Going viral with God’s message

| Father Tom Wilson | June 21, 2018 | 0 Comments
John the Baptist on the Charles bridge

iStock/dexns

A diet of locusts and wild honey. A wardrobe of a hair shirt. The willingness to publicly challenge social power and influence in order to communicate God’s plan for marriage. A message of a change of heart to all who would listen. Any of these attributes or actions would garner a lot of attention on social media today. The attention might be negative or even hateful, but I can only imagine the person behind these bold eccentricities would go viral for at least a while.

What we have here, of course, is John the Baptist, a character that fills our liturgical life more than anyone other than Mary, Joseph and Jesus himself. In the readings for June 24, we embrace the liturgical rarity of setting aside the Sunday in Ordinary Time readings to celebrate the birth of John the Baptist. Jesus and Mary are the only others in our Church life whose births we celebrate. St. John the Baptist is clearly someone the Church wants us to know well.

In encountering John the Baptist, we get an example of someone who could be a patron saint for our renewed attention to evangelization in the Church. It starts with a plan from God. John’s conception and birth are both welcomed surprises. People know immediately that he is destined to do mighty works. He becomes that last prophet and is the precursor to Jesus’ coming and his message. In honoring his call from God, John fulfills God’s plan to make Jesus known.

His approach is both bold and dangerous. He had to know that challenging Herod’s unlawful and ungodly marriage would be risky. It appears not to have fazed him. He understood the need to have a prepared heart to receive the Messiah, so he counseled his own disciples and others to make straight the paths in their hearts for the presence of Jesus. To be able to welcome Jesus, our hearts need to be prepared and changed. Very few of us can do that on our own, so we need a messenger to be that encourager, challenger and conduit. John did that for his community at great cost, but with great confidence.

Once we have heeded the message to make straight our own hearts, we can be, and are called to be, that messenger and conduit for others. Announcing the truth of Jesus Christ brings freedom, but it is also risky. Very few powerful people want to be told there is something in their life or behavior that violates God’s plan. Comfortable people don’t find it easy to change. Even people humble enough to know they need to change might find the message intimidating. There is no guarantee that the message will be well-received.

Despite that risk, helping others to prepare for Christ is both a gift and a call. Jesus wants to be known and loved, and he wants us to be an instrument for that to happen. John the Baptist is a heroic example of what we are called to.

There is no doubt that he would be a viral social media phenomenon today. My guess is he wouldn’t care about being a short-term celebrity and even disliked as long as the message was proclaimed. We might not be called to the eccentricities of locusts and a hair shirt, but we are called to be the messengers of the truth of Jesus Christ.

Father Wilson was ordained for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in 1996 and is pastor of All Saints in Lakeville.


Sunday, June 24
Nativity of St. John the Baptist

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Category: Focus on Faith