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Saturday, 20 July 2024
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John the Baptist was the son of aged parents. His father Zechariah was a Temple priest of the line of Abijah, and his mother Elizabeth was also descended from Aaron (Luke 1:5). So John was a Levite. Jesus and John were related. Their mothers, Mary and Elizabeth, were cousins. (Luke 1:36). John became a child of the desert, presumably after the death of his parents, where he began to preach a baptism of repentance, and to announce the coming of the long-promised Messiah.

Fearless in proclaiming the truth, he won many followers among the people, but made enemies among those with power and influence, and he was soon imprisoned. Of John, Jesus spoke to the people:

And when the messengers of John were departed, he began to speak to the multitudes concerning John. "What went ye out into the desert to see? A reed shaken with the wind?" All knew full well why John was in prison, and that in his captivity he was more than ever the undaunted champion of truth and virtue. — "But what went you out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Behold they that are in costly apparel, and live delicately, are in the houses of kings. But what went you out to see? A prophet? Yea, I say to you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written: Behold, I send my angel before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee. For I say to you: Amongst those that are born of women, there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist"
(Luke 7:24-28).

One such powerful enemy was Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great and tetrarch of Galilee, who had married Herodias, his brother Philip's wife. When John denounced this, it brought down upon him the wrath of Herod, and Herodias. Here is the account from one of the Gospels about the events that ensued:

For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him.
When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, "Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it." And he solemnly swore to her, "Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom." She went out and said to her mother, "What should I ask for?" She replied, "The head of John the baptizer." Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter." The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John's head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

Mark 6:17-29 (also Matt. 14:1-12)

General Audience
Remains of the Baptist found


About Martyrdom

According to St Clement of Alexandria, martyrdom means 'bearing witness to God', and this martyrdom applies to anyone seeking to know God and to be obedient to His commandments. We bear witness by our lives. For instance, each time we choose not to sin, even though drawn to it, we experience martyrdom.

Today,in an increasingly secular society, bearing witness might mean saying in company or, indeed, in the public arena, " I believe in Jesus Christ, and in what He teaches, and so (for example) I uphold the gospel of life!" Even in Christian society, many will experience the reality that to allow faith to inform one's life, often leads to ridicule and to being sidelined or silenced.

And so today, those who espouse values, such as family life based on heterosexual marriage, the sanctity of life from conception to natural death, and chastity before marriage, undergo persecution and martyrdom too.

Pope Benedict in the USA

At Mass in Yankee Stadium, the Bronx, New York City, on April 20, 2008, the Vicar of Christ told the throng:

May you find the courage to proclaim Christ, ‘the same, yesterday, and today and for ever’ and the unchanging truths which have their foundation in him (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 10; Heb 13:8). These are the truths that set us free! They are the truths which alone can guarantee respect for the inalienable dignity and rights of each man, woman and child in our world—including the most defenseless of all human beings, the unborn child in the mother’s womb.”

Earlier, on April 16, also in Washington, the Pontiff made these remarks to the US bishops:

“ . . Any tendency to treat religion as a private matter must be resisted. Only when their faith permeates every aspect of their lives do Christians become truly open to the transforming power of the Gospel

It is your task to proclaim boldly the arguments from faith and reason in favour of the institution of marriage, understood as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman, open to the transmission of life. This message should resonate with people today

“…far from a Catholic approach to ‘thinking with the Church’, each person believes he or she has a right to pick and choose, maintaining external social bonds but without an integral, interior conversion to the law of Christ. Consequently, rather than being transformed and renewed in mind, Christians are easily tempted to conform themselves to the spirit of this age (cf. Rom 12:3). We have seen this emerge in an acute way in the scandal given by Catholics who promote an alleged right to abortion.”

Martyrdom Today