The Catholic Southern Front

Chapter 4 – Saint John the Baptist and Our Lady

Luke 1 reveals that the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah and Elizabeth, who were both elderly and childless, announcing that Elizabeth will give birth to a child who would be full of the Holy Spirit and through the greatness of Elijah, was to announce the coming of the Messiah. Putting the angel’s words in doubt, Zechariah was left dumb by Saint Gabriel and was afterwards healed in the temple when he announced, by means of a tablet, the name of John (John, Hebrew; Jehohanan, i.e. “Jahweh hath mercy”).

John is the herald of the new era, and was declared a prophet even before he was born. The Angel Gabriel revealed to the Blessed Virgin in Luke 1: “Know this too: your kinswoman Elizabeth has, in her old age, herself conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible to God,’ ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord,’ said Mary ‘let what you have said be done to me.’” Mary set out to meet Elizabeth, “as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting ‘the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She gave a loud cry and said, ‘Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honored with a visit from the mother of my Lord? For the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy. Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.’ And Mary said: ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit exults in God my savior; because he has looked upon his lowly handmaid. Yes, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed, for the Almighty has done great things for me. Holy, is his name, and his mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear him. He has shown the power of his arm, he has routed the proud of heart. He has pulled down princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things, the rich sent empty away. He has come to the help of Israel his servant, mindful of his mercy – according to the promise he made to our ancestors – of his mercy to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’” Therefore, Saint John was present during the proclamation of the ‘Magnificat’ and was ever after linked, not just with the Messiah, for whom he had come in the world to proclaim, but also with the Mother of Jesus Christ, the Spouse of the Holy Spirit.

John reached adulthood, he lived in the desert, ate locusts and wild honey, wore camel hair and kept a leather belt around his waist. At age 30 he appeared in Judea preaching on the necessary conversion and repentance of the Jews and baptized the people in the River Jordan (Luke 3), he also predicted the imminence of the Kingdom of God (Luke 3, Matthew 3). Saint Ann Catherine Emmerich described him as a man who fearlessly spoke to all and treated everyone as though they were children, in need of dire instruction. The Old Testament refers to Saint John the Baptist in Malachi 3:1, Isaiah 40:3-5. Matthew 3 states that John, “was the man the prophet Isaiah spoke of when he said: A voice cries in the wilderness: Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight…. When he saw a number of Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism he said to them, ‘Brood of vipers, who warned you to fly from the retribution that is coming? But if you are repentant, produce the appropriate fruit, and do not presume to tell yourselves, “We have Abraham for our father”, because, I tell you, God can raise children for Abraham from these stones. Even now the axe is laid to the roots of the trees, so that any tree which fails to produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown on the fire. I baptize you in water for repentance, but the one who follows me is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to carry his sandals; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fan is in his hand; he will clear his threshing-floor and gather his wheat into the barn; but the chaff he will burn in a fire that will never go out.’”

Matthew 3 also describes Jesus Christ’s baptism by the hand of Saint John the Baptist, at the beginning of His three-year redemptive public mission. Matthew 3:13-17, “Then Jesus appeared: he came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. John tried to dissuade him. ‘It is I who need baptism from you’ he said ‘and yet you come to me!’ But Jesus replied, ‘Leave it like this for the time being; it is fitting that we should, in this way, do all that righteousness demands’. At this, John gave in to him. As soon as Jesus was baptized he came up from the water, and suddenly the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on him. And a voice spoke from heaven, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; my favor rests on him’.” John 3:26-30 describes John’s disciples: “So they came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing and everyone is coming to him.’ John answered and said, ‘No one can receive anything except what has been given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said that I am not the Messiah, but that I was sent before him. The one who has the bride is the bridegroom; the best man, who stands and listens for him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made complete. He must increase; I must decrease.’” John had gathered around thirty disciples and according to the gospel of John the Evangelist (John 1:36-38), as Jesus was passing by, or standing in the distance, John pointed at Him and said: “Behold the Lamb of God.” On hearing this Andrew and another disciple followed Jesus.

