Today the church celebrates the birthday of John the Baptist, the precursor of the Lord. Quite the eccentric character – eating locusts and wild honey, living in the desert – he is a great saint to have as my patron.
One of the best meditations I have read about him was written in a Nazi prison by Jesuit Father Alfred Delp, who was eventually killed by the Nazis.
“The man crying in the wilderness. We live in an age that has every right to consider itself no wilderness. But woe to any age in which the voice crying in the wilderness can no longer be heard because the noises of everyday life drown it — or restrictions forbid it — or it is simply stifled by authority, misled by fear and cowardice. Then the destructive weeds will spread so suddenly and rapidly that the word ‘wilderness’ will recur to [people]’s minds willy-nilly. I believe we are no strangers to this discovery.
“Yet for all this, where are the voices that should ring out in protest and accusation? There should never be any lack of prophets like John the Baptist in the kaleidoscope of life at any period; brave [people] inspired by the dynamic compulsion of the mission to which they are dedicated, true witnesses following the lead of their hearts and endowed with clear vision and unerring judgment. Such [people] do not cry out for the sake of making a noise or the pleasure of hearing their own voices, or because they envy other[s] the good things which have not come their way in account of their singular attitude towards life. They are above envy and have a solace known only to those who have crossed both the inner and outer borders of existence. Such [people] proclaim the message of healing and salvation. They warn [people] of [their] chance, because they already feel the ground heaving beneath their feet, feel the beams cracking and the great mountains shuddering inwardly and the stars swinging in space. They cry out to [people], urging [them] to save [themselves] by a change of heart before the coming of the catastrophes threatening to overwhelm [them].
“Oh God, surely enough people nowadays know what it means to clear away bomb dust and rubble of destruction, making the rough places smooth again. They will know it for many years to come with this labor weighing on them. Oh, may the arresting voices of the wilderness ring out warning [hu]mankind in good time that ruin and devastation actually spread from within. May the Advent figure of St. John the Baptist, the incorruptible herald and teacher in God’s name, be no longer a stranger in our own wilderness. Much depends on such symbolic figures in our lives. For how shall we hear if there are none to cry out, none whose voice can rise above the tumult of violence and destruction, the false clamor that deafens us to reality?”
Where are the prophets like John the Baptist and Alfred Delp today? Or maybe we’re called to be those prophets!
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