Catholics who are deeply concerned about sexual immorality in our country should join me in a novena to the Martyrdom of John the Baptist.
In fact, I think 21st century Catholics should develop a special devotion centered on his martyrdom–not on John the Baptist in general (a different feast day), but specifically on his martyrdom.
This idea first occurred to me when I saw something on Raymond De Souza’s Facebook calling for a world day of opposition to Christophobia, set for a date in March.
But August 29th, the martyrdom of the Baptist, makes more sense. And it should go way beyond a quasi-political (name the cause) awareness day.
Christians face persecution in the 21st century West not because we proclaim the divinity of Christ or because we oppose a communist dictatorship or whatever is causing persecution in other parts of the world. We face persecution because we dare to tell our contemporaries that they are engaging in sexual practices that are “not lawful.”
Just like John the Baptist. It is not Stalin or Mohammed we face. It is Herodias.
We see the rage of Herodias on a societal level in our defense of life and marriage. But we also face it, or navigate around it, in our everyday lives: a friend or family member who is on his second or third marriage, or co-habitating with his paramour or refusing to marry his “baby momma.”
The martyrdoms are not what our brethren in some parts of the Third World are facing. It is a teacher of the year being disciplined for posting a pro-natural marriage comment on his facebook page, the Manhattan Declaration losing its iPhone app, the harassment of Prop 8 supporters, etc.
But, being mindful of Cardinal Stafford’s 2008 warning to U.S. Catholics (“For the next few years, Gethsemane will not be marginal. We will know that garden.”) and Bishop Chaput’s recent speech to Catholic healthcare providers–and the trends that occasion these messages–it seems we are heading for forms of persecution far beyond what we currently face.
There is a little Neuhausian fire that burns in me–and, I am sure, in all of you–that says we can turn this around. But if we don’t–and even if we do–“Gethsemane will not be marginal.” All because we are, in one form or another, telling the West what John the Baptist told Herod.
Tom Hoopes once told me–I hope I’m remembering this right–that in the 1800’s there were more U.S. Catholic churches named after the Immaculate Conception than any other saint. It was this great devotion to the Immaculate Conception that led our bishops to petition Rome to declare her the patroness of the U.S.A.
We should have a similar bubbling up from below of devotion to the Martyrdom of John the Baptist that might lead to it becoming a major feast day in the West. Down the road perhaps the Martyrdom of John the Baptist could even be raised to a Holy Day of Obligation in the U.S. and throughout the West.
Devotion to his martyrdom might steel us, give us the graces and the strength we need, for whatever the rage of Herodius does to us in the coming decades. God willing, it could help bring us through the coming winter and land us on the other side, where the new springtime foreseen by Blessed Pope John Paul II is still waiting for us.
From tonight until the 29th, I’m doing a novena to the beheaded John the Baptist. I hope you will join me.
Peter Wolfgang is President of the Family Institute of Connecticut.