133 – “This Messiah is not how I imagined the Messiah would be. Maybe I made a mistake?”

Was John the Baptist a man of misgivings or a living torch of conviction? Let’s take a look at how the Gospels sketch him.

‘A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him’ (Jn 1:6–7). Numerous passages within the Gospel texts highlight the figure of St. John the Baptist in the most exalting terms.

The grandeur of his calling shines from the beginning, in the narration of his elderly mother’s miraculous conceiving, his sanctification within her womb upon hearing the voice of the Virgin – precious tabernacle of the Lord – and his birth marked by extraordinary facts such as Zachary’s canticle.

We know little of the Baptist´s life before he started preaching; it is only revealed that he lived in the desert, clad in camel skins, and nourishing himself with locusts and wild honey (cf. Mt 3:4).

Leaving the desert and his contemplative existence there, he emerged, mysterious, among the people, and began to announce the coming of the Messiah. As the sole prophet to enjoy personal acquaintance with the Messiah, he closed the Old Testament with a golden key and hailed the New.

St. John prepared the way of the Lord, just as his father Zachary had prophesized (Lk 1:76), announcing the kingdom and, above all, calling to conversion. ‘As a testimony,’ John was set to untiringly, ‘testify to the light, so that all might believe through him’. ‘We can imagine the extraordinary impression that the figure and message of John the Baptist must have produced in the highly charged atmosphere of Jerusalem at that particular moment of history. At last there was a prophet again, and his life marked him out as such. God’s hand was at last plainly acting in history again. John baptizes with water, but one even greater, who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire, is already at the door’ (Benedict XVI. Jesus of Nazareth. From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration).

His fame spread rapidly throughout Israel. Many thought him to be the Messiah; but John – in his utmost humility – didn’t hesitate to lower himself so that the Messiah might better shine before all. And if St. John the Baptist’s life, however briefly reviewed, doesn’t convince us of how extraordinary a man he was, we also have Jesus’ own testimony where the Gospels record him praising his Precursor (cf. Mt 11:11; 11: 7–15; Lk 7, 24–28, etc.).

This mystical, lofty and, above all, authentic image of the saint, venerated with particular devotion in the Church from the very first centuries onward, leaves absolutely no margin for the idea of a man beset by doubts and uncertainties, as some would like to paint him today…

Francis

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Pope Francis took his congregation beyond the text of the Gospel, inviting them to enter into John’s cell, to look into the soul of the voice crying out in the desert, of the one who baptized the crowds in the name of Him who was to come, the one who was now weighed down not only by the iron chains that bound him in his prison, but by the shackles of some doubt, despite everything:
“But he also suffered in prison – let us say the word – the interior torture of doubt: ‘But maybe I made a mistake? This Messiah is not how I imagined the Messiah would be.’ And he invited his disciples to ask Jesus: ‘But tell us, tell us the truth: are you He who is to come?’ because that doubt made him suffer. ‘Was I mistaken in proclaiming someone who isn’t [who I thought]?’ The suffering, the interior solitude of this man. ‘I, on the other hand, must diminish, but diminish thus: in soul, in body, in everything…” (Morning meditation, Casa Santa Marta, February 5, 2016)

Teachings of the Magisterium

Table of contents

I – Introductory note: Saint John the Baptist, the greatest man born of a woman. The verdict of Popes, Saints and Doctors of the Church
II – Saint John the Baptist never doubted that Christ was the Messiah
III – John the Baptist sent his disciples to Jesus to cure their spiritual illnesses


I – Introductory note: Saint John the Baptist, the greatest man born of a woman. The verdict of Popes, Saints and Doctors of the Church


Sacred Scripture
– John, man sent from God to testify to the light
– John is more than a prophet
– ‘Among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist’

Saint Jerome
– The name ‘John’ means the grace of the Lord: John the Baptist searched into the reason and nature of things and kept himself for the coming of Christ
– John the Baptist had the reward of baptizing his own Lord, and an increase of merits. He is called an “angel” not by participating in their nature, but by the dignity of his office

