A forerunner is described in the dictionary as “a person who goes or is sent in advance to announce the coming of someone or something that follows.” St. John was born into such a role. At the time of his conception his father was told by the angel Gabriel, “He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb, and he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to prepare a people fit for the Lord.” (Luke 1:15-17) John was sent ahead of Jesus, therefore, to help people to be cleansed of sin so their hearts would be ready to accept the Lord. When Jesus came to him at the Jordan River asking for baptism, John recognized Him as the Messiah and Son of God. Humbled by Jesus’ request, saying it was Jesus who should be baptizing him, John obeyed and baptized Jesus. (Matthew 3:13-17) John was always obedient to the Word of God, yet as soon as he acquiesced, he made it clear that he must decrease while Jesus increased. (Paraphrase of John 3:30) In other words, he knew his role was fulfilled and that the time of the Messiah had come.
This week we also celebrate the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. These two men are the ones who truly gave the Christian church its rich spiritual foundation, spreading the Good News as they had been taught by Jesus Himself. Both were witnesses to Jesus, Peter ministering to those in Jerusalem and then in Rome, and Paul as a missionary spreading the faith in Asia Minor particularly to the Gentiles. These two men were also forerunners. They came after Christ, of course, but they prepared others for the reception of the Holy Spirit into their lives. In their preaching and in conferring the sacraments, they were pointing men and women to Jesus. They helped people to have an understanding and acceptance of Jesus as the Son of God so that they might have salvation. In doing so, they were forerunners of the Good News, announcing the message so that it would take up residence not only within their followers, but that it would be handed down to all of us who were to come afterward, so we too would know God’s love and mercy. Then, like John, they stepped out of the way.
Being a forerunner means that first we must try to follow Jesus the best we can. John the Baptist, Peter, and Paul were not perfect, and no forerunner, (no person), is. A forerunner has to learn to let Christ do the leading, so that like John we can let Jesus increase while we decrease. In other words, we bring Jesus to people through word and deed, and then let God do the rest. We do not have to have any special talent, really, except to try to do even the smallest of things with love. A forerunner needs to be able to ask and receive forgiveness and then to give it to others in turn; to have the courage to stand up for goodness and truth by how they live; to refuse to give in to evil by instead living with love, compassion, and mercy, and to recognize that in their weakness is God’s strength. If this sounds daunting, it was no less so for Saints John the Forerunner, Peter, or Paul. Like them, we are never alone. We rely upon the Holy Spirit to give us what we need to be people of love and truth.
May we accept with confidence the Good News given to us by the forerunners who brought it to us! May we have the courage to live the message of Jesus even when it is unpopular in our society! May we trust in the message of Jesus and in His love, mercy, and redemption! May we rely upon God always, so that in our weakness we may have His strength! May we have the wisdom to know when to decrease so that the Lord can increase! And may those around us know Jesus because of our love! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The first image is a painting of St. John the Baptist by Leonardo da Vinci.
Second is an icon by Fr. William Hart McNichols called St. John The Forerunner Also The Baptist. It can be found at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/st-john-the-forerunner-also-the-baptist-william-hart-mcnichols.html
Third is a painting called St. Peter Baptizing the Centurion Cornelius by Francesco Trevisani, (1709).
Fourth is another icon by Fr. William Hart McNichols called St. Paul the Apostle. It can be found at http://www.fatherbill.org/all-categories/product/143-st-paul-the-apostle
Last is a photo of Pope Francis and Father Adolfo Nicholás, Father General of the Society of Jesus, (Jesuits). Both men follow in the footsteps of a forerunner, St. Ignatius of Loyola, and both of these men are forerunners in their own right.