St. John the Baptist – the greatest of all saints.

“There hath not risen among them that are born of women a greater than John the Baptist.” (Matthew 11:11)

St. John the Baptist - El Greco

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  As it is written in Isaias the prophet: Behold I send my angel before thy face, who shall prepare the way before thee. A voice of one crying in the desert: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. John was in the desert baptizing, and preaching the baptism of penance, unto remission of sins. And there went out to him all the country of Judea, and all they of Jerusalem, and were baptized by him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins. And John was clothed with camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and he ate locusts and wild honey. (Mark 1:1-6)

I am ashamed to admit that St. John the Baptist was not a saint who appealed much to me when I was a child. This wild-looking man from my much treasured “Bible in Pictures”, dressed only in a camel-hair garment, who lived alone in the desert on locusts (ugh!) and wild honey, seemed to portray to me some sort of eccentric, rather than a holy saint. How very naïve I was in those days! John the Baptist is indeed, the greatest of saints, and I hope he will forgive me my earlier misguided opinion of him.

John the Baptist was the first disciple of Jesus Christ. While both John and Jesus are still unborn infants, John “leaps for joy” in his mother Elisabeth’s womb when the Virgin Mary, carrying the tiny infant Jesus, Son of God, in her womb, enters into their home.  John recognises his Saviour months before either infant has yet seen the light of day. How beautiful and how miraculous! A sure lesson to mankind that human life begins at the moment of conception.

John the Baptist was born of elderly parents, St. Elisabeth and St. Zachariah. They were good, patient, law-abiding people, who had given up hope of ever having a child of their own until the angel’s revelation to Zachariah announced to him that they were to have a son who would be called John (meaning “God is gracious”). This child of theirs was to be the one who would “pave the way” for the Messiah. John was this chosen one who would prepare the people, urging them to repent of their sins, baptizing them, and teaching them the meaning of the Scriptures, in readiness for the coming of the Saviour they had been waiting for so longingly for so many years and who was now at hand. John himself needed preparation for this important mission, and for many years before his public ministry he lived an ascetic life of strict self-discipline, solitude, abstinence and prayer. To be sincere and convincing one must ‘practice what one preaches’, and many adhered to John’s teachings because he himself was a living example of this fidelity.

And so for us too, Advent is a time of renewal; a time to prepare ourselves for the great event of the Nativity of the King of Kings. In a homily on EWTN, Archbishop Timothy Dolan claimed that Advent points us towards seeking four special qualities: Humility, Repentance, Christ-centredness and Integrity of Life. These qualities are perfectly exemplified in St. John the Baptist.


Humility – the favourite virtue of Our Blessed Lord who was humility itself – is very proper of this season of Advent. St. Paul reminds us: “He emptied Himself of His Divinity and took the condition of a slave.” Jesus came to redeem us from the effects of Original Sin, the root of which is the sin of Pride. Our pride wants us to be independent and self-sufficient, but John the Baptist shows us that the beginning of discipleship is humbly recognising our sinfulness, our helplessness and our absolute need for a Saviour. John says:

I must decrease so He can increase.”

I’m not even worthy to untie the strap of His sandals.”

Lord, it is I who should be baptized by You.”


Repentance flows from Humility. Before we can turn to Jesus, John knew we had to repent, to “make straight the paths of the Lord”, removing the ‘boulders’ or obstacles in the way.  This means to turn away from sin. We need to eliminate from our lives anything that ‘dominates’ us or leads us away from a virtuous life, so we can welcome the Dominus, the Lord. That is why there is a penitential hint to this beautiful season of Advent. We need to prepare ourselves, cleansing our souls by making a good Confession sometime during this period, so that we can welcome the Emmanuel (God with us) into our hearts at Christmas.


Christ must be the centre of our lives. John’s entire ministry was to prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. When John spots Jesus coming out of the desert he cries out to his followers as he points to Our Lord: “Look, behold the Lamb of God!” From now on Jesus can take over. Here before their eyes is the One he has been promising them: the long awaited Messiah. John had fulfilled his mission: he had predisposed the people to recognise and follow the “Lamb of God”, Jesus Christ.

John’s words are a lesson for all Christians; we too should point out Christ to others by having a Christlike behaviour, an integrity of life, which is John the Baptist’s fourth lesson to us at Advent.

Integrity of Life

John shows us the power of conviction, principle and honesty. John didn’t waver even when his life was in danger. He told the truth to Herod and the mother of Salome, and this literally cost him his head. In this time of lies and complacency, and of blaming others for our flaws, how much we need the rock-like integrity and courage of men like John the Baptist. He never feared the criticism of others when speaking out the truth; nor did he ever waffle or compromise in the face of very real danger. (Bl. Pope John Paul II said we must tell the truth with love. Sometimes this can be a way to really show we love someone!) We should never fear to live our Faith fully and with integrity no matter how hostile or difficult the circumstances.

These four lessons of this giant of a saint help to prepare us for the feast of the Nativity of Jesus Christ, Our Saviour. Then, with clear consciences and hearts full of joy, we can cry out: “Veni, veni O Emmanuel.”

