Saint John the Baptist was the son of Zachary, a High Priest of the Temple, and of Saint Elizabeth, who was a cousin of Our Lady (Cf. Luke 1; 5-25). At an early age he retired to the desert to prepare himself for his mission as Precursor, that is, forerunner of Christ. He ate no bread, drank no wine, and spent the days in prayer and penance.
In the Advent Masses we see him silhouetted against the Arabian sky, a gaunt ascetic figure in a camel’s skin and leather girdle with staff in hand as he comes from the desert into all Judea, and the country about the Jordan, preaching the baptism of penance:
“Prepare, all of you, the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” (Luke 3:4).
One of the first incidents of Our Lord’s public life was His baptism by Saint John in the Jordan, when a voice from Heaven proclaimed the divinity of Christ: “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased:” (Matthew 3:17). His mission is now accomplished and the “voice of one crying in the wilderness” is silent. In his own words he explains his life:
“He that has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom stands by and listens to him speak, and rejoices to hear his voice. The joy is mine in its fullness. He must increase, I must decrease.” (John 3:29-30),
What an inspiring ideal for us all! That He should increase within us, and we ourselves, with all our selfishness and pride, should decrease more and more each year so that there would be more room for Him within our hearts.
Nothing remains for the Baptist except to crown his life with the laurels of martyrdom.
Saint Matthew narrates as follows:
“For Herod had apprehended John and bound him, and put him into prison, because of Herodias, his brother’s wife. For John said to him: ‘It is not lawful for you to have her.’ And having a mind to put him to death, he feared the people; because they esteemed him a great prophet. But on Herod’s birthday, the daughter of Herodias danced before them; and pleased Herod. Whereupon he promised with an oath, to give her whatsoever she would ask of him. But she being instructed before by her mother, said: ‘Give me here in a dish the head of John the Baptist.’ And the king was struck sad: yet because of his oath, and for them that sat with him at table, he commanded it to be given. And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison. And his head was brought in a dish: and it was given to the damsel, and she brought it to her mother.” (Matthew 14:3-11).
June 24th is the feast of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist.
August 29th commemorates his beheading.