1 Thes 3:7-13; Ps 90:3-17; Mk 6:17-29
With today’s psalm we plead for wisdom of heart. We ask the Lord to teach us to number our days aright; we ask the Lord to have pity on his servants. We are dust and we return to dust. However, if we receive the kindness of the Lord we will shout for joy and gladness all our days. Our days pass quickly, like a watch of the night, and every moment of our lives is an opportunity to accept the salvation of our God. The wisdom of humility enables us to turn from sin and live in the power of the Holy Spirit. When we accept the gracious care of the Lord our God, the work of our hands will prosper. We will be able to do God’s work in building His kingdom of peace and justice, His kingdom of love and joy, His kingdom of truth and freedom. This was the great work of Saint Paul among the Thessalonians. For this ministry, Saint Paul prayed daily that the Lord Jesus made his new converts increase and abound in love for one another and for all. We, too, must stay awake in prayer so that when the Master returns, he will find us prospering. We pray at this Mass and every day that He will prosper the work of our hands, the work of building as fully as possible in this world the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom that ultimately comes as His gift.
The Apostle Paul found his true and only life in Christ as he wrote elsewhere, “For me, to live is Christ.” Saint Paul’s faith gave him a new life that was nourished and supported through the struggles of all his children to stand firm in the Lord. His every distress and affliction was a gracious witness of the kind of suffering necessary to be faithful to the Gospel. Saint Paul writes of his continuing thanksgiving for the joy he feels in the growth of those to whom he brought the new life of the children of God. He longs to journey to see them in person so as to remedy any deficiencies in their faith. Until he can be with them in person, Saint Paul prays night and day that they may love as he has loved them. He pleads with the Lord that they may be strengthened in heart, be blameless in heart, and be holy before the Father at the coming of the Lord Jesus and all his holy ones. The Holy Spirit inspired Saint Paul’s apostolic prayer, and it is the same prayer and the same Spirit who inspires us today. Unlike all the prophets of doom and gloom in our day, we look forward to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The sufferings and dangers of life in the world today are the fires that purify our sacrificial prayer and witness. We join Saint Paul and all the saints in this sacrifice of thanksgiving for the strength received and the strength still needed to stand firm in the Lord. The gracious care of the Lord our God is ours here at this Eucharist.
What kind of a sick and twisted girl would ask for someone’s head on a platter? Such horror is not limited to the past; even in our own day we hear the news of terrorist executions. Decapitation is still a favorite. Herodias, the girl’s mother, harbored a grudge against Saint John and wanted to kill him, but her desire went unfulfilled until the king made foolish oaths. Even though Herod feared Saint John because he was so upright and holy, the king did not understand the preaching of the Prophet. Herod liked to listen to Saint John, but the more he listened the more perplexed he became. He missed the beauty of the truth that the Baptist preached, but the beauty of the dance captivated the heart of the king. He wanted to honor such a beautiful display to reveal his good taste and royal dignity. However, in his foolishness, the king made a promise to do anything whatever the girl asked. At this moment Herodias takes full advantage of her lover’s foolishness. Now, she had the power to fulfill her desire to silence the Prophet’s public criticism of her adultery. In her foolishness, she thought that having Saint John beheaded would put an end to his painful wisdom. It is the blood of the Baptist that continues to speak the truth from age to age. The witness of Saint John to the justice of God, a justice that even absolute and tyrannical rulers cannot ignore, points to the definitive truth of God’s justice in the Incarnate Word nailed to the cross out of love. The love of Christ, the Crucified, is prefigured in the self-sacrifice of Saint John. As we reflect upon the martyrdom of Saint John the Baptist we catch a glimpse of the wisdom and strength from on high, in the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ.