John’s Passion

Today the Catholic Church celebrates The Passion of St. John the Baptist.  It has been a busy week and so allow me to share again some thoughts I’ve shared before on this feast day.

Note that although the Gospel reading for today is Mark’s account of Herod putting John to death to satisfy his promise to the daughter of Herodias, the feast focuses not on John’s martyrdom, but on his passion.

We spend a lot of time during Lent praying with Jesus’ passion. With John, I think we tend to limit our focus to either his preaching or his dramatic death. But I think there is value in the invitation of this feast to focus our attention on John’s passion, which can be thought of as his prison experience. What was it like for John between the time he was arrested and the point at which he is beheaded?

John wasn’t sitting in some swanky minimum security prison being served three meals a day and getting exercise. He was likely in a dark and dank cell, perhaps chained, being served unappetizing and perhaps even rotten food.

As he sat, day after day and week after week (we are not told how long John was imprisoned), he must have had questions and doubts. In our only Gospel account of his time in prison, John sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?” (Matthew 11:2-3) suggesting at least some uncertainty.

I can see John sitting there wondering if his mission had been worth dying for. Wondering if he had been abandoned by God. Wondering if it had all been for naught.

Pope Benedict wrote

The task set before the Baptist as he lay in prison was to become blessed by this unquestioning acceptance of God’s obscure will; to reach the point of asking no further for external, visible, unequivocal clarity, but instead, of discovering God precisely in the darkness of this world and of his own life, and thus becoming profoundly blessed. John even in his prison cell had to respond once again and anew in his own call for metanoia or a change of mentality, in order that he might recognize his God in the night in wich all things earthly exist.

Most of us won’t be imprisoned for our preaching of the Gospel. But we do each suffer dark moments and, thus, face the same challenge “of discovering God precisely in the darkness of this world and of [our] own [lives].”

We don’t know if John succeeded in doing so, but I would guess he did. May we do the same.


One thought on “John’s Passion

  1. “. . . in order that he might recognize his God in the night in which all things earthly exist.”

    The ‘darkness’ of the mind, the heart, and the soul can truly be excruciating and unbearable, though why does Holy Mother Church so often link “all things earthly” with the ‘same darkness’? Even if “all things earthly” can be linked to temptation, not all temptations lead one away from God and toward sin. . .

    Are not freely sharing our God Given Gifts with our earthly brothers and sisters the purpose of birth and of earthly life? And the link between our short earthly journey and hopefully our future Heavenly Home can often amaze. . .

    A month after turning four, and before understanding the concepts of church, God and Jesus a young woman’s hand and whisper forever influenced my earthly journey. In the day, born to an idolized athletic father did not change the fact I was considered a poor ‘Alley Urchin’, whose family of five, six upon Grandma’s arrival, rented a tiny four room garage apartment, required monthly accounts for the staples of living, and walked everywhere for the lack of a car.

    The morning I first experienced the warmth and security of the young woman’s right hand joined to mine and her comforting whisper, “it’s alright, don’t be afraid,” has allowed “all things earthly” to be much, much more blessing than burden. It would be another fifty years before I was introduced to the young woman (Vibia Perpetua) who has so influenced my life.

    I often wonder if St. Perpetua was sent to me when my mother was two months pregnant, before grandma arrived, and she was aware that I would begin accompanying my father on his walks around town. For whatever reason, we have enjoyed a most intimate relationship that has joined lives, one to the other, over 1,800 years.

    Having a younger sister and a new baby sister on the way, I scurried to keep up with my father on his walks to make payment on accounts and oversee the senior hockey team he coached after retiring as a player. At most every stop; grocery, druggist, retail, tailor, cobbler, utility, clinic, library, sporting good and hockey bar visited the owner or manager commandeered my father to settle accounts and talk hockey leaving me with clerks, employees and workers – what heavenly moments I enjoyed with them all . . .

    Not only did I know someone was always there to ‘watch over me’, it felt as if she and I grew up together. I believe our walks around town were like visits to the market and shops of her native Carthage and moments shared with the servants and slaves at her estate home. Innocent questions, answers, observations, demonstrations, trinkets and treats shared and offered by bakers, cooks, gardeners, clerks, nurses and craftsmen employed within such a variety of spaces and buildings were as if her few months of life as a Christian were being lived anew with each visit and encounter we shared. Was the presence of the Holy Spirit, stirring though unknown to Vibia for most of her life, being manifested in Carthage and Hibbing simultaneously?

