August 29, 2012 - The Memorial of the Martyrdom of Saint John the Baptist

Jeremiah 1:17-19
Psalm 71:1-6, 15, 17
Mark 6:17-29

Today we remember the death of St. John the Baptist. He was killed because he spoke the truth. He was a prophet and that is the job of a prophet: to tell the truth. He was a prophet when said a truth that only he knew, when he pointed out Jesus as the Lamb of God, but he was also a prophet when he was the only one willing to say a truth that everyone knew, that King Herod was living with the divorced wife of his brother. Everyone knew this was wrong but only St. John the Baptist said so.

The gift of prophecy is a gift from the Holy Spirit. It is the gift to speak a truth that other people do not know or are unwilling to say, but there is the gift of prophecy on one hand and just plain rudeness on the other. St. John the Baptist denounced a man for marrying the divorced wife of his brother, even though other people were afraid to speak because that man was the king, but I too would be afraid to speak. When I meet someone who is civilly married to a divorced person, I do not denounce them either. It is wrong to commit adultery, but it rude to point out adultery.

I can take some courage in my cautious attitude from a very simple fact: Jesus Christ stood before Herod and did not condemn his relationship with Herodias. Does this mean he supported it? No, not at all. All of us, even Jesus, have to choose which truths to speak. We all are prophets; God gives us prophecies, truths to speak which are going unsaid, not only about the future but about the past and the present too.

So how can we know when we have the gift of prophecy versus when we just have a temptation to stick our nose in someone else’s business? Jeremiah instructs us in the matter. Like all the prophets, he knew the suffering that comes with speaking the truth. “I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.” We must first be in touch with God through prayer. Then we should test the prophecy and see if it becomes like a fire in our heart, whether we must speak it. Last, we learn the lesson of the prophet Jonah: having spoken the prophecy, we leave the rest to God. We have done our part, whatever he wants to do for the other person is his will.

Prophets are destined to seem rude and foolish and outdated. Rarely are people glad to hear the truth. We are prophets, so we must be ready to suffer.