As I write this I'm on a flight to Toronto. The crew has just completed the demonstration of safety procedures, to which no one (including, I confess, yours truly) has paid any attention. Amazing, when you think of it. We've been shown what to do "in the unlikely event of an emergency." Rather serious, that. Yet, we did not take it seriously by paying attention.
Yesterday the Church celebrated, as a solemnity, the birth of Saint John the Baptist. By according to this event the highest degree of importance (a solemnity), the Church is saying that the life and witness of this last of the prophets is to be taken very seriously indeed. His message and example are not for the Christian to ignore.
The life of Saint John the Baptist was, from beginning to end, entirely oriented to Jesus Christ. He leapt for joy in his mother Elizabeth's womb when she heard the voice of Mary, who carried within her the Saviour. John prepared the Lord's way by calling to repentance. He pointed him out when Jesus appeared for Baptism. His greatest act of witness was martyrdom at the hand of Herod. So, too, the life of every Christian - wholly oriented to Christ. In a culture that celebrates self-aggrandizement, John's affirmation that "He must increase and I must decrease" does not easily find an echo. Yet that is precisely our call, imprinted upon us at Baptism.
Still more challenging is John's witness to the truth. He called a spade a spade, not hesitating to point out the sins and infidelities of his day, prevalent even among the religious leaders. His particular criticism of King Herod and his wife ultimately got him killed. Truth summons to change, and that is usually unwelcome. Yet, since Jesus Christ is the Truth, those who follow him must not do other than live in accordance with truth and be ready to speak it. And there is no shortage of contexts in which we need to do so. The truth about the dignity of human life from conception to natural death; the truth about marriage and family life; the truth about social justice, with its demands to both care for and advocate on behalf of the vulnerable, all must be spoken to expose and challenge the lies and illusions that plague our culture. Will such statement of truth be resisted? Of course. But that is no reason not to speak it.
Let's heed the Church's call, implicit in the celebration of the birth of this great saint. Let's take seriously the serious by pointing to Christ in all we say and do, and by both living and speaking the truth in love.