(John the Baptist’s) persecutor had demanded not that he should deny Christ, but only that he should keep silent about the truth. (From a homily by St. Bede the Venerable)
It’s kind of funny how when I see something really, really striking for the first time, I think that it is a rare gem just discovered by me that nobody else knows about, only to learn that I was the ignorant one, not the rest of the world.
So it was with the sentence above, written by St. Bede the Venerable, an English Benedictine monk from the 8th century. I was praying the Office of Readings from the Liturgy of the Hours on the memorial of the Passion of John the Baptist, deep into a commentary by our friend St. Bede when these words stopped me cold.
If you’ll recall, John the Baptist spoke out about Herod marrying the wife of Herod’s brother Phillip, telling him that it was “not lawful.” For Herod and his illicit wife Herodias, that was terribly inconvenient and a real problem. To solve it, Herod had John beheaded, thus quieting the critic.
This is a hard truth for us as steward Disciples of Christ. We are given the earthly task of caring for the gifts given to us by God, which is stewardship in a nutshell. A great gift given us is the Truth – the Truth of God’s love and mercy for us, exemplified by the Holy Sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross. In our times of weakness, we can actively deny the Truth through our words, or, perhaps even worse, by our silence.
If we are witness to an affront of the Truth, unless we speak up, we are complicit with the crime – qui tacet consentire videtur, “he who is silent is taken to agree.”
Solomon Burke, singer extraordinaire, recorded a song called “None of Us are Free” in which he soulfully sings “If you don’t say it’s wrong then that says it’s right.”
Between St. Bede and Solomon Burke, there are thousands of examples of this theme throughout history. In addition to John the Baptist refusing to be silent, another saint comes to mind as well.
St. Thomas More refused to be silent about Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn and, like John the Baptist, had his head removed by an angry king.
As steward Disciples, we are tasked with defending the great gift of the Truth. I often think about the martyrs and ask myself if I would have the faith and courage to defend the Truth with my life. I pray that that would be so.
St. Bede was onto something big. I Googled his sentence and discovered it was not some obscure uttering from an ancient monk, as I had originally thought. Instead, it was a statement of truth about the Truth. A statement that would be good for us to think about each and every day.
John the Baptist, pray for us. St. Bede the Venerable, pray for us.