While on retreat a few weeks ago, I walked into the bathroom and overheard an elderly woman lamenting over the state of our world.
“This world is going to hell!”
Her friend snapped back, “Now, Judy, remember, no negativity today. We are on retreat!”
I walked into a stall, shut the door, and smiled.
Also, I agreed with Judy.
Leaving the retreat, I reflected on my own negativity, and so I made the conscious decision to spend less time on my phone (negative) and more time in God’s Word (positive). Little good comes from time on my phone, unless you think that scrolling through reels of dogs in costumes for hours is a good use of my time, and then, in that case, I’m crushing it. I chose to immerse myself in the first chapter of the Gospel of John, focusing on John the Baptist. It was Bishop Barron’s interview with Shia LaBeouf that piqued my curiosity. Cast as Padre Pio, actor Shia LaBeouf experienced a powerful conversion to the Catholic faith as he prepared for the role. He speaks of the pain of his past, the beauty of the Mass, and his intrigue with John the Baptist. Referring to him as “an old, rustic western character,” LaBeouf was drawn in by this forerunner’s strength and masculinity. I scratched my head and wondered, What Bible translation is this guy using?
In all of my years as a Catholic, which is quite literally all of my years, I can’t say that I ever used these words to describe John the Baptist. He never reminded me of a manly man, but more like the strange kid in my elementary school that picked spiders off the window sills and ate them. Maybe it was the camel hair shirt and diet of honey and locusts that prevented me from noticing his “leading man” qualities. Hard to say. In any case, I was ready to dive into the gospel story and meet this wild and rugged guy.
Time spent on the Jordan with John and his disciples was eye-opening. He never sought praise for himself, making it very clear: “I am not the Christ” (John 1:20). As I meditated on his mission and purpose, I was struck by his humility and love for the Lord. His sole purpose was to decrease his popularity so as to increase Jesus’ name. In a world that counts followers as badges of honor and marks of self-worth, I found this refreshing. This might be the only case where “losing followers” is not seen as a personal failure but as a win for the Kingdom of God. He wasn’t out to build a platform or to win a popularity contest, and he stood up for the very things the world is denying today: Christ and the truth.
Did you ever consider how John the Baptist lost his head as a witness to the truth about marriage? Until it was pointed out to me in a church bulletin message, not once did I make this connection. John the Baptist spoke up when he saw sin, no matter how unpopular, uncomfortable, or inconvenient it was. And dare I say, losing one’s head is pretty inconvenient. He defended the sacrament of Marriage and was not about to stay silent nor pretend that what Herod was doing (taking his brother’s wife while he was still alive) was okay (Mark 6:18). He didn’t lose his life because Herod had too much to drink, made a stupid promise, and then caved under peer pressure (Mark 6:21–29). He lost his life for preaching the truth.
Can we say the same?
Do we publicly defend our faith, or does fear of being canceled keep us silent?
Do we point out sin when we see it, be it in ourselves or our loved ones?
Do we avoid uncomfortable situations at all costs, especially when we see our loved ones living in a manner that is contrary to God’s will?
We tend to write off the hard sayings in Scripture as words intended for way back then and definitely not for right now. Certainly when Jesus says to sell everything you have (Matthew 19:21), He is not serious! Obviously, when He says to “leave the dead to bury their own dead” (Luke 9:60), He doesn’t mean it!
And so does Saint Paul as we read in 2 Timothy 4:1–2:
“I charge you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and kingly power: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient, convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.”
There will come the day when each of us stands before God, and we will be judged. For those who struggle with this charge from Saint Paul, for fear or inconvenience, perhaps keeping judgment day before our eyes will hold us accountable. I also encourage you to break open the Gospel of John and take a trip to the Jordan. Spend some time learning from John the Baptist, and ask yourself these questions:
What keeps me from proclaiming the word?
Do I shine a spotlight on myself or on Jesus?
What drives what I do? Is it the number of followers I gain for myself, or the number of followers I lose for Christ?
Am I willing to lose my head for Jesus?
The world needs more disciples like John the Baptist. I won’t be looking to wear a camel hair shirt because I can barely stand the tag on the back of my dress. Nor do I have any desire to serve locusts for dinner, although with the price of groceries these days, you never know. Nevertheless, I am encouraged by this wild prophet. I am praying for humility like his, along with the grit and strength needed to go on out into this self-focused world, whether I feel like it or not, and proclaim the truth.
And what about you? How far will you go to preach the truth?
I pray that we can all follow in the footsteps of John the Baptist while keeping our heads firmly attached to our necks. We’ve got a world that needs Jesus, sisters.
Let’s not let Judy down.
P.S. One of my favorite Bible studies is Touching the Divine (Second Edition), and it is all about the Gospel of John!