07 December 2009

The Example of Saint John the Baptist

Saint Gregory, Pope and Doctor of the Church gave a homily at the Basilica of Saint John the Baptist during Advent. This particular part extracted from it is about John the Baptist. It kind of prods us to examine who we are and what we do to prepare the way for Jesus: Am I a voice that precedes the Word or am I a voice which proudly attempts to overpower the Word? Do I try to make crooked paths straight? If I use my gifts well, do I take credit for them or am I prepared to proclaim that there is “One mightier than I?” Do I really try to get out of the way of myself and let Christ increase in my life? These and other questions are intimated for self-examination of conscience.

John the Baptist, being asked who he was, replied saying: “I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness,” who is called a “voice” by the prophet, because he preceded the Word. What the voice was to cry is made plain: “Prepare the way of the Lord and make straight His paths.” Everyone that preaches true faith and good works, what does he do but prepare the way of the Lord so that He may come into the hearts of hearers, and may make straight the path for God, forming right dispositions within them by the words of exhortations, so that this power of pardon may enter in there, and the light of truth shine there.

“Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill brought low.” What is here meant by valleys unless the humble, and by the hills and mountains the proud? At the Coming of the Redeemer, therefore, the valleys shall be filled, the mountains and hills brought low, according to His Word: “Everyone that exalts himself shall be humbled, and he that humbles himself shall be exalted.”

As water falls away from the mountain, so the words of truth forsake the mind of the proud. But springs well up in the vales because the minds of the humble accept the words of prophecy. We already behold, we already look upon the valleys abounding in corn, because the mouths of those who are mild and gentle and who seem to the world contemptible, are now filled with the food of truth.

Because they had seen that he was endowed with rare holiness, the people began to believe that John the Baptist was that high and solid mountain of which it had been written: “And it came to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the house of the Lord, shall be prepared in the top of the mountains.” For they began to think that he was the Christ, as the Gospel relates. But unless that same John was a valley in himself, he would not have been filled with the Holy Spirit; who, that he might show who he truly was, said: “There comes One mightier than I, the latchet of Whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and loose.”

“He must increase but I must decrease.” Here we must ask in what manner Christ increased, and in what manner John decreased. In the minds of the people Christ increased, because He came to be acknowledged for that which He was; and John was decreased because he ceased to be thought that which he was not. John did not change, but remained steadfast in holiness, because he remained humble in his heart, while many in like circumstances have fallen away because in their vanity they had become blown up through some vain notion.

“The crooked ways shall be made straight and the rough ways plain.” Crooked ways become straight when the hearts of sinners, twisted by evil, conform to the way of righteousness. And rough ways are changed to smooth when cruel and wrathful men turn to the mildness of clemency, through the infusion of heavenly grace.

“And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” Since all flesh means every man, and in this life every man cannot see the salvation God, which is Christ, where then does the prophet in this sentence turn his prophetic vision unless towards the day of the last judgment? Then, with opened eyes, in the presence of the adoring angels, and of the apostles seated there, Christ will appear upon His Throne of Majesty, and all, the elect and the reprobate, shall behold Him; the elect that they may without end enjoy the possession of their reward, the reprobate to grieve forever in the torment of retribution.