During his homily this morning at Casa Santa Marta, Pope Francis called on the faithful to reflect on their own discipleship, especially in times of darkness.
The Holy Father drew his homily from today’s Gospel, which recalled the martyrdom of John the Baptist at the hands of King Herod. John the Baptist, he said, was able to proclaim the Word of God in his brief life. In the end, however, his life is place at the hands of Herod’s court.
“When there is the court, it is possible to do everything: corruption, vices, crimes,” he said. “The courts favor these things. What did John do? First of all he proclaimed the Lord. He announced that the Savior was near, the Lord, that the Kingdom of God was at hand. And he did it with strength. And he baptized. He exhorted all to convert. He was a strong man. And he proclaimed Jesus Christ.”
The Pope reflected on St. John’s humility, who rather than taking “possession of the prophecy” and proclaim himself as the Messiah, he instead announces Jesus Christ. In another excerpt from the Gospel, for example, the Pharisees asked if he was the Messiah.
“In that moment of temptation, of vanity, he could’ve [shrugged] and say: “I don’t know…” with a false humility. Instead, he was clear: “No! I am not! Behind me is one who is stronger than me, who I am not worthy to stoop down and loosen the strap of His sandals.”
“He was a man of truth!”
John, he continued, also imitated the humility of Christ until the end, until his death. The Pope observed that John even died in the same style as Christ, who died “like a bandit, like a thief, like a criminal, on the cross.”
“A humiliating death. But even John had his own ‘Garden of Olives’, his anguish in jail, when he thought he was mistaken, and sends his disciples to Jesus: ‘is it you or was I mistaken and there is another?’ The darkness of the soul, that darkness that purifies like Jesus in the Garden of Olives. And Jesus responded to John like the Father responded to Jesus, by comforting.”
“That darkness,” he continued, “of the man of God, of the woman of God, I think in this moment of the dark night of the soul of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, no? Ah, the woman that the whole world praised, Nobel Prize! But she knew that in one moment of her life, a long [moment], there was only the darkness inside.”
Concluding his homily, Pope Francis urged those present to contemplate, in the light of St. John the Baptist’s life and death, on our own discipleship. “Do we proclaim Jesus Christ? Do we take advantage or not take advantage of our Christian condition as if it were a privilege? Are we going on the path of Jesus Christ? The path of humiliation, of humility, of lowering ourselves for service?” he asked.
“And if we find that we are not firm in this, we must ask ourselves: ‘But when was my encounter with Jesus Christ, that encounter that filled me with joy? And return to that encounter, to return to the first Galilee of the encounter. We all have one! Return there! To meet again with the Lord and go forward on this most beautiful path, in which He should increase and we should decrease.” (J.A.E.)