Image: Salome with the Head of Saint John the Baptist
The Story of the Martyrdom of Saint John the Baptist
Saint John the Baptist confronted Herod and condemned him for his adulterous relationship with his sister-in-law Herodias. Consequently, Herod threw him into prison. Herod had no intention of killing John. Not only did Herod fear John and his disciples, but he also knew that he was a virtuous man. However, Herodias was determined to seek revenge. She wanted John dead and contrived a plot to do just that.
Herod gave an eloquent banquet to celebrate his birthday. He became drunk at the celebration and made a fololish promise to Herodias’s daughter Salome. He was so pleased when she danced that he promised her whatever she wanted –even half of his kingdom. Salome went to her mother to ask what she should request. Herodias replied, “The head of John the Baptist.”
Due to his pride, Herod could not refuse the request; hence, he directed a soldier of the guard to behead John in prison. John’s head was placed on a platter and taken to Salome, who delivered it to her mother.
When John’s disciples heard what had happened, they took away his body and laid it in a tomb, where he was venerated in the 4th century. As the greatest of prophets, John suffered the fate of many of the prophets who preceded him: rejection and martyrdom.
What Saint John the Baptist Teaches us
Saint John the Baptist stepped out boldly in faith to condemn the sin and point out the truth. Sinners hate the truth. They do not want others to tell them that what they are doing is wrong because it means that they will need to change their evil ways. However, they don’t want to stop sinning because they are in love with their sin. They are comfortably attached to it and often addicted to it.
John called for repentance, for conversion of heart and acceptance of God’s ways. He not only spoke about penance and conversion, but he lived a very austere life. He lived off the land, eating grasshoppers and honey. He dressed in rough clothing made of camel hair. He was completely detached from the material things around him. His reason for doing this was to prepare the way for the Savior. His example of holiness encourages each of us to examine our lives both interiorly and exteriorly.
As we await Christ’s final coming in the dessert of our hearts, we need to spend time in silence, to discern exactly what Christ is calling us to do in the Kingdom. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to open our hearts and minds, to enlighten us daily. This will alert us to God’s will and give us the courage to carry it out. We, too, need to prepare for His coming, through fasting, prayer and penance. We need to detach ourselves from material things and from the sins to which we are so selfishly attached.
We are called to speak out boldly against the immoralities that occur in our world today — abortion, abuse, adultery, and corruption in our Church. By virtue of our Baptism and Confirmation, we have been given the graces and the gifts to act with prudence and fortitude. Then, like Saint John the Baptist we, too, can prepare the way for Jesus, for ourselves and for others.
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