John publicly admonished King Herod Antipas for co-habiting and committing adultery with Herodias, his brother’s wife. Mark 6 reveals the manner in which Herod dealt with Saint John, first imprisoning him and later putting him to death by ‘decollation’ or in simpler terms, he had John beheaded. While imprisoned John was kept in the Black Fortress of Machaerus, he sent his disciples to Jesus and made the fact clear that Jesus was indeed the Messiah (Luke 7:20-23, Matthew 11:3-6). John the Baptist was the victim of ancient female scheming, for Herodias and her daughter had planned from beforehand the manner how to end John’s life. The treacherous daughter danced before Herod and his guests and when Herod demanded, as was the custom, for the payment for such a service, the dancer desired the head of Saint John the Baptist, ‘served’ on a silver platter. The executioner carried out his order and the girl then presented John’s head to her mother (Mark 6:19-29). John’s beheading occurred on August 29 and his Feast is held on June 24. John’s disciples recovered his body and placed it in a tomb and as we read in Matthew 14, the Messiah was greatly saddened by John’s death. John’s apparent shame, his head presented on a silver platter is indeed symbolic, for in later years the Knights of his Order dispensed charity to the ‘holy poor’ by serving food from silver platters. John’s sacrifice became Christian charity.

The Orthodox Jews were dismayed by John’s murder and some correlated this obscene execution to Herod’s defeat at the hands of Aretas IV, the King of the Persians. Therefore, following John’s assassination, Herod’s army received a defeat in battle. In this manner John the Baptist’s execution was the cause for the battle’s outcome. Nonetheless, this was God’s Divine Justice. Interestingly, it was during the time of Aretas IV’s rule that Saint Paul escaped from Damascus (2 Corinthians 11:32-33). The Romans would later intervene in favor of King Herod Antipas against the Persians. John’s body was entombed at Sebaste and was honored during the subsequent centuries by the pilgrims. The writers Rufinus and Theodorus of the fourth century testify that Emperor Julian the Apostate ordered Saint John the Baptist’s tomb to be desecrated and his remains burnt. In 362, the pagans scattered his bones and gathered them up to burn and mix the ashes with dust. They scattered his remains in the countryside, some monks coming from the monastery of Philip, when they saw what was going on “…when they saw the enormity being perpetrated by human hands at the service of bestial spirits,”(1) entered the crowd and collected the remains as best as they could and departed to their monastery and to Philip, the Bishop of Jerusalem. Accordingly, this event was subsequently remembered in John’s feast of June 24, as the Baptist’s second martyrdom. This deed, abominable as it was, occurred on direct orders of Emperor Julian the Apostate. For the action of John’s beheading, King Herod was defeated in war, for the action of desecrating John’s tomb, Julian the Apostate would also be defeated in war, precisely one year later in 363/4. This was John’s second influence in matters of war and another indication that Saint John was intimately linked to the New Eve. Emperor Julian the Apostate was defeated by Our Lady’s intervention. Thirty years following Constantine’s death, Emperor Julian the Apostate attained power. The Commander Basil was engaged in battle against the Persians in Cesarea, today’s Turkey. There he implored for the Blessed Virgin’s intercessory help. News reached the Saint that Emperor Julian the Apostate had sworn to kill him on his return from battle. He was concerned for his people the Christians, for the newly elected Emperor spurned by his hatred for Christianity, intended to re-establish paganism throughout the Empire. He intended to re-start the persecution of Christians and bring to naught Emperor Constantine’s work. Following the death of Emperor Constans, three edicts were issued revealing the Apostate’s intent. In content the edicts were similar to Diocletan’s edicts of a previous era, the era of intense Christian persecution and of Saint George the Tribune’s martyrdom. Saint Basil prayed to the Blessed Virgin, “Holy Virgin, come to our aid.” Our Lady replied to Saint Basil, “…do not worry Basil, I promise that the Emperor’s rage will not touch you. Other battles you will have to fight for my Son, to protect my people”(2). Days later news reached Basil that the new Emperor, Julian the Apostate, after having conquered some fortresses, forced his enemy to close itself in City of Ctesifonte, but not having hope in the siege, had gone up the River Tigris or in the vicinity of Tarsus and died, he was struck down in battle by a spear (St Maurice’s spear – which can be seen at the Wawel in Krakow, Poland). In 370, Basil was elected bishop and defended the Church from heresies such as the Arian heresy. Emperor Julian the Apostate was defeated at Tarsus, the city where Saint Paul was born. Therefore, the Blessed Virgin surely interceded, while there exists the possibility that Saints John the Baptist and Paul also interceded in favor of Christianity during the incident.

