For many reasons we have chosen St. John the Baptist as the patron of our Center for
Action and Contemplation. Our feast day is celebrated on June 24, as the
sun (reminiscent of John 3:30) agrees to decrease. John the Baptist is the prophet who rejects the system without
apology, eats the harsh food of that choice and wears the clothes of
rejection. Like our native peoples here in New Mexico, he goes on his vision quest into
the desert where he faces his aloneness, boredom and naked self. He returns with a message, a clarity, a
surety of heart that reveals a totally surrendered man. First he listens long and self-forgetfully;
then he speaks, acts and accepts the consequences. Surely he is
the ultimate wild man! Or is it wise man? He is both.
Always pointing beyond himself, ready to get out of the way, finally beheaded by the powers that be, John represents the kind of liberation and the kind of prophecy that we need in our affluent culture. He is not just free from the system, he is amazingly free from himself. These are the only prophets God can use, the only prophets we can trust.
John is seen by his contemporaries and by
Jesus himself as a return and image of Elijah the Prophet. Elijah, of
course, is the contemplative on Mount Horeb who met the Holy
One “not in the earthquake, not in the fire, but in the sound of a gentle breeze” (1 Kings
19:11-13.) He has fled to the prayer of the mountain from the hostility
of king and queen, who see him as “the troubler of Israel" (1 Kings 18:17), who makes
clear their idolatries.
Who wants to be a troubler? Who would dare to think of himself as a prophet? What did we come out to the desert to see? John the Baptist seems to tell us that it is the only place bare enough, empty enough to mirror our own motives and disguises. The desert is the prophet to the prophet. We had to come here, we had to come to the quiet, and we have to trust men like John to begin to trust our own action and contemplation. Trouble us, John! You are our pointing-patron-prophet. We’re not wild yet.