Monday, June 24, 2013

June 24, 2013: John the Baptist in Francis and Benedict XVI

2013-06-24 Vatican Radio
(Vatican Radio) The church exists for courageously proclaiming -until martyrdom- Christ, to serve and "take nothing for herself". In his homily at morning Mass on Monday, Pope Francis pointed to St. John the Baptist as model for Church: he didn't claim the Truth, the Word as his own; he diminished himself so Christ could shine.

June 24th is the Solemnity of the Birth of the Saint, whom the Gospels indicate as the forerunner or precursor of Jesus. Dedicating his homily to him Pope Francis said the Church is called to proclaim the Word of God, even to martyrdom.

Pope Francis began his homily by addressing best wishes to all who bear the name John. The figure of John the Baptist, the Pope said, is not always easy to understand. "When we think of his life - he observed – we think of a prophet," a "man who was great and then ends up as a poor man." Who is John? The Pope said john himself explains: "I am a voice, a voice in the wilderness," but "it is a voice without the Word, because the Word is not him, it is an Other." Here then is the mystery of John: "He never takes over the Word," John "is the one who indicates, who marks". The "meaning of John's life - he added - is to indicate another." Pope Francis then spoke of being struck by the fact that the "Church chooses to mark John’s feast day” at a time when the days are at their longest in the year, when they "have more light." And John really "was the man of light, he brought light, but it was not his own light, it was a reflected light." John is "like a moon" and when Jesus began to preach, the light of John "began to decline, to set". "Voice not Word - the Pope said - light, but not his own"

"John seems to be nothing. That is John’s vocation: he negates himself. And when we contemplate the life of this man, so great, so powerful - all believed that he was the Messiah - when we contemplate this life, how it is nullified to the point of the darkness of a prison, we behold a great mystery. We do not know what John’s last days were like. We do not know. We only know that he was killed, his head was put on a platter, as a great gift from a dancer to an adulteress. I don’t think you can lower yourself much more than this, negate yourself much more. That was the end that John met".

Pope Francis noted that in prison John experienced doubts, anguish and he called on his disciples to go to Jesus and ask him, "Are you You, or should we expect someone else?". His life is one of “pain and darkness”. John “was not even spared this”, said the Pope, who added: "the figure of John makes me think so much about the Church": "The Church exists to proclaim, to be the voice of a Word, her husband, who is the Word. The Church exists to proclaim this Word until martyrdom. Martyrdom precisely in the hands of the proud, the proudest of the Earth. John could have made himself important, he could have said something about himself. 'But I never think', only this: he indicated, he felt himself to be the voice, not the Word. This is John’s secret. Why is John holy and without sin? Because he never, never took a truth as his own. He would not be an ideologue. The man who negated himself so that the Word could come to the fore. And we, as a Church, we can now ask for the grace not to become an ideological Church ... "

I add from Joseph Ratzinger in his Advent profile of the John the Baptist ["The Meaning of Advent" in Dogma and Preaching 

   "Challenging and active, he stands before us, a type of the masculine mission in life. He is the stern herald who summons the people to metanoia: to a change of heart  or conversion. Anyone who wants to be a Christian must be constantlyu changing his thinking or outlook.' By nature, we are inclined to be always asserting ourselves, repaying in kind, making ourselves the enter of attention. If we want to find God, we must be constantly undergoing an interior conversion, turning around and moving in the opposite direction, , and this even in the way we understand life as a whole.
   "Day in and day out, we are confronted with the world of visible things. So strongly and insistently does it impinge on us through billboards, the radio, commerce, and every incident of daily life that we are tempted to think nothing else exists. Bit in fact the invisible is greater and more valuable than all visible reality. According to a marvelous saying of Pascal, a single soul is worth more than the entire visible universe. But if we are to grasp this truth in a vivid way, we must be converted; we must, as it were, do an interior about-face, overcome the  the spell that visible reality casts over us, and acquire a sensitive touch, ear, and eye for the invisible. We must treat the invisible as more imporotant than all the things that thrust themselves upon us with such force day after day. 'Be converted:' change your thinking, your outlook, so that yo perceive God's presence in the world; change your thinking so that God may become present in you and, through you, in the world.
   "John himself was not spared this difficult process of changing his mind-sdt, of haveng ot convert, of undergoing what de Lubac calls 'the alchemy of being.' It already begins with his having to proclaim, as one crying in the wilderness,a man whom he himself does not know. Is it not the fate of the priest and of every Chrisitian who proclaims Christ that we, too, know him and yet do not know him, that we, too, despite the darkness of our ignorance, must bear witness to him whom unfortunately we still know, and will always know, only too imperfectly"

   Let us interject how Scripture gives witness to John's knowing, but, at the same time, not knowing Christ. John doubted on the brink of martyrdom. While in prison, he sent messengers to Christ asking: "Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another" [Lk. 7, 9]? He answered by referring to the same testimony with which He had had begun His teaching at Nazareth: "Go and tell John what it is that you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is he who takes no offense at me" [Lk. 7, 22-23]

