August 2, 2008
Saturday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 14: 1-12
Herod the tetrarch heard of the reputation of Jesus and said to his servants, "This man is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why mighty powers are at work in him." Now Herod had arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, for John had said to him, "It is not lawful for you to have her." Although he wanted to kill him, he feared the people, for they regarded him as a prophet. But at a birthday celebration for Herod, the daughter of Herodias performed a dance before the guests and delighted Herod so much that he swore to give her whatever she might ask for. Prompted by her mother, she said, "Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist." The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and the guests who were present, he ordered that it be given, and he had John beheaded in the prison. His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who took it to her mother. His disciples came and took away the corpse and buried him; and they went and told Jesus.
Introductory Prayer: Lord, how heroic John the Baptist was! He had the courage to witness to your saving truths with his own life. Strengthen me during this time of prayer to be a more ardent witness to you.
Petition: Mary, help me to be an instrument of the new Pentecost Pope Benedict has called for in the Church in America.
1. Dying for the Truths of the Faith The most striking aspect of today’s Gospel is the apparent futility of John the Baptist’s death. Herod makes a vow in a moment of drunken exuberance, and John is ordered to be beheaded. Yet John did not die in vain. He was a martyr for the truths of the faith — for a central truth: the deep inner meaning of married love. This same truth is being threatened by society today, a fact which did not escape Pope Benedict during his 2008 pastoral visit to the U.S. To what extent are we willing to sacrifice ourselves in order to live the Church’s challenging, yet deeply rewarding teachings? Do we ask the strength from God to be heroic witnesses as John the Baptist was?
2. Entrusting Ourselves to God When speaking with Catholic educators, the Holy Father penetrated to the roots of the crisis in living the truth of how we have been created. The crisis of truth arises from a crisis of faith: a lack of faith and the resulting inability to entrust ourselves to God. “From this perspective one can recognize that the contemporary ‘crisis of truth’ is rooted in a ‘crisis of faith.’ Only through faith can we freely give our assent to God’s testimony and acknowledge him as the transcendent guarantor of the truth he reveals. Again, we see why fostering personal intimacy with Jesus Christ and communal witness to his loving truth is indispensable in Catholic institutions of learning. Yet we all know, and observe with concern, the difficulty or reluctance many people have today in entrusting themselves to God. It is a complex phenomenon and one which I ponder continually. While we have sought diligently to engage the intellect of our young, perhaps we have neglected the will. Subsequently we observe, with distress, the notion of freedom being distorted. Freedom is not an opting out. It is an opting in – a participation in Being itself. Hence authentic freedom can never be attained by turning away from God. Such a choice would ultimately disregard the very truth we need in order to understand ourselves” (Address, Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., April 17, 2008).
3. Courage to Defend the Beauty of Conjugal Love John the Baptist fearlessly entrusted himself to God and gave up his life in defense of the good — the good of the profound inner meaning of conjugal love. Pope Benedict contrasts this heroic witness with the spirit that predominates in today’s world. “We observe today a timidity in the face of the category of the good and an aimless pursuit of novelty parading as the realization of freedom. We witness an assumption that every experience is of equal worth and a reluctance to admit imperfection and mistakes. And particularly disturbing, is the reduction of the precious and delicate area of education in sexuality to management of ‘risk’, bereft of any reference to the beauty of conjugal love” (Address, Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., April 17, 2008). Pope John Paul the Great heroically defended the beauty of conjugal love with his theology of the body. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to live as heroic witnesses to those truths, thus helping to bring about the new Pentecost Pope Benedict has prayed for.
Conversation with Christ: Thank you, Lord, for the beauty of your teachings, for the way you created us man and woman, so that married couples might give themselves totally to one another in conjugal love. Help me to live these truths more deeply in my own life in order to be your courageous witness.
Resolution: Today witness to the truth of the Church’s teachings on the beauty of conjugal love.
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