Luke 3:14 describes the pagan Roman soldiers and Saint John the Baptist: “Some soldiers asked him in their turn, ‘What about us? What must we do?’ He said to them, ‘No intimidation! No extortion! Be content with your pay!’ According to the ‘Just War Theory’ it would be argued first by Saint Augustine and later by Saint Thomas Aquinas, that the Baptist’s preaching essentially instructs all soldiery to be good men (and women) whilst in armed service. ‘Good’ men and women with upright morals, who defend the people, who are just and who should be content with their pay. The Hospitaller and Military Order consecrated to Saint John the Baptist and the Blessed Virgin Mary, had the above teaching of Saint John as the Order’s main cornerstone and philosophy. The battles and teachings mentioned in this chapter, clearly lay down the basis for the Military and Hospitaller Knights’ choice of Patron Saints and their territorial protectorates, of Jerusalem, Rhodes and Malta. Their understanding of Saint John’s teachings developed in Jerusalem beside the baptismal waters of the River Jordan, where Christ Himself was baptized at the hand of the Baptist. The military and political power wielded by the Knights occurred in an age when WMDs were absent and fighting for the Faith was imperatively necessary for its survival. Pope Benedict XVI’s view on preventive war is that “…the damage would be greater than the values one hopes to save…. The concept of preventive war does not appear in the Catechism of the Catholic Church…. It should never be the responsibility of just one nation to make decisions for the world.”(3) In light of the ‘Just War Theory,’ as defined in antiquity by the Saints Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, and ‘Penitential War’ as described by Blessed Pope Urban II, Saints Benedict of Clairvaux and Basil, Pope Benedict XVI said at a press conference on May 2, 2003: “There were not sufficient reasons to unleash a war against Iraq. To say nothing of the fact that, given the new weapons that make possible a destruction that goes beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a ‘just war.’”(4)

Following the desecration of Saint John’s tomb, his relics were removed to Alexandria, laid in the temple of Serapis and later dispersed all over Christendom; to Genoa in Italy and Ragusa in Sicily, to Constantinople, to Saint Sylvester in Rome, Saint Mark in Venice, Damascus, to Amiens, Paris, Nemours and St-Jean d’Angeli in France, Rhodes and Malta, Montenegro, Russia, the Duomo in Milan, Church of Saint Salvador’s in Spain, his loin cloth taken to Germany and the sword of his beheading, to Avignon in France. In the Chapel of Saint John the Baptist in the Church of Saint Sylvester in Rome, women were not allowed entry and therein occurs the remission of all sins. Regarding John the Baptist, Saint John Chrysostom said: “John the Baptist beheaded has become master of the school of virtues and of life, the form of holiness, the rule of justice, the mirror of virginity, the ensemble of chastity, the way of penance, pardon of sin, and discipline of faith. John is greater than man, peer unto the angels, sovereign holiness of the law of the gospel, the voice of the apostles, the silence of the prophets, the lantern of the world, the foregoer of the Judge, and moyen of all the Trinity.”(5) According to the Golden Legend Herod died in Exile in France, Herodias died after the skull of Saint John blew in her face, as she held it in her hands, while her daughter died as she swam in a lake. The belly dancer drowned and was engulfed by the water and the earth and no trace of her was left. The waters imparted God’s Divine Justice!

