Sunday, June 24, 2007

Angelus: John the Baptist testified to truth without compromises

An Italian worshipper holds a Madonna statue during Pope Benedict XVI's weekly Angelus prayers at the Vatican June 24, 2007. REUTERS/Chris Helgren (VATICAN)

~translated by Papa Ratzinger Forum

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today, June 24, the liturgy invites us to celebrate the solemnity of the Nativity of St John the Baptist, whose life was totally oriented to Christ, as was that of his mother, Mary.

John the Baptist was the precursor, the 'voice' sent to announce the incarnate Word. Thus, to commemorate his birth really means to celebrate Christ, the fulfillment of the promises made by all the prophets, of whom the Baptist was the greatest, the one called to 'prepare the way' for the Messiah (cfr Mt 11,9-10).

All the Gospels begin narrating the public life of Christ with the story of his baptism on the river Jordan by John. St. Luke presents the entrance on the scene of the Baptist in a solemn historical frame. Even my book JESUS OF NAZARETH starts off with the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, an event that had enormous resonance in its time.

From Jerusalem and every part of Judea, people came to listen to John the Baptist and to be baptized by him on the river, confessing their sins (cfr Mk 1,5). The fame of the baptist-prophet became such that many asked whether he was the Messiah. But he, the evangelist underscores, sharply denied it: "I am not the Christ" (Jn 1,20).

Nevertheless, he was the first 'witness' of Jesus, having received the sign from heaven: "He upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending and remaining upon him, he it is that baptizeth with the Holy Ghost" (Jn 1,33).

And this is exactly what happened when Jesus, after being baptized, came out of the river: John saw the Spirit descend on him in the form of a dove. It was then that he 'knew' the full reality of Jesus of Nazareth, and he started to make him 'known in Israel' (Jn 1.31), pointing to him as teh Son of God and redeemer of man: "Behold the Lamb of God. Behold him who taketh away the sins of the world." (Jn 1.29).

As an authentic prophet, John testified to the truth without compromises. He denounced trangressions of the commandments of God, even when the protagonists were the powerful. Thus, when he accused Herod and Herodias of adultery, he paid with his life, sealing his service to Christ - who is truth himself - with his martyrdom.

Let us invoke his intercession, along with that of the Most Blessed Mary, so that even in our day, the Church may keep herself always faithful to Christ and testify courageously to his truth and his love for everyone.

After the Angelus, the Pope also noted this:

This Sunday, which precedes the solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, is also the Day of Charity for the Pope, in Italy. Dear Italian faithful, I am sincerely grateful to you for the prayers and fraternal support that you participate in the evangelizing and charitable mission of the Successor of Peter in the entire world.

In English he said:

I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors gathered for this Angelus prayer.

Today, as the Church celebrates the Birth of Saint John the Baptist, let us ask for the gift of true conversion and growth in holiness, so that our lives will prepare a way for the Lord and hasten the coming of his Kingdom.

Upon all of you I invoke God's blessings of joy and peace!

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