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22 Responses to St. John the Baptist – the greatest of all saints.

  1. JabbaPapa says:

    Greatest of all the Saints ? Saint Mary, Mother of God, I’d say… 🙂

    I do rather like the excellent article though.


  2. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    “I must decrease so He can increase”.

    Surprised to read this. I can’t imagine that human “decrease” could in any way enhance Him. Such decrease assumes that His greatness can be affected by us.


  3. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    Goodbye one and all….as my posts are now being “moderated”.
    I won’t be suppressed by others. Nor would you.
    Let the mutual agreement commence.


  4. kathleen says:

    I must decrease so He can increase”.

    Mr. Whippy, I think St. John the Baptist is talking personally here. He had a great following among the people (even long after his death) some who might have been putting their faith in him instead of waiting for the coming of the Lord. John didn’t want them to focus on him, but on Jesus Christ, and he made it clear with these words above that he was only the forerunner, so to speak, and didn’t want any glory for himself. He points out Jesus to the multitudes, stipulating that He is the Lamb of God, the Messiah IOW, not John.


  5. Toadspittle says:


    Sorry to hear Mr. W. is all bent out of shape. Toad, for one, will miss him.
    He gave the place a bit of class.


  6. kathleen says:

    Goodbye one and all….as my posts are now being “moderated”.”

    No need to leave Mr. Whippy! I think it’s WordPress acting up, and nothing to do with any of the team on CP&S.
    Besides, if you haven’t been moderated so far with all the naughty/funny/cheeky comments you have posted, I can’t see why you should suddenly be now, huh? 😉


  7. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    Why thank you K. I found that my last two posts were “awaiting moderation” , and were withheld from the screen for a long time. and that the little avatar thingy had been changed to a scowly face. Now I do scowl from time to time but I thought this new avatar had been added as the mark of the damned, for all to see. And, spookily, not far from the truth as it happens.

    I do take your last point and considered that already, but assumed I’d trodden on some toes and was to be ‘shown the instruments’ in the form of “moderation”; perhaps the Boss had looked in from his fastness in Rome.

    I’ll need to go and have a lie down for a while after this.

    x W


  8. JabbaPapa says:

    WEMW, the site has been in a funny mood for a couple of days now — I rather strongly assume that this has nothing to do with you personally, quite apart from which – disagreement is the essence of most meaningful debate.

    One of the particulars of orthodox Catholic Christianity is that agreements to disagree are a central feature rather than a peripheral one, which I know can be more than a little confusing at times.

    This does not mean that your contributions are not valued, nor that they might be unappreciated — I cannot speak on behalf of all of those who have ever disagreed with you in this forum, but my own disagreements with you concern your ideas, and certainly not your person !!!


  9. Gertrude says:

    For some reason Whippy, some comments do get held up in moderation from time to time, but this has nothing to do with any of us, and as long as one of us has a notification, it can be quickly ‘set free’. You know that we rarely moderate – it enourages debate, and each visitor here has every right to be heard, unless of course the comments are offensive, blasphemous or personal.
    So, continue to “step on toes” – our feet are big enough 😉 and forgive the oddities of WordPress!


  10. afmm says:

    Un Christian of me, no doubt, but I find little of value in Whip’s often politicized comments.



  11. Toadspittle says:


    “And John was clothed with camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and he ate locusts and wild honey. (Mark 1:1-6)”

    Would be in big trouble with the Animals’ Rights people today over his wardrobe.
    But, for a trim waistline, the locust and wild honey diet is near unbeatable!
    Though it’s hard to make the locusts sit still when one’s trying to eat them.
    Delia Diet Tip: Dipping them in the honey helps slow them down.

    (Toad remembers camel-hair coats being fashionable among ‘spivs’ when he was a tadpole.)


  12. kathleen says:

    “…. hard to make the locusts sit still when one’s trying to eat them.
    Delia Diet Tip: Dipping them in the honey helps slow them down.”

    Fantastic Toad! I just can’t stop laughing since I read your comment this morning 😆 . You’ve made my day, bless you.


  13. Toadspittle says:


    Wouldn’t do, to take too much of this seriously, would it Kathleen?


  14. golden chersonnese says:

    Though it’s hard to make the locusts sit still when one’s trying to eat them.

    Dear Toad, you may be interested in one of our more exotic Oriental treats, ‘drunken prawns’ (醉 虾, zuì xiā, in the local parlance). Very nutritious;

    But another thought on St John the Forerunner.

    Long ago I once had it expounded to me that the ways in which St John is described in the Gospels (he gets no mention elsewhere in the NT, as far as I am aware) is mainly a Christian effort to put followers of the Baptist in their place. What I mean is that that there were numerous followers of the Baptist after Jesus’ death who somewhat rivalled the Christians as a Jewish movement. Thus the Christians wished to show John mainly as a precursor and as ‘inferior’ to Jesus in their accounts. If you read the Gospels, I think you will see that this is all quite possible.

