Skip to main content

A Conscience Rooted in Truth and Justice


“The truth is always stronger in the end if people stand up and fight for it.” ~ Helen Steele

Fresh off the heels of a weekend highlighted by the back-to-back celebrations of Saint Monica and her son Saint Augustine, Monday brings with it the Memorial of the Passion of Saint John the Baptist. This was a man who took to heart and lived the words of our Psalmist today in proclaiming the love of the Lord’s commands in both word and action (Psalm 119).

In baseball parlance, John the Baptist might be considered the quintessential set-up man, the guy who emerges from the bullpen in the 8th inning to pave the way for the “closer.” Jesus is the very definition of a closer. He was the true forerunner to the Son of God. He knew this was his calling. He embraced it. He lived it . . . and died it As author Reza Askan points out “The two men’s roles had to be reversed: Jesus had to be made superior, John inferior. Hence the steady regression of John’s character from the first gospel, Mark, wherein he is presented as a prophet and mentor to Jesus, to the last gospel, John, in which the Baptist seems to serve no purpose at all except to acknowledge Jesus’ divinity.”

He must increase, I must decrease.” (John 3:30)

Today’s 1st Reading (1 Corinthians 2:1-5) continues with what has become something of a scriptural theme in recent days, the importance of humility and the cultivation of a pure and humble heart. “I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom,” Paul tells the people of Corinth in what was an honest self-critique of his evangelical manner. “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” He came to them with what he called “weakness and fear and much trembling,” once again a nod to his burgeoning humility and self-awareness.

These were virtues that Paul had to develop in order to carry out his mission, for they were not the traits of a man who once terrorized and murdered Christians. His was a complete transformation, ushered in by God’s grace and Paul’s willingness to cooperate with it. He eschewed human wisdom, instead relying on the power of God. He urged those in his midst to do the same. Wisdom is of course a cherished Gift of the Holy Spirit, a gift to pursue and pray for. Yet God’s power supersedes all. The gift, after all, cannot and never will be greater than the gift giver.

In the case of John the Baptist, his was a martyrdom rooted in the defense of truth and justice. Ordinarily the Saints who suffered martyrdom are vanquished for their witness to the faith, martyred for their refusal to renounce Jesus Christ and his improbable resurrection. John the Baptist was not imprisoned and ultimately put to death for his faith, but instead due to his unwavering defense of the indissolubility of marriage. Herod took his brother Phillip’s wife Herodias, this despite the fact that Phillip was still alive. This was against the Mosaic Law and remains to this day a disordered and gravely sinful act, despite what Hollywood or the latest Soap Opera storyline might claim. It always will be.

Scroll to Continue

In Herod we see an irrational and impulsive sort, a man who promised up to half of his kingdom to the teen daughter of his illicit wife merely for performing a seductive dance. Herod does not want to put John the Baptist to death. In fact as we’ve discussed in the past, Herod actually enjoyed listening to John the Baptist , despite how “perplexing” John’s words may have been to his narcissistic, self indulgent ears. This proves yet again that the truth is written on the hearts of all. No one is completely devoid of a conscience.

The Cathecism of the Catholic Church teaches us that the development of a conscience is a lifelong endeavor, and it begins at childhood. We must recognize the voice of our conscience and grow in our discernment of right and wrong. It was Herod’s lack of virtue that led him to ignore his conscience. Even after making such a foolish promise, his pride and lack of fortitude kept him from refusing to grant this evil wish. A person with a well-formed conscience knows full well that it is never morally permissible to commit an evil act even if one has promised to do so. Herod’s fear of the crowd and his craving for human respect eclipsed everything.

John the Baptist on the other hand was clearly a well-formed and virtuous man, one who said and did what was right without regard for his own fate. He fearlessly spoke the truth to Herod because Herod needed to hear it. For the sake of his own soul and for the sake of those he governed, those who looked up to him and counted on him to lead in a lawful and ethical manner, John the Baptist rifled everything. Saint Paul of the Cross would oftentimes refer to himself as a “Soul Hunter.” I think we can say that John the Baptist was a hunter of souls in his own right.

The goal of virtue is to order our feelings and emotions so they do not rule over us. Instead our intellect and our will, aligned fully with God’s will, drive our decisions.The Collect chosen for today's Mass urges the faithful to pray that we may “fight hard” for the faith. This week while listening to Catholic Radio, I heard a priest tell a story about another priest friend of his and the promise that they made to one another. Whoever died first would tell God that the other priest loved him, was fighting hard for him, and looked forward to the day when he would see him.

Let us all vow to fight hard for God and his teachings, calling out to Saint John the Baptist in intercessory prayer that we too may possess the power of truth and justice coupled with a well-formed conscience, avoiding evil, intemperance, and cowardice. For as the martyr of truth and justice, Saint John the Baptist will lead you straight to his friend and Savior Jesus Christ, who was truth and justice made manifest.

Saint John the Baptist, pray for us.

Related Articles