The Voice in the Desert

The Voice in the Desert

Nativity of St John the Baptist

The nativity of St John the Baptist has always been a joyful event. His birth was unexpected. His parents were old. His mother was barren. God steps in, she conceives and gives birth to a boy. St Luke tells us that the whole region rejoiced at this birth. Zachariah, who had been struck dumb because he hesitated to believe the archangel Gabriel, now bursts forth in what has become one of the foundation stones of the Christian liturgy, being sung every morning at the office of Lauds, the Benedictus.

But then, even stranger things happen. Very young, the child goes off into the desert, where he lives on locusts and wild honey, wears a camel skin, and then, when he achieves the age of adulthood, which for the ancients was thirty years of age, he begins to preach. His message calls souls to repent because the Lord is near. The Baptist is fearless. He goes so far as to publicly denounce King Herod for his adultery. For this he will pay. He will be imprisoned for his fidelity to truth; he will lose his head because of a lascivious dance at the king’s birthday party.

The Baptist has always been dear to monks. Indeed, his life in the desert foretold that of countless anchorites and monks who would go off, leaving the world behind, in order to spend their days in prayer and penance for the world.

He is also dear to preachers who find in his example the courage to denounce error and vice, and to pay the price for it. Of himself, John says that he is the voice crying out in the desert. A voice in a desert can ring out far and wide, but it may be that no one listens, except those who will take offense and seek vengeance.

In every age, the disciples of Christ preach the truth, but so few listen. One so often gets the impression that those who hear do not care. And yet we continue preach, as the Baptist did, in the desert, challenging souls to leave behind their egotism, to convert and to make way for the Saviour who is at the door.

Our Lord said of his cousin: John was a burning and bright light, lucerna ardens et lucens. A light that is hot, ablaze with love for God and neighbour. A light that shines far and wide and that to this day still enlightens souls and wakes them up from their torpor.

Let us ask St John the Baptist on this day to intercede for us. May he inspire many young souls to leave the world and its illusions, to set out on the austere path of the desert. May they attract many others to their way of life, which of itself is like a voice crying out to whomever will listen. The Lord is coming. Make way for Him.

Let us ask him too for many bold preachers of the truth, men who will fearlessly denounce the errors and the vices of our world, and be ready to pay for it with prison and death. Such are the only witnesses that one readily believes.