Lifelong CatechesisForming Catholic identity across generations
For a large part of the liturgical year, we devote ourselves to listening to the mystery of Christ in all its aspects unfolded as we seek God's truth and understanding.
John the Baptist, Preacher and Martyr, First Century
John was the son of Zachary, a priest of the Temple in Jerusalem, and Elizabeth, a cousin of Mary. He was born after the angel Gabriel had told Zachary that his wife would bear a son even though she was an old woman (at that time, old might have meant someone in their late thirties).
Following the Annunciation, Mary came to assist her cousin during her pregnancy, an event known as the Visitation. Luke (1:57-80) then gives a marvelous account of John’s birth and of his naming, and tells us that “The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.”
About the year 27 when he was around thirty years old, John began preaching on the banks of the Jordan against the evils of the time. He called for repentance and baptism, warning that "the kingdom of heaven has come near" (Mt 3:2). His preaching attracted large crowds and, when Jesus came to him, John recognized him as the Messiah. John tried to discourage Jesus from being baptized, saying, “I need to be baptized by you and do you come to me?’ Scripture continues: “But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness” (Mt 4:14-15).
When Jesus began his public ministry in Galilee, John continued to preach along the Jordan. Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Perea and Galilee, became fearful of John's great power among the people. After John condemned Herod’s adulterous and incestuous marriage to Herodias, wife of Herod's half-brother, Herod had John arrested and imprisoned.
Knowing John to be a righteous and holy man, Herod initially planned no further action than his imprisonment. This was to change, however. During a celebration for Herod’s birthday, Herodias’ daughter, Salome, danced for the guests. So impressed was Herod and the others present that he offered anything she would ask for, “even half of my kingdom.” Salome consulted her mother who told her to ask for John’s head on a platter. While Herod regretted his offer, he could not back down in front of his guests and ordered John beheaded. The head was presented to Salome who then gave it to her mother.
John's preaching inspired many of Christ's followers, among them the apostles, Andrew and John, who first came to know Jesus through John's teaching. He is presented as the last of the Old Testament prophets and the precursor of the Messiah.
We celebrate the birth of St. John the Baptist's by a Solemnity on June 24. His martyrdom is remembered in memorial on August 29.
John’s message today: Scripture tells us that John was “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his path straight’” (Matthew 3:3). John was the voice of which Isaiah prophesied a few thousand years ago. This message is as valid today as it was in both Isaiah’s and John’s time.