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Contemplating today's Gospel

Today's Gospel + homily (in 300 words)

August 29th: Memorial of the Passion of Saint John the Baptist

1st Reading (2Thess 3,6-10.16-18): We instruct you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to shun any brother who walks in a disorderly way and not according to the tradition they received from us. For you know how one must imitate us. For we did not act in a disorderly way among you, nor did we eat food received free from anyone. On the contrary, in toil and drudgery, night and day we worked, so as not to burden any of you. Not that we do not have the right. Rather, we wanted to present ourselves as a model for you, so that you might imitate us. In fact, when we were with you, we instructed you that if anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat. May the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you. This greeting is in my own hand, Paul's. This is the sign in every letter; this is how I write. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with all of you.
Responsorial Psalm: 127
R/. Blessed are those who fear the Lord.
Blessed are you who fear the Lord, who walk in his ways! For you shall eat the fruit of your handiwork; blessed shall you be, and favored.

Behold, thus is the man blessed who fears the Lord. The Lord bless you from Zion: may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life.
Versicle before the Gospel (1Jn 2,5): Alleluia. Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. Alleluia.
Gospel text (Mk 6,17-29): Herod had sent to have John arrested, and had him chained up in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife whom he had married. For John had told him, «It is not right for you to live with your brother's wife». So Herodias held a grudge against John and wanted to kill him, but she could not because Herod respected John. He knew John to be an upright and holy man and kept him safe. And he liked listening to him, although he became very disturbed whenever he heard him.

Herodias had her chance on Herod's birthday, when he gave a dinner for all the senior government officials, military chiefs and the leaders of Galilee. On that occasion the daughter of Herodias came in and danced; and she delighted Herod and his guests. The king said to the girl, «Ask me for anything you want and I will give it to you». And he went so far as to say with many oaths, «I will give you anything you ask, even half my kingdom». She went out to consult her mother, «What shall I ask for?». The mother replied, «The head of John the Baptist». The girl hurried to the king and made her request: «I want you to give me the head of John the Baptist, here and now, on a dish». The king was very displeased, but he would not refuse in front of his guests because of his oaths. So he sent one of the bodyguards with orders to bring John's head. He went and beheaded John in prison; then he brought the head on a dish and gave it to the girl. And the girl gave it to her mother. When John's disciples heard of this, they came and took his body and buried it.

«For John had told him, ‘It is not right for you to live with your brother's wife’»

Fr. Josep Mª MASSANA i Mola OFM (Barcelona, Spain)

Today, we remember the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist, the Messiah's Precursor. All his life moves around Jesus, to the extent that without Him, the very existence and aim of the Messiah's Precursor would have had no significance whatsoever.

From his mother's womb, the Baptist already senses the nearness of the Savior. Mary and Elisabeth embrace, two future mothers, which opens up the dialogue between the two infants: the Savior sanctified John, and John enthusiastically jumped inside his mother's womb.

In his mission as Forerunner John kept this enthusiasm —whose etymological meaning is “to be full of God”. To those ends, he prepared the path Jesus was to follow, he smoothed the way and leveled off mounds for Him, he announced Jesus’ presence, and pointed Him out as the Messiah: “Behold, the Lamb of God” (Jn 1:36).

In the dusk of his existence, when preaching the messianic freedom to those enslaved by their vices, John is imprisoned: “John had said to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife’” (Mk 6:18). Thus, the testimony of the martyrdom of John the Baptist is centered upon the Person of Jesus. John the Baptist was Jesus' Forerunner in life, and he preceded Him also in his cruel death.

Saint Bede the Venerable tells us: “There is no doubt that blessed John suffered imprisonment and chains as a witness to our Redeemer, whose forerunner he was, and gave his life for him… He was locked away in the darkness of prison, though he came bearing witness to the Light of life and deserved to be called a bright and shining lamp by that Light itself, which is Christ.”

Let us hope that this day, when the remembrance of the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist, overwhelms us, and full of God we may valiantly bear witness to our faith in Jesus. Like John, our Christian life must also be centered on the Person of Jesus, which gives it its full meaning and implication.

Thoughts on Today's Gospel

  • “In persecution God crowns loyal military service; in peace purity of conscience is crowned” (St. Cyprian)

  • “Saint John the Baptist was faithful to the Lord to the end. He drew multitudes of sinners to God. And all this he did, not thanks to his great qualities, or to his enormous apostolates. What attracted him the most was his example of fidelity and his total surrender to God, to the point of shedding his blood rather than betraying his conscience.” (Francis)

  • “St. John the Baptist is the Lord's immediate precursor (…). Going before Jesus "in the spirit and power of Elijah" (Lk 1:17), he bears witness to Christ in his preaching, by his Baptism of conversion, and through his martyrdom.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 523)