Practice What You Preach
Now, we are not all called to live in a desert, dress as he did, and eat insects as our food. But, we are called to live a life of virtue, self-denial, and repentance. We are called to choose first our Creator over the created
A precursor for the modern-day evangelist, today we celebrate the life of St. John the Baptist on the Solemnity of his Nativity! His birth and his mission were foretold centuries before in the book of Isiah: “‘A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’” Though there was not much written about John the Baptist, we do know how he was conceived, for what purpose, the lifestyle he lived, what he preached, and how he died. He was born a miracle to Zacariah and Elizabeth, who were already barren and in their old age. He was prophesied to be the one to prepare Israel for the coming of Jesus. He leapt in Elizabeth’s womb upon first encountering his cousin and Savior. And from there, his whole life was spent doing all he could for his mission. One of the greatest prophets of Jesus’ time, John the Baptist was a living example for the rest of us to follow.
He spent his time preaching of repentance and baptized thousands by water in anticipation for the Son of God. He taught all those that came to him to make straight their paths, or to prepare their hearts to follow Jesus. His style of preaching was blunt, but came from pure love. The truth was not (and still is not) easy to hear, but it is the most loving thing he could have shared. He called the crowds that came to see him “You brood of vipers!” (Luke 3:7), reminding them of their need for salvation. He gave the crowds specific charitable acts to live by, such as “whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise” (Luke 3:11). When asked if John the Baptist was the Messiah, he humbly submitted himself saying “One mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.” (Luke 3:16). He called the crowd to a higher standard: one of virtue and humility. And it was also clear that John the Baptist practiced what he preached.
While there are many lessons we can learn from John the Baptist, what I find that particularly encompasses his mission of spreading the Word of God is his witness and life of detachment. Sent from God, “he came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him” (John 1:6). Everything he preached was said in light of the Word of God so that the people may come to know Him. And just as John’s mission was made clear, so is ours. The mission we are called to is pronounced through the Sacrament of Baptism, which we as Christians should reflect upon often. As said in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Reborn as sons of God, [the baptized] must profess before men the faith they have received from God through the Church” and participate in the apostolic and missionary activity of the People of God” (CCC 1268). Through this Sacrament, we take a vow to spread His message in union with the Church. We are called to be a witness to the faith, to pray each day to be open to all those that God places in our lives, and to recognize the many opportunities we have to share the message of the Gospel. We were not made for comfort. There is someone that the Lord has called you to share His message with - to serve and care for. We must pray for the courage to do His will and share His message always, sometimes in the most unexpected of places. It is the most loving thing we can do to prepare them for the Lord, just like John the Baptist.
St. John the Baptist also teaches us how to practice what we preach. When I imagine what he would have looked like if I saw him, I remember the description given in the Bible: “John wore clothing made of camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey” (Matthew 3:4). Today, he probably would have looked like a madman, but a holy one at that. He lived in complete self-denial, making room in his heart to be filled only by Jesus. He did not let the things of this world distract him from his mission. He gave up his comfort to live for Jesus. Now, we are not all called to live in a desert, dress as he did, and eat insects as our food. But, we are called to live a life of virtue, self-denial, and repentance. We are called to choose first our Creator over the created.
Now, this is not what the world preaches or tries to fill our minds with, but radically living our faith despite that is a form of modern-day evangelization. By living with purpose, treating others as Christ would have, continuously learning the teachings of the Church, and sharing our faith, we are radically living and fulfilling our mission as baptized Christians. It may cost us something of earthly measure, as we see through John’s story and death. Though the probability of our mission ending in martyrdom like him is small, we may experience loss in our friendships, jobs, social status, etc. Yet, the beauty of our faith is that we gain so much more. We gain the approval of God and a place with Him in eternity. John the Baptist shows us that to live in charity and humility is a sure path to the One who will fill our lives, despite what the world may be offering us instead.
When looking for ways to grow in faith, it is only fitting to look to John the Baptist’s example. Let us pray for the strength to live as he did, preach as he did, and bring souls to Christ as he did.