    Aware of those she introduced, ministered to and brought to Christ during her short life lived as a Christian, our lives joined afforded her moments to relive and share Jesus’ message of unconditional Love and Gift of the Holy Spirit with those of her father’s estate, with those in the markets, shops and halls of Carthage, while also sharing the same messages with everyone we encountered in Hibbing that looked after and entertained the sweet, curly haired, angelic (as many said) me while my father was preoccupied. I am blessed to have been raised in two cultures – hers and mine. . .

    The construction expansion of the funeral home next to our rental and the insurance building that replaced an older home across the street added names to many of the faces of the workers there employed increasing our encounters shared. Grace, blessings and appreciation for creative and giving hands surely did I receive. And at age five, I believe architecture as a declared profession was inspired by our trips, encounters and the indelible impressions they made.

    Her presence was once again comforting when I was enrolled in Catholic School for fourth grade. Initially regarded as an ‘outsider’ by the other students found me often seeking refuge in the magnificent Basilica of The Blessed Sacrament. Prayer, observation and discernment of who created those magnificent spaces connected me to the craftsmanship grandeur of public Carthage and my elegantly proportioned, detailed, and cherished parish home.
    Within months, amidst similar Spiritual stirrings as Vibia’s, my faith blossomed; others were drawn to me and though constantly encouraged to devote myself to religious life, I chose not the hands of the ordained, choosing rather the calloused hands of those who serve differently . . .

    For the majority of those eighteen years of hers (and mine) age four to twenty two – the age of her martyrdom in 203, we brought hands and hearts together from the most diverse among us to organize, build, outreach and subtly witness and share Our Lord’s messages of Faith, Hope, Charity and Love. I believe we continue to do so to this day – she, becoming my companion for all the years since we were both twenty two . . .

    They are the most special of compliments when one of my designed projects are said to express the presence of spirit – most do, the ‘Spirit’ of the craftsmen and women who contributed to the whole. It has been an honor to have spent a majority of my life as a composer (designing) though a much greater honor to conduct (supervise) – offering solo performances (performances that vary according to the complexity of the project) to the suppliers and craftspersons invited to contribute.

    To this day, when my computer is opened to reveal the ‘infinity’ of the creative design space, I am joined by the spiritual hands and hearts of the ancient Carthaginian individuals Vibia Perpetua introduced to me, the acquaintances she and I made in Hibbing and what appears as their ancestors, joined one to the other, over the intervening 1,800 years between.

    Collectively, the design process offers us visions of perfection – perfection in setting, space, proportion, material, texture, color and more – though all unattainable. Limited by nature, engineering, codes, budgets, desires and (also) much more . . . We honor the challenge to do our best, aware that at any moment our efforts may be required to be placed in the proverbial kiln to be fired, tested and finally completed. Denied opportunity to ‘keep our clay wet’ for a new tomorrow offers no regrets. Our inspiration comes from God, from each other, and from the one Spirit that unites us as His Kingdom on Earth.

    Our designs and our projects completed are composed of “all things earthly,” though they are not of this earth, not of this realm. At the end of our day when we return to family and loved ones it is ‘then’ that we are reconnected with our short earthly journey, sharing our successes and struggles often over a meal shared upon the altar of home. Many blessed to end the day with thanksgiving in the arms of a loved one when we experience the transfer of energy from one to the other and at that moment two truly do become one. Many blessed to appreciate that the warmth of earthly love is a God Given Gift offered in this world only – comforted by His presence knowing that a new tomorrow is promised to no one.

    If so ordained, can there be more greater joy than to be offered a new tomorrow, awaken by the sight of Jesus’ loving eyes, His kind smile and His voice, “Wake up you ‘two’ sleepy heads, come, there is work to be done. . .

    Each morning I begin my day with Vibia Perpetua holding my hand and Jesus’ holding my other is a Blessed unknown new journey yet to unfold – where “all things earthly exist” though all can be experienced heavenly in the ‘light’ – while anticipating the end of day when His Work is done and we are once more Blessed to return to family and loved ones.

    Can anyone ask for more?

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