John the Baptist: A Detached Spirit

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist, one of my great heroes and a saint about whom I have written before.

There are many reasons I think John the Baptist is a worthy model for us to emulate. This morning I read a description of John by St. Francis de Sales that resonated particularly strongly with me. Francis talked about John as having

a completely detached spirit, detached even from God himself so as to do his will and serve him, to leave God for God, and not to love God in order to love him better.

Detachment is a funny word. I think some people make the mistake of thinking that it means indifference in a negative sense – as in not caring about anything.

However, deSales uses the term in the way St. Ignatius might speak of active indifference (or in the way a Buddhist might speak of absense of attachment or of clinging). That is, his statement describes John as so singleminded in his focus on God as to be unconcerned with his own comfort. So focused on doing the will of God that the cost mattered not to him. He was detached from family, friends, and whatever were his own ideas about what a comfortable life would be. Detachment in this sense does not mean a lack of love or concern for his family and friends, but merely that God came first.

So John models the detachmentwe all should strive for. A devotion to God so great that doing God’s will is the goal of our existence, even when it hurts. Even when it requires us to leave God for God.