In his daily Mass, Pope Francis spoke about the witness of John the Baptist from the Gospel, highlighting how the saint lived and died with humility and urging all to follow in his example.
“Do we go on the path of Jesus Christ? The path of humiliation, of humility, of lowering for the sake of service?” the Pope asked in his Feb. 7 homily.
Centering his reflections on the Gospel passage from John, which recounts the death of John the Baptist, the pontiff noted how Herod decided to kill the prophet simply to satisfy the whims of his mistress and her daughter.
Emphasizing how John's life ends as a prisoner in the court of Herod “who was in a banquet,” the Pope explained that “when there is a court, it is possible to do all sorts of things: corruption, vices, crimes.”
Courts encourage this kind of behavior, he said, but “What did John do? First he announced the Lord,” the pontiff noted, “He announced that the Savior was close, the Lord, that the Kingdom of God was close.”
“And he did it with strength. He baptized. He exhorted all to convert. He was a strong man. He announced Jesus Christ.”
In addition to announcing the Lord, the Pope observed that John never “took possession of his moral authority,” despite the fact that he once had the opportunity to say that “I am the Messiah” because of this authority, and because “all the people came to him.”
Pope Francis then recalled how when the Pharisees saw his strength and that he was “a righteous man,” they asked John if he was the Messiah.
John, he explained, in that “moment of temptation and vanity,” could have responded with “false humility” saying that he didn’t know, however his answer was clear: “No! I'm not! After me comes he who is mightier than I, that I am not worthy to bend over and loosen the thongs of his sandals.”
This act of not “stealing the title” or “taking possession of the trade,” is second part of what makes John a “man of truth,” the Pope observed.
Another thing the prophet did, noted the pontiff, was to “imitate Christ,” especially “in the way of lowering himself,” recalling that John was also “humiliated,” and “humbled himself even to the end, until death.”
Explaining that even John “had his Garden of Olives,” the Pope drew attention to “his agony in prison, when he believed he was wrong, and he would send his disciples to ask Jesus: 'But tell me, are you or am I wrong and there is another one?'”
This, he explained, is “the darkness of the soul, that darkness that purifies like Jesus in the Garden of Olives.”
Calling to mind Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the Pope noted that she also “had this darkness of the soul, no? Ah, the woman that all the world praised! A Nobel Prize winner!”
“But she knew that in a moment of her long life, there was only darkness inside,” the pontiff continued, adding that “Jesus responded to John like the Father responds to Jesus, comforting.”
Concluding his reflections, the Pope stated that “it would do us well today to ask ourselves about our discipleship: do we announce Jesus Christ? Do we take or not take advantage of our Christian condition as if it were a privilege?”
Recalling again that John “never took possession of prophecy,” the pontiff also asked those present “do we go on the path of Jesus Christ? The path of humiliation, of humility, of lowering for the sake of service?”
If we discover that we are not “firm” in this path of humility and service, we ought to ask ourselves “when was my encounter, that encounter that filled me with joy, with Jesus Christ?” and return to it, “to the first encounter of Gallilee.”
“All of us have” an encounter like this, the Pope affirmed, “Return to it! Let us meet with the Lord again and advance down this beautiful path, in which He must increase and we must decrease.”