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This year, the feast of the birth of St. John the Baptist was moved from June 24 to June 23 for the universal Church, due to the prominence of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This was not the situation if St. John the Baptist is the patron of the diocese, nation, city or religious community, or, in our case, of SJB Province. St. John the Baptist would have been fine with the former. “He must increase, while I must decrease” are his last recorded words in John’s Gospel. And this saying epitomizes the Christian desire that Christ might increase in all our lives, while our ego false-self diminishes.
For St. Francis, John the Baptist served as a role model. Francis declares himself after his conversion, “I am the Herald of the Great King!” This has been said of St. John the Baptist himself, that he was the forerunner, the announcer of making straight the way of the Lord.
The Church calls someone who brings Good News an evangelizer. Immediately, I think of people on a street corner banging their Bibles. Or, if they were Catholic, their Catechisms. This method is not Good News. So much of what has been passed off as religion has been bad news: “If you get your life together, then God will love you.” This keeps us trapped in an impossible attempt to spiritually weight lift our way into God’s care, often by performing feats of fasting, giving up M&M’s and cookies, checking off boxes of prayers or novenas, giving to the church collection, reading the Bible. I wouldn’t be against any of these things, but they will never win you God’s love. The Good News is that God is already crazy about you.
The Good News is always a relationship. It involves meeting the person of Christ through a person whose life is attractive, or at Mass, in prayer, in our working with the poor. The Good News is the person of Jesus in His attractiveness: walking with us, forgiving us, empowering us as witnesses to Him. It involves a gradual change in our lives where Christ does increase, and our false-self projects decrease. Gradually, genuine freedom given by the Spirit of the Lord makes room for the spiritual fruits of joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control in our own lives. We have a felt sense of the gift that Jesus gave the first disciples: “Shalom,” Peace.
This Good News is for anyone whose life has ever gone off the rails, for the addicted, those who feel trapped, or lonely — actually all of us! I believe we have to be “hungry” enough for it. All the other systems of finding happiness have been exhausted, and then we are open. AA folks would say, “We were sick and tired of being sick and tired.” And the alternative is a life with Christ.
Then people like St. Francis or St. John the Baptist make sense. They bring the Good News as friends who hear of a person’s deep suffering and offer the solace of knowing Jesus, His Church community, the sacraments. It is a gradual walk, normally of letting go of old ways, of seeking happiness and letting the new ways of the Spirit blossom. It means to be accompanied by a brother or sister in the Lord. That’s an evangelization that can be life-giving. It might lead to some fasting, prayer or almsgiving down the road. But that’s a byproduct of allowing the Spirit of Jesus to take more and more control of every detail of our life. Then we’ll find the help of Mary and the saints helpful, aspirational, comforting, challenging.
How are you at evangelizing, being a bearer of Good News? On this feast of the birth of St. John the Baptist, can we open ourselves to this transformational Spirit of Jesus, giving Him room to increase in us?