We heard today of the tale of how St. John the Baptist was killed by Herod, out of Herod’s adulterous behaviour with his brother’s wife, and that wife’s hatred on John. St. John the Baptist, who had come before Christ to make straight the way for the Lord, met his death at the hands of the corrupt and immoral person who called himself the king of Judea at that time.
Who is John the Baptist? He is the cousin of Jesus, son of Elizabeth, miraculously conceived when Elizabeth was already old and barren, because the Lord desires that through her, a great prophet preceding Christ be born. St. John the Baptist indeed become the last prophet just before the coming of the Messiah, declaring to the world to repent and to be baptised at the River Jordan, in order to prepare themselves for the Messiah, who in fact at that time, had already walked on this world, in the form of Jesus, son of Mary, and Son of the Most High God.
John the Baptist’s call was heeded by many, who came to be baptised by John, and to truly repent from their sins. Nevertheless, the Pharisees and the scribes, just as they will later reject Jesus, they were also skeptical of John’s prophetic mission, and did not repent as many others do. But John managed to lay out the foundation for the later works of Christ and His disciples, just like a farmer plowing the soil preparing for it for the sower, who is Christ, who spreads the seeds on the plowed soil, fertile and ready, and thus are able to produce fruits hundredfold and thousandfold.
After Jesus was baptised by John, He arises in importance, which John in great humility said to his own disciples that just as the Lord for whom he has come to prepare the path for, is rising, he himself has to become lesser. His task in preparing the path for the Lord is complete, and in the last part of his life, which was told in the Gospel today, he was imprisoned for chastising Herod the king and his adultery with Herodias, his brother’s wife.
In ancient Jewish custom, this is actually not unacceptable for a brother to take care of a deceased brother’s wife, and take her as his own wife. Remember another story from the Bible, where the Saducees, who did not believe in the resurrection, asked the Lord about whose wife is the woman who was married to seven brothers, who died one after the other. Clearly, this custom is identified as the norm at that time, as the widow is perceived to be financially incapable of supporting herself, and therefore, it is justified for the brother to come in and take care of his sister-in-law by marrying her himself.
However, in this case, this is different because, just as Jesus later will stress, that marriage is a sacrosanct act, in which a man and woman is joined by God, and through God, this union, when made is eternal and cannot be dissolved by either man or even angels. For what God has made one, no man shall divide. This is the new commandment of the new covenant that Christ brought with His coming, and John, as the messenger of the Lord, did his last service to God by putting forward this teaching, against none other than Herod himself.
It is sad that today, many disregard the sanctity of marriage, and think that marriage is a trivial matter, and that divorce can be so easily contemplated and done. Divorce is something which should be avoided at all costs, as it directly violates what God has told us, that what He had brought together in marriage, which is a Sacrament on its own, no one, not even the husband and the wife themselves should divide back into two. It is sad that in our modern world, many take divorces lightly, and even marry again after the divorce. Many who did this, did so because they claim that they no longer love the wife, or worse that they have been tempted with lust and desire for another woman or man.
In order to maintain the sanctity of marriage, it is paramount that in the family, the faith in the Lord be kept strong, and that all actions should be carried out in love, and in accordance with God’s will. This is why it is important for couples and families, to come together and have meals together as best as they can everyday, so that they will stay close, despite challenges and temptations, and pray together, that the Lord will continue to bless them and strengthen their union, so that the evil one cannot come in between them and made them to decide to split.
Many couples are able to last for decades and many last beyond 50 years, and indeed, until death brought them apart, but not forever, since we know that we eventually will be reunited with the loved ones when we ourselves ascend to heaven at the end of our own lives. Indeed, their secret is no other than ensuring that couples constantly speak to one another from heart to heart, and coming together at all times, with their children, to pray regularly, to share the meal at the table. Remember that when more than two and three gathered in God’s name, He will be there, and will remain there with them, always.
Another story which I will bring to your attention, besides the already told story of John the Baptist, Herod, and Herodias, is the story of the divorces of King Henry VIII, the founder of the Anglican ‘church’ in his vain search for a male heir. King Henry VIII divorced his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, because she was not able to produce a male heir for him, although she did produce a daughter. His appeal to divorce her to the Pope was rejected, and King Henry VIII, displeased at the Papal disapproval went his own way and rebel from the Church, creating his own Anglican ‘church’.
St. Thomas More, King Henry VIII’s chancellor, refused to follow his king into rebellion from Rome, and chastised the king for his immoral behaviour in seeking to marry Anne Boleyn, who was to become the king’s second wife. He was asked to choose between loyalty to his king, and be given great wealth and influence as he always had before that, and thus even greater afterwards, or death if he remains faithful to the true Church. St. Thomas More abandoned all of his worldly wealth and fame, and chose to remain faithful to the Lord, and was therefore martyred.
Ultimately, King Henry VIII would kill Anne Boleyn after she herself failed to produce a male heir, and eventually married no less than four more times, with a total of having six wives and at least two mistresses, and all ultimately in vain, since even when there was a male heir, he died young, and the dynasty died out.
All that futile attempts was most damaging especially if we see how today, 80 million Christians who are in the Anglican Communion, are the direct product of this adulterous behaviour of King Henry VIII. This is an example on how if marriage is not kept as sacrosanct and indivisible in nature, not only it can affect just the two, but especially in King Henry’s case, it caused the destruction of the unity in the Body of Christ, that is the Church. Until today, we still pray and hope that all of them will eventually return soon to the true Faith and Church.
Today we also celebrate the feast of St. Jerome Emiliani, an Italian charitable man who cared deeply for the poor and orphans in early 16th century northern Italy, and died after in his pious work of service to the sick and the poor, he contracted a disease that killed him, and St. Josephine Bakhita, a Canossian nun, who was once a slave from Sudan, who after being freed from slavery, converted to Christianity and committed herself to the Lord by joining the Canossians as a nun. She was noted for her great faith in the Lord, and her dedication to Mary, His mother. She was also very much noted for her great heart and forgiving nature, seeking not revenge against her enemies, and even her former slavemasters, but rather seeking to forgive them and bless them instead.
Therefore, in the footsteps of these great saints, let us all strive, especially for those amongst us who are married, to keep our lives holy and meaningful, by doing what is good for the sake of others, just like St. Jerome Emiliani in service of the poor and the sick, by giving and sharing what we have more to those who need them more, and by our gentle and forgiving nature, following the example of St. Josephine Bakhita, who strive to keep herself pure and holy in the presence of God.
Let us pray also for the unity of all Christians, that especially for the Anglicans today, that their detachment from the Body of Christ that is the Church can soon be reversed, through our constant prayers to God, and through God’s actions, may the unity of the Church be restored. What damages King Henry VIII had done in his adulterous ways parallel to what Herod had done, in direct opposition to the Lord’s will on the sanctity of marriage, may we begin to heal through concrete attempts to reunite back the branches of the Body of Christ back onto its trunk, the Church.
Pray for us, St. Thomas More. And St. Jerome Emiliani, and St. Josephine Bakhita, pray for us all too. Pray for God’s holy Church that it will be one again, and indivisible, just like marriage, as the Lord has made His Church one, just like He and the Father is one and indivisible in the Holy Trinity. Amen.
+Ut Omnes Unum Sint+
(That they all may be One)