The Spiritual Joy of John the Baptist

The feast of the nativity of St John the Baptist is certainly characterised by joy, in Latin, gaudium.

Interestingly enough we are not talking about felicitas, happiness, but gaudium, joy. The collect for the Mass during the Day of the Solemnity of the Nativity of St John the Baptist goes: O God, who raised up Saint John the Baptist to make ready a nation fit for Christ the Lord, give your people, we pray, the grace of spiritual joys and direct the hearts of all the faithful into the way of salvation and peace. (The Latin text is the following: Deus, qui beatum Ioannem Baptistam suscitasti, ut perfectam plebem Christo Domino praepararet, da populis tuis spiritalium gratiam gaudiorum, et omnium fidelium mentes dirige in viam salutis et pacis). What we are speaking of is the grace of spiritual joys.

Now, spiritual joys do not fall of from heaven. They are the result of conscientious choices for God. The more we decide for God and his will, the more his spiritual joys fill our hearts, which is much needed to live a life of gaudium in veritate, or joy in truth. In order for us to have this joy in truth we need a formed conscience. In that matter, St John the Baptist is an excellent formator of conscience. How?

The Gospels portray to us John’s morally sound message. First, to have this spiritual joy we are to wage war on adultery and adulterous relationships. To King Herod John was crystal clear when he told him: It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife (Mark 6:18).

If we want to enjoy these spiritual joys here on earth we are to shun every corruption, greed and abuse of power. And the multitudes asked him, “What then shall we do?” And he answered them, “He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than is appointed you.”
Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Rob no one by violence or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”
 (Luke 3:10-14).

Spiritual joys abound in your and my heart and soul if we give Jesus the first place in our lives to the point that He and his teaching take hold of who we are instead of making ourselves on a pedestal or stealing from God the limelight. After all we are the creature and He alone remains our sole and real Creator and Saviour. John answered, “No one can receive anything except what is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him. He who has the bride is the bridegroom; the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full. He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:27-30). In another passage John says: The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29).

The very fact that from his mother’s womb John leaped for joy shows us that the fetus is a human being. Therefore, we cannot kill it. Such a horrible act is blatant murder of the innocents and defenceless, thus an extreme violation of the basic human right to live. Thus says Elizabeth to Mary when she saw her: For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy (Luke 1: 44). This verse is substantiated by what we find written in the Book of Jeremiah: Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, `I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you you shall go, and whatever I command you you shall speak. Be not afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” Then the Lord put forth his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” (Jer 1:4-10).

Furthermore, John was a strong formator of conscience because he showed boldly that a life away from God is itself our merciless judge. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Matt 3:12).

Finally, John teaches us that if we really want to grow in spiritual joy we have to adopt discernment to act on what is right and just. He too did that when he sent his disciples to Jesus to see if He is the much-awaited Messiah. To such well intentioned people God’s enlightening answer is assured. And John, calling to him two of his disciples, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And when the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, `Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?'” In that hour he cured many of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many that were blind he bestowed sight. And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is he who takes no offense at me” (Luke 7:19-23).

These examples persuasively show us that St John the Baptist is really a sound formator for our conscience, especially nowadays where evil has been given the name of a right to be entitled to whereas good has been negated since it is pictured as oppressor for an unbridled and illusory freedom. Having a look at St John the Baptist’s message is salutary for an authentic living of one’s life.

St John the Baptist, formator of conscience, pray for us!

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Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap was born in San Gwann on August 26 1972. After being educated in governmental primary and secondary schools as well as at the Naxxar Trade School he felt the call to enter the Franciscan Capuchin Order. After obtaining the university requirements he entered the Capuchin friary at Kalkara on October 12 1993. A year after he was ordained a priest, precisely on 4 September 2004, his superiors sent him to work with patients as a chaplain first at St. Luke's Hospital and later at Mater Dei. In 2007 Fr Mario obtained a Master's Degree in Hospital Chaplaincy from Sydney College of Divinity, University of Sydney, Australia. From November 2007 till March 2020 Fr Mario was one of the six chaplains who worked at Mater Dei Hospital., Malta's national hospital. Presently he is a chaplain at Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre. Furthermore, he is a regular contributor in the MUMN magazine IL-MUSBIEĦ, as well as doing radio programmes on Radio Mario about the spiritual care of the sick.