21st Tuesday of Ordinary Time
Memorial of the Passion of St. John the Baptist
The liturgy this morning presents us with two friends of God who never married: Jeremiah in the first reading, and John the Baptist in the Gospel. Jeremiah is told that “priests and people will fight against” him, and John the Baptist is “bound in prison” and eventually beheaded. That may remind us of a saying attributed to another celibate friend of God, St Teresa of Avila: “Lord, if this is the way you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few!”
Those who live in monasteries are engaged in a lifelong befriending of reality which brings us to God, because God is behind everything. Everything is because he has either willed it or permitted it. And if the evil permitted by him frightens us, there is still some good underneath it all, and it is that good that God wills. Even when we contemplate the reality of suffering and evil in our lives, there is something of God’s will – and therefore of his Love – hidden at the root of everything. A friend of God is someone who may not always find, but does truly seek God’s Will and his Love.
St Benedict describes this monastic attitude in the fourth degree of humility, which the Abbot has been talking about in his chapter talks. Benedict says that the monk’s “heart quietly embraces suffering”, and that monks “are so confident in their expectation of reward from God that they continue joyfully and say, ‘But in all this we overcome because of him who so greatly loved us’”. Monks are the successors of John the Baptist, not in the sense that they shed their blood for Christ, but in the sense that they give their lives for Christ. Faithful monks, like all the friends of God, are firmly rooted in him, in love or in suffering, no matter what God may choose to give or take away
Sometimes God in his love may shatter our foundations, just as John in prison had to face his own powerlessness. But having experiences like these shows us how totally we depend on God. The fourth degree of humility teaches us to praise God in everything – in our thoughts and works and in everything that happens, even in suffering and trials. The one who can praise God in everything finds that suffering is the way to joy, just as death – or mortification, which is death to self – is the way to life.
Like John the Baptist, the humble monk accepts what he cannot change, remaining serene under the cross. It is not to the cross that we turn our face, but to the One who carried it before us and for us, and who carries it with us still, because he so greatly loves us, from the depths of his infinite Heart.