Saturday, August 30, 2008

Memorial of the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist
Follow Your Bliss

Readings: 1 Corinthians 1:17-25; Psalms 33:1-2, 4-5, 10-11; Mark 6:17-29
Picture: CC decor8

Follow your bliss! Curiously, these words coined by the late professor of mythology, Joseph Campbell, are what come to mind on this day when we celebrate – yes, celebrate! – the beheading of John the Baptist. They are, of course, very easily misinterpreted, especially by this consumeristic society of ours. At first glance, they would seem to encourage us to embrace the very thing that our Mass readings for today are warning us against.

For there is in both readings a clear distinction between wisdom and foolishness, between truth and falsehood, between self-sacrifice and self-indulgence. John the Baptist models for us what the former half of these pairs looks like, just as Herod and his household illustrate the latter. John fearlessly speaks God’s word, even when it is inconvenient, even when it is dangerous, even when it loses him his head. In contrast, Herodias is willing to commit murder for the sake of expedience – to permanently remove the bearer of an inconvenient truth. And, afraid to appear weak in the sight of his guests, Herod falls prey to her scheming, just as he had earlier given in to his own self-indulgence. It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife…

It’s easy to think, then, that what we are being presented with is a simple and straightforward contrast between pain and pleasure. To live the way of the wisdom, the way of the cross, the way of Christ, is to forsake the way of delight. After all, wasn’t it Herod’s enjoyment of a young girl’s dancing that led him take a prophet’s life? We need to deny our natural inclinations and embrace only that which makes us suffer. Or do we? Is there not something else that we need to consider? Should we not notice, for example, that Herod had initially kept John alive, because he liked to listen to him.

Could it be that the contrast we are being invited to consider, is not so much between pleasure and pain, as it is between two different kinds of inclinations? Could it be that true wisdom consists in the ability to discern our delights, in learning to truly find and follow our bliss? For Herod’s foolishness consists in his indulgence in a more superficial delight – saving face before his guests – at the cost of another deeper, more enduring one – being led by John’s message to an encounter with God in Jesus the Lord. In contrast, for the sake of delighting in the goodness of God, of which the earth is full, John the Baptist was willing even to sacrifice his life.

How are we being invited to truly follow our bliss today?


  1. Thank you, Fr Chris, for this inspiring and timely reminder.

    Sometimes, in the midst of carrying my cross, I could get overwhelmed by the negative things around me that all I could see is suffering and nothing else. I simply forget why I took up that cross in the first place: That actually I'm in love with God and all that He stands for, and He with me!

    May I always remember this. And with God's grace, continue to follow my bliss!

  2. In real life, under normal circumstances, the contrasting inclinations we face are rarely as dramatic as losing our heads or stealing someone's spouse. But at the moment of choosing, the dilemma can often feel extremely difficult.

    To speak up for chastity in the face of rampant extra-marital sex ("This is the 21st century!"); to point to God's wisdom when others turn away because of personal tragedy; to step out of our comfort zone to do good. These and many more situations present choices that often leave us unable to act, which is perhaps just a whisker this side of wrong.

    How blessed we are to have John the Baptist as our example. And how we need to struggle just to be 1% of what he was.

  3. It speaks to me of conviction deeply buried in the core of our being.
    Knowing and going against our grain requires supernatural effort which can only comes from God.
    Our batteries run out and we tap on the Bible as a charger to renew and top up our lack.
    If we use the Bible as much as the cell phone, then the communication line with the Divine is effective 24/7.
    St John the Baptist had conviction and courage which would do us well to remember and emulate.

  4. What a marvelous picture and message!

    In one fell swop (intentionally or not), Fr Chris, you've managed to cover the readings for both Friday and Sunday (today). I see several layers of meaning bursting forth:

    1. At first impression, the resolute strides made by the little girl in the photo (or painting) reminds me of Luke 9:51, "When the days for his being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem..." (or some translations, "He set his face toward Jerusalem..."), where he knew that he will "suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised." (Matthew 16:21 today)

    2. On the surface, "a simple and straightforward contrast between pain and pleasure. To live the way of the wisdom, the way of the cross, the way of Christ, is to forsake the way of delight." Hence, Peter's remonstration, "God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you." and Jesus' rebuke, " You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do." (Matthew 16:22-23 today)

    On a deeper level, we are being invited to consider... two different kinds of inclination: What looks like delight could be suffering in reality and what looks like suffering could be a delight (bliss) in actuality! What kept John the Baptist, Jeremiah, our Lord Jesus, Peter, Paul, etc. going against the tide of popular opinion/powers is actually a very deep and powerful delight in God (Psalm 63:2,4 today: "O God, you are my God-- for you I long! For you my body yearns; for you my soul thirsts...", "For your love is better than life", and Jeremiah 20:9, "it becomes like fire burning in my heart")!

    3. On an even deeper level, "Could it be that true wisdom consists in the ability to discern our delights, in learning to truly find and follow our bliss?" ties in neatly with what St Paul says in Romans 12:2 today (again): "Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect."

    Most Holy Trinity, help us discern our true bliss and to follow it resolutely!


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