Wednesday August 29, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Jeremiah 1:17-19) Gospel (St. Mark 6:17-29)
Today as we celebrate the Feast of the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist, it strikes us, initially, as something that most people would not want to be celebrating. Yet, we recognize that this was the greatest act of witness to Christ that John the Baptist performed. Of all the things that John did in preparing the way for the Lord this was the greatest because he was willing to give complete witness of his entire life for the Lord. As he offered himself, he showed the way of the Lord. Not only was he going to be the forerunner of Our Lord in his birth, he was also going to be the forerunner of Our Lord in death. Just as Our Lord was going to have to offer himself as a sacrifice, so John the Baptist had done the same. And so these two, who were related to one another by blood, are completely united with one another not only in life, but also in death. Ultimately, because of their union in death, they are united in the fullness of life.
But as we consider this feast, we need to look at what happened. John spoke the truth, and because he spoke the truth a woman who did not want to hear the truth became angry. Herod, who was a very weak man himself, was willing to offer whatever it would take to get his own way. We need to look at this and learn a lesson for ourselves because we all have weak spots; we all have places where we are blind. We might ask ourselves: "Who is the Salome¢ in our lives?" or "What is the Salome¢ in our lives?" Salome¢ was the young girl who came in and performed a rather erotic dance that thrilled Herod to the point that he was willing to say, "I will give you anything that you want," even when it violated his conscience.
Now, of course, we recognize there were two weak spots: first of all, this girl and the dance that she performed; and then, that attachment to human affection. We are told it was because of the guests that were there that he was afraid to say "no." Even though he knew that what she had asked for was wrong, he was willing to violate his conscience and do something that he knew was completely wrong because he was afraid of what other people would think of him.
How often we do the same. We need to find our own blind spots so that we can strengthen ourselves against them, so we will be able to recognize that we, too, are weak. Then, we need to learn from John the Baptist and from the promises of Our Lord. He gave them to Saint John the Baptist and to Jeremiah and He give us the exact same promises. He will strengthen us. He will make us that fortified wall, that wall of brass against the people. He will give us the strength and the grace to do His Will, to do whatever it is that He commands us, and to speak His Word if we are willing.
Now, at that point, we may have just found where our first major weak spot is. Most of us really do not want to do that (speak His Word) because we know what the cost is going to be, or at least we fear what the cost might be. If we really go out into the world and live our faith, if we really have to speak up if the Lord asks us to do so, maybe we will even have to say something to family members, or people who are close to us, or people that we have to work with. That frightens us because we know what is going to happen the next time that we see these people. They are not going to be too amused with us. We are going to be shunned and rejected; so we tend to pull back from God in order to fit in with the people.
That is what Herod did - it is not what John the Baptist did. We even have a saying in America, which would go right along with this: "It is not worth losing your head over it." Well, for John the Baptist, the truth was worth losing his head. And Jesus Christ is the truth. So we need to ask ourselves: "What is worth it?" Is it worth losing our soul, or is it worth losing something else? If we are going to waffle when it comes to the truth, we are compromising our salvation. We may lose our soul over it, and to compromise the truth is not worth losing your soul.
On the other hand, we can learn from John the Baptist: He gave his life in witness to the Truth. That is the part that we need to learn, as well. Nothing is worth losing salvation over. But the Truth, who is Jesus Christ, is worth anything and everything - even to the point of losing our own lives. How much are we willing to give for the Lord? We are getting up early in the morning and coming here for Mass; you are already giving up much for the Lord and that is very pleasing to Him. But now, we need to go to the next step and ask ourselves: "Where do we draw the line? Where do we say, 'This is enough, I won't do anymore. I do not want to give this much because of what it is going to cost.'" John the Baptist did not draw a line. He said, "Jesus is worth anything, even to the point of losing my life." Are we willing to do the same?
Note: Father Altier does not write his homilies in advance, but relies solely upon the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.