A man was stumbling through the desert in a hot weather desperate for water, when he saw something far off in the distance. It was an image of a little old peddler sitting at a card table. The parched wanderer asked, “Please, Sir, I am dying of thirst, can I have some water?” The man replied, “I don’t have any water, why don’t you buy a tie? The desperate man shouted, “In a hot weather like this, why would I need a tie? It is water I need.” The old man then said, “There is a nice restaurant 5 miles from here. Walk that way and they’ll give you all the water you want.” The man thanked the peddler and arriving at the restaurant, he asked the person on the door, “I am so thirsty. Do you have any water?” And the restaurant owner said, “I couldn’t let you in unless you are wearing a tie.”
One of the most colorful characters in the Bible is John the Baptist. He was a miracle baby, born to a woman whose biological clock had long run out. Since he was a Nazarite by birth, he never touched a dead body which could oftentimes be sanitary, never had a haircut which could always be economical, and never drank alcohol which could sometimes be boring. We could just imagine him meeting his cousin Jesus who touched dead bodies, brought them to life and changed water into wine.
From early childhood, John was sensitive to God calling him for a particular mission. Next to the Blessed Mother, he was the second human person to feel the presence of God when he leapt in the womb of Elizabeth.
It is no wonder, then, that John the Baptist’s birthday has been celebrated by the Church for two thousand years now. He shares this particular privilege with Jesus and Mary.
Of all the virtues that John the Baptist had, it is his moral courage to stand up to King Herod and reject any political accommodation he offered that impresses me most. He saw through the hypocrisy of self-righteous people and called them brood of vipers. He denounced the evil and darkness of sin and demanded a true change of heart in preparation for the coming of the Messiah.
If John the Baptist were here today, I wonder whether he would single out the sins we need to confront, confess and correct. Sins are not just the wrong actions and thoughts we do, but also the right things we should have done. Sins are not just what we had committed, but also the duty and obligations we had omitted. There are sins of commission. There are also sins of omission.
During his homily at the opening mass in defense of religious freedom, Bishop O’Connell was just like John the Baptist challenging us to have a change of heart. He said that “if less than 25% of Catholics attend Mass, if less than 50% of Catholics understand that Christ is really present in the Eucharist, if a majority of our young Catholics cannot understand why the Church is unwilling to re-define marriage, if it is permissible to call oneself Catholic while holding to every teaching except those proposed and held by the Church, if marriage on the beach is preferred to marriage in a church or a funeral Mass can be dispensed in favor of a tribute in a funeral home, if we drop off our youngsters at the church door for Mass just so they can be confirmed, but do not feel obliged to attend with them, if we recognize little as sacred or true or compelling within our Church, if there is no accountability, the fault, as Shakespeare wrote, may not be “in our stars, but in ourselves.”
That is just part of the confrontation we need to face ourselves, and the challenge we have to hold. John testified to the Light and that gave him the moral courage to demand a true change of heart. There is hope in the midst of darkness because as Christians, we are all optimistic by heart.
In this age of high sensitivity and political correctness when we have watered down a lot of things in our lives, John the Baptist is our guide. In a society where values are diluted and virtues are qualified, John the Baptist is our model. In a world where sins considered before as ugly and horrendous are called now by euphemistic names to temper and adulterate our conscience, John the Baptist is our example of moral rectitude.
Like John, we need to speak more about the mission and work of Christ, which is already happening in every family and in every Church. Like John, we are called to spread the Good News and live up to God’s expectations. For want of the universal saving water of salvation that could quench the fires of damnation, John spoke about what need to be told and for that, he did not even need to wear a tie.
24 June 2012