Witnessing to The Truth and to truth. The feast of the Passion of St. John the Baptist
August 29th 2017
Catholic lay coordinator and activist, Domingo Edo, was working with the Social Action Center of the diocese of Marbel in the South Cotabato province of the southern Philippines. He was found shot dead by unknown attackers on August 22, 2017 and his companion, an altar boy, Ramil Piang, was seriously wounded. They both were on their way to conduct a bible service at the mining town of Tampakan that had been at the center of long-standing disputes between the Church-backed indigenous local communities opposing copper and gold mines in their devastated land and the government and mining companies.
Speaking of the deceased Edo, the diocese’s social action head, Father Ariel Destura, said, “Edo had been handling the diocese’s anti-mining advocacy using dialogue, and was not known to agitate tribal members against the mining company… We are saddened by the death of ‘Doming’ [Edo]. He was well-loved in the mountains and had no known enemies.”
Why was this peaceful young man murdered? He was clearly not advocating violence but seeking a path of peaceful dialogue between the warring parties that would bring justice and peace to the region. The reason is simple: he was bringing the truth of the Church’s social teaching to a world that is intolerant of truth.
Why was the fiery St. John the Baptist beheaded? He did not have troubles calling the Jewish leaders names, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee before the wrath to come?”(Mt 4:7) He was not shy to give stern warnings to conversion, “Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Any tree that does not bare good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”(Mt 4:10) He surely had many enemies among the Jewish hierarchy during his ministry. He was beheaded because he refused to be silent about justice and truth of marriage. He had boldly said to Herod about Herodias, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”
St. Bede the Venerable brilliantly comments on the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist in today’s Office of Reading:
His persecutor (Herod) had demanded not that he should deny Christ, but only that He should keep silent about the truth. Nevertheless, he died for Christ. Does Christ not say, “I am the truth?” Therefore, because John shed his blood for the truth, he surely died for Christ.”
Isn’t this the story of our time? We are allowed to profess and worship Christ publicly. We are allowed to speak freely of our relationship with Jesus Christ and His love for us. We are not asked outright to deny Christ. What our world simply requires of us is that we keep quiet about His truth and His teaching as found in the Holy Scriptures and as interpreted in the Church’s tradition and magisterium. It is so comfortable to speak of Jesus Christ, The Truth, and to simply ignore or dismiss His teaching on certain hot-button issues like the sanctity of every human life, sacred marriage between a man and a woman, the evil of premarital sex and artificial contraceptives, etc. Is the Eternal Truth that we profess to be Christ Jesus impotent to also teach us unchanging truths about all the aspects of our lives?
The Gospel Reading of mass on the 21st Sunday of Ordinary time this last Sunday from Mt 16:13-20 has our Lord Jesus Christ say to Peter after his (Peter’s) confession, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” This reminds us of three things about being members of the Catholic Church.
First of all, Jesus Christ remains the invisible Head of the Church made of weak men and women and He is constantly building it up individually and collectively. He continuously fills His mystical body of the Church with His truth and sanctifies it with His grace and thus continuously moves us to bear witness to His divine person as well as the truths that He has revealed to us, “I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth.”(Jn 17:19)
Secondly, this Church will always face fierce and often violent opposition no matter how mercifully we present the truth of our faith, “Because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, thee world hates you.”(Jn 15:19). Being sent into this world like “lambs amongst wolves,” (Mt 10:16), we must be ready for violent oppositions, outright contradiction and threats against us and the Church community.
Thirdly, we are assured of final victory if we never cease bearing witness to Christ, the Truth, and His saving truths, “The gates of the netherworld will not prevail.”
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, our witness to Jesus Christ is baseless when we ignore His truths because we are afraid of confrontation with our world. No matter how we present the truths of our faith and morals, whether we are fiery or we tow the way of mercy and dialogue (much better way), we must be ready for rejection and opposition that can come in the form of violence and threats. The solution is not compromise or a cowardly appeal to so-called gray areas where we can make up our convenient “truths” that have no saving power. The solution is to follow in the footsteps of St. John the Baptist who consistently bore witness to both the person and words of Jesus.
As we encounter Jesus in our Eucharist today, let us put all our trust in Jesus Christ, the Truth, who was no stranger to opposition and threats from men who had hardened their hearts to His truths. When Mother Mary presented Jesus in the Temple, the aged Simeon said, “This child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be contradicted.” Mary would also participate in the pains of this contradiction and opposition to Jesus, “And you yourself a sword will pierce.”(Lk 2:34,35) King Herod’s murderous plan, a plan to snuff out the Truth before He spoke saving words of truth, forced the Holy Family to flee for Egypt even before Jesus spoke a single word.
We bear the ever active Christ within us in this Holy Mass and have His truths written in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Jesus never ceases to build up His Church. We shall surely be victorious and the gates of the netherworld will not prevail over the Church of Christ if we give witness to both the Truth Incarnate and His saving truths even in the face of opposition and confrontation from this world.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!