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Father Muench Says...

Spending time with St. John the Baptist

Dec. 12, 2018

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

Advent is our times to be alone with St. John the Baptist. I like Advent, and I consider St. John the Baptist to be a friend. So, Advent is a very special time for me – a time to meditate on John’s life and his message.

I assume that John the Baptist was close in age to Jesus – they were both very probably in their early thirties – at the time of the Gospel events. So, thinking of John the Baptist, it makes me remember the events of my own life when I was that age, those early days in my life.

For me, John the Baptist was, first of all, a powerful preacher. He drew crowds to listen to his message. His message was of the coming of the long-awaited message for Israel – the Messiah was coming, and it was Jesus.

This was John’s vocation; God had chosen him to bring the world to Jesus by being a bold and challenging preacher.

Early on, I recognized my vocation as a priest meant I was called to be a preacher. So, John the Baptist became an important patron saint for me.

One of the gifts I received as a seminarian at Wadhams Hall was a terrific public speaking course; I took it each of my four years in college. Our professor for that course each year was Father Joseph Bailey. I want you to know that he was a very good speech teacher. Now that doesn’t mean that he was easy on us.

I remember being so nervous each time it was my turn to speak in class. It was a real challenge for me. And there was Father Bailey sitting in the back row ready to point out our failings, leading us to improve. Now I know that his efforts were such a great part in my becoming a preacher.

Now you may find this a bit humorous: my first pastor as a newly ordained priests was Father Joseph Bailey. He had stepped out of seminary work to be a pastor. I am certain you can imagine how I felt each time it was my turn to preach. I was certain that Father Bailey was sitting in the back of the church as I began to speak. He continued to be an effective guide for me during those days.

In addition, I want to add I learned a great deal by often experiencing Father Bailey’s preaching. He was a very good preacher.

One more thing: I still have a note that Father Bailey wrote to me complimenting me on a column I had written. I was pleased.

Back to St. John the Baptist. Just as John was a powerful preacher, he was a genius in reaching people spiritually. John used a Baptism of Repentance, very different from the sacramental Baptism of Jesus. John spoke often of repentance; he challenged the people to make the decision to find a new and better and life. They must change what keeps them from God – a change to be a better person.

To make that moment of decision memorable, John would invite each person into the River Jordan and baptize them, literally pushing them under the water – something for them to remember at this important moment in their lives.

I had the privilege of visiting the spot along the River Jordan where tradition says John the Baptist spoke and baptized. Our group even had a sort of baptismal renewal there. I walked into the river with a few folks and poured water over their heads and renewed their Baptismal promises. It was a rather impressive opportunity.

The river waters were very healing.

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