VATICAN CITY (CNS) — In sharing the Gospel with others, Christians must be like St. John the Baptist, preparing the way for the Lord, pointing him out to others, then stepping aside, Pope Francis said.
Celebrating the feast of the birth of St. John the Baptist June 24, Pope Francis called him “the greatest among the prophets,” because he knew how to prepare people, discern the Lord’s identity and “diminish” so Jesus could increase.
John the Baptist was an important man, “people sought him out and followed him,” the pope said during an early morning Mass in the chapel of his residence.
According to Vatican Radio, the pope wondered aloud whether St. John was ever tempted “to think that he was important, but this never happened.” Instead, he always replied that one mightier than he was coming.
John the Baptist knew his role was “to prepare the people, prepare people’s hearts for an encounter with the Lord,” Pope Francis said.
The prophet also needed the gift of discernment to be able to recognize Jesus as the messiah, the pope said. “The Spirit revealed this to him and he had the courage to say, ‘It’s him. This is the lamb of God who will take away the sins of the world.”
Finally, the pope said, St. John knew that his gift for speaking, preaching, moving people’s hearts and attracting a crowd had a purpose that had nothing to do with him and everything to do with Jesus.
As a model for evangelizing, St. John the Baptist demonstrates that “a Christian does not proclaim him- or herself, but another, and prepares the way for another: the Lord. A Christian must know how to discern and must discern the truth from that which seems to be true, but isn’t,” the pope said. Finally, “a Christian knows how to diminish so that the Lord increases in the hearts and souls of others.”
In his homily the previous day, Pope Francis focused on Jesus’ telling the disciples in Matthew 7:1-5, “Stop judging that you may not be judged” and “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye?”
“One who judges another is wrong, simply because he is taking a role that is not his,” but belongs only to God, the pope said.
People get “so obsessed by what they want to judge, by that person, that the splinter keeps them from sleeping and they are not even aware of the beam they have.”
Judging another, he said, “ends badly, because the same measure you use will be used to judge you.”
In the Bible, the pope said, Jesus is described as an advocate for his followers and he sends the Holy Spirit to defend them. Interestingly enough, he said, the one the Bible labels — in Revelation 12:10 — as the “accuser” is the devil.
“If we want to follow Jesus’ path, we must be defenders of others, not their accusers,” he said. “If I see someone do something bad, do I defend him? No! But keep quiet. Go and pray and defend him before God, like Jesus does. Pray for him, but don’t judge him.”