Friday, July 29, 2016


Homily for July 30th, 2016: Matthew 14:1-12.

          Herod had thrown John the Baptist into prison, today’s gospel tells us, “on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip.” Herodias was married to Herod’s still living brother, Philip. Herod divorced his first wife, in order to marry Herodias. No wonder that John denounced Herod. He had divorced his wife in order to marry his still married sister-in-law. This earned John the Baptist the hatred of two people, both equally unscrupulous: Herod and Herodias.

          Herodias sees her chance for revenge at a drunken party hosted by her second husband, Herod. Aroused by the dance of Herodias’ daughter – unnamed here, but celebrated in literature and in a well known opera as Salome – Herod promises the girl, under oath, that he will give her anything she asks for, up to half of his kingdom. Not knowing how to respond, the girl consults her mother, who tells her to ask for the head of John the Baptist, who was even then languishing in Herod’s prison.

          Aghast at the girl’s request, but unwilling to violate his oath, made before so many witnesses, Herod orders John’s immediate execution, without judge, jury, or trial. It is hard to conceive of something more cruel and unjust than the squalid story our gospel reports.

          Is that all just long ago and far away? Don’t you believe it! The media report similar outrages all the time: In Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq with a 1600-year-old Christian community, Moslem terrorists have told all Christians to leave at once or be killed. They lose their houses, clothes and other possessions, including cars. Some time ago a young married woman in the Sudan was sentenced to 100 lashes and then (if she was still alive) to be hanged because she refused to renounce her Christian faith. Her very young son was with her in prison, where she gave birth to another child, with her feet still shackled. Released due to international protests, she was arrested again at the airport the next day when she tried to eave the country, but allowed to flee to the American embassy, where she stayed for a month. After the Italian government succeeded in getting her released, she was flown to Rome with her husband and two small children. There Pope Francis received them and thanked the young woman for her bravery in refusing to renounce her faith. They arrived in this country shortly thereafter.

          How could we better respond to the atrocity reported in today’s gospel than to pray in this Mass for the many victims of injustice and terror in the world today?