The Church celebrated the birthday of St. John the Baptist on June 24th and on August 29th it honors the anniversary of his martyrdom. Besides our Lord and our Lady, St. John the Baptist is the only one whose birth and death are celebrated. Mark chapter 6, verses 17 to 29, relates the circumstances of his execution. John had the courage to blame Herod to his face for the scandal of his illegal union with his sister-in-law Herodias, whose husband was still alive. Herodias contrived to make Herod imprison John and took advantage of an unexpected opportunity through her daughter Salome to have the saint beheaded.
August 29th marks "the second finding of his most venerable head." The body of the saint was buried in Samaria. In the year 362, pagans desecrated the grave and burned his remains. Only a small portion of his relics were able to be saved by monks and sent to St. Athanasius at Alexandria.
Blessed John suffered imprisonment and chains as a witness to our Redeemer, whose forerunner he was, and gave his life for him. His persecutor had demanded not that he should deny Christ, but only that he should keep silent about the truth. Nevertheless, he died for Christ. Does Christ not say: "I am the truth"? So, because John shed his blood for the truth, he surely died for Christ. Through his birth, preaching and baptizing, he bore witness to the coming birth, preaching and baptism of Christ, and by his own suffering he showed that Christ also would suffer.
John was a strong man who accepted the end of his life by being beheaded after a long imprisonment. He preached the freedom of heavenly peace, yet was thrown into irons by ungodly men. He was locked away in the darkness of prison, though he came bearing witness to the Light of life and deserved to be called a bright and shining lamp by Christ.
St John the Baptist died because he told Herod that his union with his sister-in-law Herodias was illegal. John was asked to ignore this illegal union of King Herod with his sister-in –law. Herod even liked John and considered him to be a righteous and holy man. But Herod could not accept it when John condemned his sin.
Today, sometimes we witness behavior which we know to be sinful. If we condemn the behavior, we are likely to lose a friend or to be criticized for our lack of tolerance. If we keep quiet, we may keep the friend but will lose the opportunity to possibly save their soul and maybe even ours.
As we celebrate the martyrdom of St John the Baptist, let us resolve to proclaim the truth whether convenient or inconvenient. I doubt that any of us will have to die for the truth but we may have to die to ourselves and to accept humiliation and possibly even the anger of a friend. Whatever this burden for us may be, it is truly a light one compared to the glory of eternal life in heaven.