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Blessing of the Advent Wreath
Humphreys' Advent 2014 Pastoral Letter
But what went you out to see? a prophet?
yea I tell you, and more than a prophet.:”
John the Baptist can be thought of
as the final prophet of the Old Testament. As our Lord tells us today, it
was John to whom the prophet Malichias referred when He wrote: “Behold I
send my angel, and he shall prepare the way before my face.”
You may recall that it was Malachias who recorded God’s words about
accepting a “clean oblation” from the Gentiles (the non-Jews)—a sacrifice
that would be offered around the world “from the rising of the sun even to
the going down”
Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that would be instituted after God’s chosen
people rejected Him.
An apocryphal book known as The
Lives of the Prophets lists the twenty-three major prophets of the Old
Testament, including six who were martyrs: Isaias, Jeremias, Ezekiel,
Micah, Amos, and Zecharias.
These men were all martyred because they dared to speak God’s truth, even
when those in power did not want to hear it. John the Baptist would be the
seventh of these prophets.
In today’s Gospel John is said to
have been in prison, having sent his disciples to meet Jesus and see His
miracles for themselves. Elsewhere in the Gospels we learn that John was in
prison because he proclaimed God’s truth to Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch of
Galilee: “It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife.”
Herod was living in adultery, as his brother, Philip, was very much alive.
We all know the story about the brother’s wife getting the head of John the
Baptist on a platter. John would be the seventh prophet martyred for
“speaking truth to power.”
Today, our Lord commended John, who
was then still alive: John was not “a reed shaken by the wind.” A reed is
a tall slender thing, and even a light breeze will move it back and forth.
To be “a reed shaken by the wind,” was to be a man who would go back and
forth in his speech—a man who would tell his listeners what they wanted to
hear—particularly if they had power or wealth. It was like saying that what
the person believed depended upon to whom he was speaking. But John was a
man of truth, no matter who might be listening.
“But what went you out to see? a man
clothed in soft garments?” There is nothing wrong with wearing nice
clothing, but often—particularly if it is too nice—and particularly in
Jesus’ time—“soft garments” might denote a man who did nothing for a living,
but supported himself by being a hanger-on in the house of someone
important. Again, very likely, such a person maintained his position at
court by telling the important one what he wanted to hear. And, again, John
was a man of the truth, no matter who might be listening.
John was “more than a prophet.” He
not only foretold God’s truth, but he had a hand in making God’s truth come
to pass. It was John who prepared the coming of Jesus by preaching in the
desert and baptizing in the Jordan, moving people to confess their sins.
Jesus was the one spoken of by Isaias, but it was John who introduced Jesus
to the people of Judea. It was John, standing with Andrew and another
disciple who identified Jesus as the “Lamb of God”
And Andrew would then tell Peter, and they would tell Philip, and they would
In today’s Gospel we read that John has sent two more of his followers to
join Jesus. When John was martyred, “his disciples came and took the body,
and buried it, and came and told Jesus.”
At least five of the Apostles came to Jesus through the influence of John
the Baptist; it seems that others were numbered among Jesus’ disciples.
John’s contribution to the formation of the infant Church is second only to
that of the Apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary.
So, John the Baptist’s contribution was twofold: not
only did he preach the truth, but he prepared many others to receive it.
Saint John is an important example for modern day Catholics. For most of
the Church’s existence, indeed since the time of the Greek philosophers,
most of Western Civilization recognized the existence of objective truth.
Men like Aristotle and Aquinas went so far as to identify Unity, Truth,
Goodness, Beauty, and Being as “transcendental” aspects of the same thing
(and identifying them with God). In Catholic Civilization man’s wellbeing
was tied up with knowing God’s truth, and in man truthfully knowing his own
nature. Man had rights to seek goodness and truth—rights that came from
Nature and Nature’s God.
Loss of this objective truth in modern society has
severely curtailed the rights of men and women to seek that goodness and
beauty and truth. The idea of a God-created-human-nature is hotly disputed
in many quarters. Modern man boasts of creating his own nature, as he (and
not God) chooses to create it, through his supposedly “authentic”
actions. From conception to death, pleasure and convenience try to replace
goodness, beauty, and truth. The unborn child, the mentally handicapped,
and the old and feeble are made to be “less than human” in the public mind.
Marriage is separated from the procreation and education of children, and
replaced with perversion and infidelity. Productivity belongs not to “the
makers,” but to “the takers.” The rule of law has been replaced by the rule
of power, and influence, and thuggery. The Bill of Rights and the Ten
Commandments have suffered very similar damages.
The modern Church and modern State are in dire need of
modern day John the Baptists. As John the Baptist was the final prophet of
the Old Testament, all of us must strive to become the prophets of the New
Testament. I don’t mean that we must foretell the future—it will suffice
that we know God’s Truth, Goodness, Being, and Beauty—but we must not keep
them to ourselves. As practical Catholics we must always seek God’s truth,
preach it through our good example, share it with those who are interested,
correct those who are confused about it, and refuse to be swayed by those
who deny it.
Like John the Baptist, we must try to be even “more
than a prophet”!