The Beheading of St John the Baptist

Last year, in this post, I speculated on the feelings of failure and rejection St John the Baptist might have experienced on the morning of his execution. I stand by what I wrote then, but this morning I would like to suggest another aspect. I think we all secretly identify with John, the fearless speaker of truth to power, and like to think that, should we ever be in conflict with the regime of the day, we would be as brave as he. Our own attempts to speak out, to be men and women of integrity, give us a little glow of satisfaction — and if we think they don’t, either we are saints already or we are being economical with the truth about ourselves. How about turning it all round and thinking about the times when we have tried to silence others, have been deaf to what they said or treated with contempt their endeavour to alert us to something important? How quickly the glow of satisfaction changes to a blush of shame!

There are many questions about which we probably have firm, possibly fixed, opinions. Immigration, gun control, abortion, social welfare, economic policy — these all provoke quite strong reactions in most of us. That is the point. We react; we don’t always reflect. Least of all do we reflect when someone is saying what we don’t want to hear. Yet it is precisely then that we may need to listen hardest. St Benedict says of the visiting monk that he may have some observations and criticisms to make that the Lord wants us to hear. (cf RB  61.4) Instead of listening to the message, we tend to concentrate on the messenger; and if he doesn’t meet our idea of what he should be, we reject both him and what he has to say. The temptation to side with Herod rather than the Baptist is always there.

Today would be a good day to ask the Lord to open our ears and free us from the prejudice that prevents our hearing him, especially the prejudice of which we are unaware. Only then can we be people of integrity, upholders of truth and justice rather than persecutors of those who see and speak more truly than we.

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