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux
– John was filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb
– John had a humble and fervent devotion to the Lord

Saint John Chrysostom
– John is greater than a prophet in being near to the Messiah
– John lived as though he were in heaven

Saint Augustine of Hippo
– Jesus himself gave testimony that John the Baptist was the greatest man born of woman. Could Truth say of him anything different?
– John the Baptist, example of humility: he could have easily passed himself off as Christ before the crowd, but his grandeur consisted in confessing the truth
– The life of John the Baptist is the most beautiful testimony of sublime humility

Benedict XVI
– St. John the Baptist denied himself to make room for the Savior

Saint Augustine of Hippo
– To give testimony of He who was not only man but also God, John the Baptist had to be greater than the others

John XXIII
– The Church recommends special respect and veneration for Saint John the Baptist
– When Jesus begins His ministry, John ‘rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice’ instead of becoming envious

John Paul II
– Saint John the Baptist sacrificed his life for truth and justice
– Saint John the Baptist is an exceptional witness of Christ honored today in all parts of the world
– John the Baptist came into the world in unusual circumstances with a divine call: he answered this call with his whole life – and remained faithful to it until his last breath

Benedict XVI
– For love of the truth Saint John the Baptist did not stoop to compromises
– John denounced transgressions of God’s commandments, even when it was the powerful who were responsible for them
– Commemorating the birth of Saint John the Baptist actually means celebrating Christ
– John the Baptist: the prophet who concludes the Old Testament and inaugurates the New

Saint Augustine of Hippo
– The virtues of Saint John the Baptist are so great that it is impossible to express them all


II – Saint John the Baptist never doubted that Christ was the Messiah


Saint Ambrose of Milan
– How could John the Baptist have doubted that Christ was the Messiah when he himself said: ‘Behold, him who takes away the sins of the world’

Saint Cyril of Alexandria
– In vain those who thought John the Baptist fickle sought him in the desert

Saint Jerome
– Jesus revealed to the crowd that John the Baptist had not doubted in him

Saint John Chrysostom
– John the Baptist did not doubt Christ: He had announced that Christ was the Messiah
– John, by leaping in the womb, before his own birth proclaimed Christ

Saint Augustine of Hippo
– Do not suspect that John was offended in Christ. How could he prepare the way if he himself strayed from the way?

Saint John Chrysostom
– John did not doubt Christ and from the beginning preached that He had come to take away the sin of the world


III – John the Baptist sent his disciples to Jesus to cure their spiritual illnesses


Saint John Chrysostom
– John the Baptist did not send his disciples because he doubted, nor because he had become timid
– John’s disciples were always disposed to be jealous of Jesus
– The fact that John sent his disciples to Jesus, among other things, indicates their jealousy towards Him
– John sent his disciples so that Jesus would cure them of their envy
– Jesus worked many miracles before the disciples of John to remove their suspicion
– Jesus assured John’s disciples by the miracles performed and provided a remedy for the multitude’s doubt

Saint Ambrose of Milan
– John sent his disciples to Christ to be instructed

Saint Jerome
– The disciples of John had caustic feelings toward the Lord that sprang from resentment and envy
– John sent his disciples to Christ so that seeing the miracles they believe in Him. He did not ignore the answer to their question: he had heard the Father’s voice thundering: ‘This is my beloved Son’

Saint Augustine of Hippo
– Before he died, John wanted Christ to confirm his disciples in the faith

Saint Hilary of Poitiers
– John sent his disciples that they should not look for any Christ other than Him to whom His works had borne testimony
– John the Baptist could not fall into error from such abundant knowledge; nor can it be believed that the grace of the Holy Spirit failed him


I – Introductory note: Saint John the Baptist, the greatest man born of a woman. The verdict of Popes, Saints and Doctors of the Church


