Give us prophets like John the Baptist

John the Baptist, Chartres Cathedral

John the Baptist, Chartres Cathedral

These last few days of Advent the Gospels speak to us of the time immediately preceding the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Today the Gospel, Luke 1: 5-25,  is the annunciation of the birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah.

John the Baptist played a central role in preparing the way for Jesus’ public ministry. He is also one of the central figures of Advent.

For many years during Advent I’ve been reading the prison meditations of the martyred German Jesuit, Alfred Delp, S.J. His meditation on John, written from a Nazi prison in 1944, is particularly apt. In part it reads:

…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 out — or restrictions forbid it  — or it is lost in the hurry and turmoil of “progress” — or simply stifled by authority, misled by fear and cowardice….

…There should never be any lack of prophets like John the Baptist in the kaleidoscope of life at any period…They warn us of our chance, because they can already feel the ground heaving beneath their feet… They cry out to us, urging us to save ourselves by a change of heart before the coming of the catastrophes threatening to overwhelm us.

Oh God, surely enough people nowadays know what it means to clear away bomb dust and rubble of destruction, making the rough places smooth… Oh may the arresting voices of the wilderness ring out warning humankind in good time that ruin and destruction 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 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, [above] the false clamor that deafens us to reality?

Would that we had move people like John, aware of the violence and hunger and oppression in our world, willing to cry out, so that we might be “a people fit for the Lord.”

The passage cited is taken from Alfred Delp, SJ: Prison Writings (Orbis Books, 2004).


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