During the times when Emperor Constance II ruled from Constantinople, the Emperor inquired to a holy man, the manner in which he could get rid of the Longobards who invaded Italy. After much prayer, the holy man received knowledge and passed his message on to the Emperor. The heavenly message said that a Church consecrated to Saint John the Baptist should be built and the Queen must pray for the Italian deliverance to this saint. The message also indicated that the Emperor should not defeat the Longobards in Italy, but a future time is reserved for their defeat. This prophecy came to pass during the times of Emperor Charles the Great. In the seventh century the Longobards or Lombards, originating from the territory occupied by Germany and Austria, descended into Italy. In 663, Emperor Constans II left Constantinople and sailed to Italy, he landed in Taranto and devastated Apulia. The Emperor besieged the City of Benevento, which was under the command of Romuald the son of the Longobard King Grimoald. Realizing that Benevento was on the verge of being conquered by the Emperor’s forces, Commander Romuald made up his mind to open the gates and die fighting. The Longobards were a pagan race and previous to the invasion the Catholic Bishop Barbato had attempted assiduously, yet in vain, to convert them to the Faith. As the Emperor’s troops were preparing to take over Benevento, Bishop Barbato addressed Romauld a final time. The Bishop pledged Romuald that if paganism was abandoned and their race converted to the Christianity, turning with faith to the Creator, “…to Him who humbles and exalts, He who destroys wars,”(6) singing together to praise God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, addressing their prayers to Him and promising to serve Him, He would free them from their oppressors. Romuald replied that if that were the case, he would abolish the idols of his race and serve the Catholic God. On receiving Romauld’s pledge, Saint Barbato left for the church, there he begged the Mother of God, to be the mediator with her Son and end the war. On returning, the bishop informed Romuald that on being delivered, if he were to forfeit his pledge, worse calamities would strike the Longobards. Bishop Barbato also informed Romauld that the Byzantine Emperor would return back to his country. The Blessed Virgin appeared on the bastions of the city and the following day, Emperor Constans II, who had threatened to burn the city to the ground and refused large treasures to abandon the siege, now left silently away from the walls of Benevento. Romuald and his Longobards converted to Christianity and paganism was abolished. This was probably the third occasion where both Saint John the Baptist and Our Lady contributed at bringing victory in war or conversion and peace. When we mention these two figures it is clear that this is the work of the Holy Spirit.

Saint Benedict of Nursia, the survivor of a poison attempt against his life in 529, climbed the Hill of Monte Cassino and smashed the statue of Apollo, the god of art. Apollo together with Mars, the god of war, were Emperor Constantine’s favorite gods, whom he worshipped for his successes at war previously to his conversion to Christianity. Saint Benedict shattered Apollo’s statue, founded his famous Monastery of Monte Cassino and the Benedictine Order and consecrated the hill to Saint John the Baptist. At Monte Cassino, Benedict received Totila the Ostrogothic King in 543, the monastery was sacked in 584 by the Lombards, sacked in 883 by the Saracens, sacked in 1799 by ‘Emperor’ Napoleon Bonaparte’s troops and completely destroyed in a series of four battles during the Second World War, January to May of 1944. Pope Paul VI later reconstructed the Monastery of Monte Cassino in 1964. Saint Benedict’s twin sister, Saint Scholastica, was the first Benedictine nun and founded her own monastery at Plombariola, under the directions of her brother Benedict. Saint Scholastica was invoked by the Hospitaller Knights of Saint John the Baptist, due to her nursing attributes. The Monastery of Saint Scholastica was founded by the Knights of Saint John the Baptist and the Blessed Virgin Mary, adjoining the Holy Infirmary in Malta in 1532. In addition to this the Roman Catholic Church has in modern times proclaimed Saint Benedict as the Patron Saint of Europe.

Magnificat

My soul doth magnify the Lord. And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid;

For behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

Because he that is mighty, hath done great things to me; and holy is his name.

And his mercy is from generation unto generations, to them that fear him.

He hath showed might in his arm: ha hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.

He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble.

He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.

He hath received Israel his servant, being mindful of his mercy:

As he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed for ever.

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(c) 2008 – 3000

 

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