Sacred Scripture

John, man sent from God to testify to the light
John is more than a prophet
‘Among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist’

Saint Jerome

The name ‘John’ means the grace of the Lord: John the Baptist searched into the reason and nature of things and kept himself for the coming of Christ
John the Baptist had the reward of baptizing his own Lord, and an increase of merits. He is called an “angel” not by participating in their nature, but by the dignity of his office

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

John was filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb
John had a humble and fervent devotion to the Lord

Saint John Chrysostom

John is greater than a prophet: in being near to the Messiah
John lived on earth as though he were in heaven

Saint Augustine of Hippo

Jesus himself gave testimony that John the Baptist was the greatest man born of woman. Could Truth say of him anything different?
John the Baptist, example of humility: he could have easily passed himself off as Christ before the crowd, but his grandeur consisted in confessing the truth
The life of John the Baptist is the most beautiful testimony of sublime humility

Benedict XVI

St. John the Baptist denied himself to make room for the Savior

Saint Augustine of Hippo

To give testimony of He who was not only man but also God, John the Baptist had to be greater than the others

John XXIII

The Church recommends special respect and veneration for Saint John the Baptist

Paul VI

When Jesus begins His ministry, John ‘rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice instead of becoming envious

John Paul II

Saint John the Baptist sacrificed his life for truth and justice
Saint John the Baptist is an exceptional witness of Christ honored today in all parts of the world
John the Baptist came into the world in unusual circumstances with a divine call: he answered this call with his whole life – and remained faithful to it until his last breath

Benedict XVI

For love of the truth Saint John the Baptist did not stoop to compromises
John denounced transgressions of God’s commandments, even when it was the powerful who were responsible for them
Commemorating the birth of Saint John the Baptist actually means celebrating Christ
John the Baptist: the prophet who concludes the Old Testament and inaugurates the New

Saint Augustine of Hippo

The virtues of Saint John the Baptist are so great that it is impossible to express them all

II – Saint John the Baptist never doubted that Christ was the Messiah


Saint Ambrose of Milan

How could John the Baptist have doubted that Christ was the Messiah when he himself said: ‘Behold, him who takes away the sins of the world’?

Saint Cyril of Alexandria

In vain those who thought John the Baptist fickle sought him in the desert

Saint Jerome

Jesus revealed to the crowd that John the Baptist had not doubted in him

Saint John Chrysostom

John the Baptist did not doubt Christ: He had announced that Christ was the Messiah
John, by leaping in the womb, before his own birth proclaimed Christ

Saint Augustine of Hippo

Do not suspect that John was offended in Christ. How could he prepare the way if he himself strayed from the way?

Saint John Chrysostom

John did not doubt Christ and from the beginning preached that He had come to take away the sin of the world

III – John the Baptist sent his disciples to Jesus to cure their spiritual illnesses


Saint John Chrysostom

John the Baptist did not send his disciples because he doubted, nor because he had become timid
John’s disciples were always disposed to be jealous of Jesus
The fact that John sent his disciples to Jesus, among other things, indicates their jealousy towards Him
John sent his disciples so that Jesus would cure them of their envy
Jesus worked many miracles before the disciples of John to remove their suspicion
Jesus assured John’s disciples by the miracles performed and provided a remedy for the multitude’s doubt

Saint Ambrose of Milan

John sent his disciples to Christ to be instructed

Saint Jerome

The disciples of John had caustic feelings toward the Lord that sprang from resentment and envy
John sent his disciples to Christ so that seeing the miracles they believe in Him. He did not ignore the answer to their question: he had heard the Father’s voice thundering: ‘This is my beloved Son’

Saint Augustine of Hippo

Before he died, John wanted Christ to confirm his disciples in the faith

Saint Hilary of Poitiers

John sent his disciples that they should not look for any Christ other than Him to whom His works had borne testimony
John the Baptist could not fall into error from such abundant knowledge; nor can it be believed that the grace of the Holy Spirit failed him

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