Today is August 29, a date that will live in infamy, to quote President Franklin Roosevelt. He was talking about Pearl Harbor; I am talking about Hurricane Katrina. It was on August 29, 2005, that the storm struck New Orleans and the Mississippi gulf coast, and the levees broke, bringing unimaginable distress, suffering, and death to thousands of people. I would ask you to pray for those who died as a result of Katrina, and those still suffering the loss of homes, jobs, and the serenity and security of our usual life.
Today is also the commemoration day of the death of Saint John the Baptist. We celebrated his birth on June 24, and now his death in August. And as we do so, I would like to ask you to think about Our Blessed Mother as she heard the news of Saint John’s imprisonment by King Herod Antipas. Herod had imprisoned Saint John because the latter told him very boldly that he was living in adultery by being married to one woman, and then also marrying his sister-in-law. Shortly after that, Herod’s step-daughter came into a party that he was giving and did a dance for the assembled guests. We can imagine the sort of dance she did, and we can also imagine the amount that the king had had to drink when he vowed to give her ANYTHING she asked for, even half his kingdom! Only a madman or a drunk would vow anything so foolish. The girl ran off to ask her mother what she should ask for. And the vicious and vindictive queen seized her chance for revenge upon the great prophet who had called her an adulteress. She instructed the girl to ask for the prophet’s head on a platter! The execution was carried out, and the prophet’s head was brought in on a platter.
Let us consider Our Lady. She had gone to be with her cousin Elizabeth when Elizabeth was six-months pregnant with Saint John the Baptist. Mary had stayed with her until the birth of the child, possibly assisting at the delivery, and receiving the newborn into her arms and thinking that in just three months, she would be holding her own baby in her arms. And now, she hears that that same John, the son of Elizabeth and Zachary, has been imprisoned and then beheaded. To many, his death would seem a foolish waste, a total disaster. But to the Mother of God, his imprisonment and death are courageous and beautiful acts of prophecy, and will be of great value in salvation history, just as her own son’s death on the cross will be the means by which the world is saved. God writes straight with crooked lines; human beings can do terrible things, but they are all subsumed into God’s plan for all of us, and nothing is totally useless. Herod Antipas, his illicit wife Herodias, and the voluptuous step-daughter Salome would not even be known to us were it not that they are recorded in the gospel of Christ. But Saint John the Baptist’s birth and death are celebrated each year by a grateful Christian people to whom he introduced Christ as “the Lamb of God.” Thank you for seeking God’s truth, God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.