On this ninth anniversary of hurricane Katrina, we celebrate the martyrdom of Saint John the Baptist, who fearlessly stood before King Herod Antipas of Galilee and told him that he was committing sin by living with his brother’s wife. The adulterous woman bitterly resented this condemnation of herself and her royal lover, and waited for an opportunity to take vengeance. It came when her daughter, Salome, danced at a party given by the king for his courtiers. Probably drunk, he took the very rash oath that he would give the dancing girl anything she asked for, even to half his kingdom. She ran off to her mother and asked for advice in her choice of a prize. The vicious woman told her to ask for the head of Saint John the Baptist. And so it was: the man whom Christ called the greatest Old Testament prophet died because of his championing of moral virtue, because of an evil woman’s grudge, because of the king’s foolish and probably drunken oath, and then his own destructive pride in not wanting to renege upon his oath made in public.
We often lament the loss of good men, women, and children because of the absurdity of human evil. The drug wars; the slow suicides caused by drink, smoking, overeating, and sexually transmitted diseases, the sudden deaths because of reckless driving. All unnecessary deaths. Years ago, I came to know a family in New Orleans one of whose sons was on drugs. One night, he was “high on drugs” as they say, and trying to get more. He went to a drugstore about 3 o’clock in the morning and tried to pry the front door open with a knife which his older brother had brought back from World War II in the south Pacific. An off-duty policeman passing by saw what was happening, stopped, and pulled his gun out. He shouted at the boy to stop what he was doing, and to drop the knife. Instead of dropping the knife, he lunged with it at the policeman, who shot and killed him on the spot. Imagine how his parents felt. What do you say to them in a case like that? The older brother said to me, “I knew that this would happen. It was just a question of time.” Let us think how the dead boy’s parents felt. Let us think how Saint Elizabeth felt if she was still alive when her son, Saint John the Baptist, was beheaded. Let us think how the dancing girl and her vindictive mother felt. In two cases, grief and immense sorrow. In one case, gloating satisfaction. “Hell has no fury like a woman scorned,” as the saying goes.
In any case, we celebrate today the death of a man whose conception was miraculous, whose birth is one of the only three births celebrated in our liturgies, and whose death, although brought about by absurdity, is heroic in that he died upholding the law of God. Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.