    Ratzinger then remarks: "John's real suffering, the real recasting as it were of his entire being in relation to God, began in earnest with the activity of Christ during the time when he, John, was in prison. The darkness of the prison cell was not the most fearful darkness John had to endure. The true darkness was what Martin Buber has called 'the eclipse of God:' the abrupt uncertainty John experienced regarding his own mission and the identity of the one whose way he had sought to prepare.
   In words of burning power John had prophesied the coming of the judge and had painted in fiery colors the great day of the Lord. He had portrayed the Messiah as the judge with the winnowing fan in his hand that would separate the chaff from the grain and throw the chaff once and for all into eternal fire. He had portrayed him as one who would cast out this adulterous generation and, if need be, raise up children of Abraham from the very stones to replace the faithless people who called themselves the children of Abraham. Above all, amid the fearful ambivalence of this world where we are constantly waiting and hoping in darkness, John had expected and proclaimed a clear message: that the day would finally come when the hopeless darkness would be dispelled in which human beings wander to and fro and know not where they are going. The ambiguity would disappear, and men would no longer have to grope their way in the endless mist but would know for certain that this and no other is God's unequivocal claim on them, that this and no other is their situation in relation to God.
   "Meanwhile at God's command, John's prophetic finger was pointing out a man, 'Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!' [Jn. 1, 29]. God's presence had begun... but what a difference from what John had imagined! No fire fell from heaven to consume sinners and bear definitive witness to the just; in fact, nothing changed at all in the present world. Jesus went about preaching and doing good in the land, but the ambiguity remained. Human life continued to be a dark mystery to which people had to entrust themselves with faith and hope amid the world's darkness.
   "Clearly, it was this utterly different personality of Jesus that most tormented John during the long nights in prison: The eclipse of God continued, and the imperturbable advance of a history that was so often a slap in the face to believers. In his distress John sent messengers to the Lord: "Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?" [Mt. 11, 31]. It is a question all of us were ready to ask during the nighttime bombings of the Second World Ware, and are inclined to ask over and over again  in all the distresses of our own lives, "Are you really he: the Redeemer of the world? Are you really here now as the Redeemer" Was that really all that God had to say to us?"
   "In answer, Jesus reminds John's messengers of what the prophet Isaiah had said in foretelling precisely this kind of peaceful, merciful Messiah who will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street  [Is. 42, 2], but will go about preaching and doing good. Jesus adds the significant words: 'Blessed is he who takes no offense at me.' This means that it is in fact possible for men to take offense at him. Even when he comes he does not bring such absolute clarity to the human situation as to eliminate all questions and solve all riddles; people can take offense at him, but Blessed is he who takes no offense.' Blessed is he who ceases to ask for signs and absolute certainty. Blessed is he who is able, even in this darkness, to go his way in faith and love.
   "This was probably the final task set the Baptist as he lay in prison: to become blessed by this unquestioning acceptance of God's obscure will; to reach the point of asking no further for external, visible, unequivocal clarity, but, instead, of discovering God precisely in the darkness of this world and of his own life, and thus becoming profoundly blessed. In point of fact, we cannot see God as we see an apple tree or a neon sign, that is, in a purely external way that requires no interior commitment. We can see him only by becoming Iike him, by reaching the level of reality on which God exists; in other words, by being liberated from what is anti-divine: the quest for pleasure, enjoyment, possessions, gain, or, in a word, from ourselves. In the final analysis it is usually the self that stands between us and God. We can see God only if we turn around, stop looking for him as we might look for street signs and dollar bills, and begin looking away from the visible to the invisible.
   "John, then, even in his prison cell had to respond once again and anew to his own call for metanoia or a change of mentality, in order that the might recognize his God in the night in which all thins earthly exist. 'Blessed is he who takes no offense at me.
   "No other way of reaching an understanding with God can be shown to the Christian of today, either: he must stop looking for external clarity and begin to turn from the visible to the invisible and, thus, truly find the Lord who is the real foundation and support of our existence. When we do so, another and doubtless the greatest saying of the Baptist acquires its full significance: 'He must increase, but I must decrease' (Jn. 3, 30). We will know God to the extent that we are set free from ourselves. This beings us back to the main theme of Advent: We will now God to the extent that we give him room to be present in us. A person can spend his life seeking God in vain if he does not allow God to continue in his life the presence begun" [J. Ratzinger, "The Meaning of Advent," Dogma and Preaching, Ignatius (20011) 322-326.

Francis continues: "The Church must hear the Word of Jesus and raise her voice, proclaim it boldly. 'That' - he said - 'is the Church without ideologies, without a life of its own: the Church which is the mysterium lunae which has light from her Bridegroom and diminish herself so that He may grow.'
   "This is the model that John offers us today, for us and for the Church. A Church that is always at the service of the Word. A Church that never takes anything for herself. Today in prayer we asked for the grace of joy, we asked the Lord to cheer this Church in her service to the Word, to be the voice of this Word, preach this Word. We ask for the grace, the dignity of John, with no ideas of their own, without a Gospel taken as property, only one Church that indicates the Word, and this even to martyrdom. So be it! " 

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