CASTEL GANDOLFO, ITALY (ZENIT) — Commemorating the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist during his Aug. 29 general audience, Pope Benedict XVI said we are all called to “the ‘martyrdom’ of daily fidelity” to the truth of the Gospel.
“The final Wednesday of August marks the liturgical memorial of the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus. In the Roman calendar, he is the only saint for whom we celebrate both his birth (June 24) and his death by martyrdom.”
“John the Baptist begins his preaching under the emperor Tiberius, in 27-28 A.D., and the clear invitation he addresses to the people who come out to hear him is to prepare the way to welcome the Lord, to make straight the paths of their lives through a radical conversion of heart (cf. Luke 3:4).”
“But the Baptist does not limit himself to preaching repentance and conversion; rather, in recognizing Jesus as “the Lamb of God” who has come to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29), he has the deep humility to point to Jesus as the One truly sent by God, and he steps aside so that Christ might increase, be heard and followed.”
“As a last act, the Baptist bears witness with his blood to his fidelity to God’s commandments, without giving up or turning back, thus fulfilling his mission to the end. St. Bede, a 9th century monk, in his Homilies says: St. John, for Christ, gave up his life, even though (his persecutor) had not demanded that he should deny Jesus Christ, but only that he should keep silent about the truth. And he did not keep silent about the truth, and thus he died for Christ who is the Truth. For love of the truth, he did not give in to compromises with those who were powerful, nor was he afraid to address strong words to the one who lost his way to God.”
“Now we see this great figure — this force — in his passion, in his resistance against the powerful. We ask: where does this life come from, this interiority, which is so strong, so principled, so consistent, which is spent so totally for God and in preparing the way for Jesus? The answer is simple: from his relationship with God, from prayer, which is the guiding thread of his entire life.”
“Dear brothers and sisters, celebrating the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist also reminds us — Christians in our own times — that we cannot give in to compromise when it comes to our love for Christ, for His Word, for His Truth. The Truth is the Truth; there is no compromise. The Christian life requires, as it were, the ‘martyrdom’ of daily fidelity to the Gospel; the courage, that is, to allow Christ to increase in us and to direct our thoughts and actions. But this can only occur in our lives if our relationship with God is strong. Prayer is not time lost, nor does it steal space away from our activities, even those that are apostolic; it is exactly the opposite: only if we are able to have a life of faithful, constant, trusting prayer, will God himself give us the ability and strength to live in happiness and peace, to overcome difficulties and to courageously bear witness to Him. May St. John the Baptist intercede for us, that we might always maintain the primacy of God in our lives.”