Friar Stephen Lynch offers a reflection about St. John the Baptist whose feast is commemorated on June 24, highlighting the fact that though suffering is in the hands of Divine Providence, how people deal with suffering is in their hands.
Jesus stressed the importance of people doing good and loving one another. But he also taught that even good people must suffer. While Jesus reached out to others in healing compassion, he was also crucified just outside the walls of Jerusalem.
John the Baptist was chosen by God to baptize Jesus Christ, but he was also beheaded by Herod less than 20 miles away from Golgotha, in the prison fortress of Machaerus. Both Jesus and John were executed within a year or so of each other for their fidelity to God’s values.
When John was in prison before his execution, he sent two messengers to Jesus asking: “Are you he, who is to come, or do we look for someone else?” (Mt. 11.3)
Fr. John McKenzie, the noted Jesuit scripture scholar, comments on this incident: “It is not at all improbable that John lost some of his assurance with which he had first borne witness to Jesus Christ, and wished to be reassured. Perhaps John suffered doubts of faith, as Peter did when he denied Christ three times before His crucifixion.” John evidently was experiencing what spiritual writers call “the dark night of the soul.” On the cross, Jesus Himself cried out in desperation: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt. 27.46)
Messenger of the Messiah
Feelings of separation and emptiness are by no means incompatible with faith in God. Jesus recognized spiritual value in confronting feelings of desolation and doubt. The dark night of the soul stands, not as a sign of weakness, but rather as a sign of human limitation. In spite of John’s doubts of faith, Jesus gives to John the Baptist one of the most beautiful tributes ever accorded anyone in the Bible. Jesus says of John the Baptist, “He was more than a prophet. He was the messenger of the Messiah. History has not known a man born of woman greater than John the Baptizer.” (Mt. 11.11)
John the Baptist was a cousin of Jesus, who called John the “Messenger of the Messiah.” John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River at the beginning of his Public Ministry. The Jews of his day recognized that John the Baptist was a special prophet from God. People from every walk of life came to John asking, “What shall we do to be right with God?” John answered, Share your blessings with others; do an honest day’s work; don’t make evil use of your power; treat people fairly.
All too often, most of us fail to show appreciation for God’s blessings. If you have food in your refrigerator, clothes on your back, and a place to sleep, you are richer than 70% of the people in the world. If you woke up this morning with more health than illness, you are more blessed than the millions who will not survive this week. If you can read and write, you are more blessed than the 2 billion people who cannot either read or write.
The goodness of humanity, expressed by people helping other people, runs deeper than the vicious streak of evil that continues to ravage human nature. Humans build both hospitals and torture chambers. Love and goodness stand as harbingers of hope, and give us reason to believe that our world is not about to be swallowed up in despair. Jesus brings the message that peace comes to people of good will, who live by the Golden Rule: “Treat others as you would have them treat you.” Mt. 7 12
Fear Triggers Insecurity
Love never fails. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.
Fear often triggers insecurity, whereby people see everything around them as threatening. When fear and insecurity create dark and disturbing shadows, remember the words of Jesus Christ: “Fear is useless. What is needed is trust.” Mk 5
St. Francis of Assisi reminds us that what we suffer is in the hands of Divine Providence. How we deal with our suffering is in our hands. Not all suffering is a punishment for evil. Even Jesus suffered.
St. Paul reminds us: “It was fitting God should make their leader in the work of salvation perfect through suffering.” Heb. 2. 10 “Son though he was, Jesus learned obedience from what he suffered.” Heb. 5. 8 We, too, can come to our own perfection and learn obedience to the Divine Will, if we courageously accept our suffering with faith, hope and love.
— Fr. Stephen, who lives at St. Anthony Residence in Butler, N.J., writes frequently for religious and secular publications. Friars who would like to contribute a seasonal reflection for a future issue of this publication are asked to contact HNP’s Communications Office at 646-473-0265 ext. 321.