    I know that even to day there are some in the Middle East who represent themselves, accurately or otherwise, as followers of the Baptist rather than Jesus – the Mandaeans,to be precise. In fact, they are rather dark on Jesus.


  15. Gertrude says:

    I didn’t know that the Mandaeans followed the Baptist Golden, although they did revere him as a great prophet. Many years ago I read a rather bad translation (or, so I was told, since I don’t speak Mandaic) of the Genza Raba, and remember some discourse supposedly between Jesus and John, but on the whole their beliefs are Gnostic are they not?


  16. golden chersonnese says:

    I think they reserve the highest regard for the Baptist, Gertrude, and historically less or little regard for the Messiah, who’s not on their list of prophets, which also excludes Abraham and Moses. They have frequent ‘baptisms’ or bathings, which is something of a sacrament for them.

    They pre-date Islam and come out of the same Jewish/Syrian/Persian/Greek mishmash of religious thought and sentiment as Islam does, which is what you would expect to find in the Middle East, where three great continents meet.

    One interesting thing is that the Mandaeans and Muslims refer to John the Baptist by a name that appears not to resemble the Aramaic name for John at all, which is something like “Yohanan”. Both the Muslims and Mandaeans call him Yahya or Yahia. In the Qur’an they say this was a name never before given, but John was quite a common name amongst Jews and Christians before (and after) Islam. Anyway, Yahya is big on the list of prophets in the Qur’an and gets a sizable mention there, in the same chapter as Our Lady’s story is largely told. (A clear difference between the Mandaeans and the Muslims, however, is that Jesus is a great guy in the Qur’an.)

    [Pickthal 19:2 – 19:15]
    Kaf. Ha. Ya. A’in. Sad.
    A mention of the mercy of thy Lord unto His servant Zachariah.
    When he cried unto his Lord a cry in secret,
    Saying: My Lord! Lo! the bones of me wax feeble and my head is shining with grey hair, and I have never been unblest in prayer to Thee, my Lord.
    Lo! I fear my kinsfolk after me, since my wife is barren. Oh, give me from Thy presence a successor
    Who shall inherit of me and inherit (also) of the house of Jacob. And make him, my Lord, acceptable (unto Thee).
    (It was said unto him): O Zachariah! Lo! We bring thee tidings of a son whose name is John; we have given the same name to none before (him).
    He said: My Lord! How can I have a son when my wife is barren and I have reached infirm old age?
    He said: So (it will be). Thy Lord saith: It is easy for Me, even as I created thee before, when thou wast naught.
    He said: My Lord! Appoint for me some token. He said: Thy token is that thou, with no bodily defect, shalt not speak unto mankind three nights.
    Then he came forth unto his people from the sanctuary, and signified to them: Glorify your Lord at break of day and fall of night.
    (And it was said unto his son): O John! Hold fast the Scripture. And we gave him wisdom when a child,
    And compassion from Our presence, and purity; and he was devout,
    And dutiful toward his parents. And he was not arrogant, rebellious.
    Peace on him the day he was born, and the day he dieth and the day he shall be raised alive!


  17. Toadspittle says:

    Godlen is quite right, as usual. Who, amongst us, can confidently say the Mandaeans are wrong, and we are right?
    Would surely be amazing arrogance.

    What they believe sounds just as plausibe as most other thingsrelated to The Good Book!

    Topping news to hear Jesus is a great guy in the Qur’an, as well.
    Might be a different story if He set foot in Qur’an High Street, Saudi Arabia, though, eh?.


  18. golden chersonnese says:

    Toad, there was every manner of religious myth, sentiment and practice in the ferment of the ancient Near East. Have you taken on board the angel 90 miles tall yet? Thought not.

    The Mandaeans, who some scholars believe to be of Jewish Christian origin expelled by the Romans after their destruction of Jerusalem, appear now to have lucked out big time in their homeland of Iraq (all 70 thousand of them) and are busy emigrating to Iran, Sweden and Australia, where they might pursue further their favoured trade of goldsmithing.

    The point I merely wished to raise is that John the Baptist has not only been a Christian hero, especially amongst the Orthodox, but has also figured very prominently in other related religious traditions in those parts. Of course for Islam, he serves very nicely as one of the large band of both named and unnamed prophets that is essential to the Islamic scheme.


  19. JabbaPapa says:

    Who, amongst us, can confidently say the Mandaeans are wrong, and we are right?



  20. Toadspittle says:

    “Have you taken on board the angel 90 miles tall yet? Thought not. “

    Godlen is right again, re Toad!
    Who, in fact, has so far signally failed to “take on board” an angel even only 2.5 inches tall. Too tall for him. Who is only about an inch and a half high, himself.
    “With a pair of opera glasses, one might see o’er Hackney Marshes.. if it wasn’t for the 90 mile tall angels in between.” as the old music hall song might have gone.
    But didn’t.
    So, what on earth is Toad on about here?
    Search me.

    Possibly that it is sinful and risky for the Mother of God to go to the moon balanced on a balloon.

    Or, more likely, that it is not a good idea to take religion (or philosophy, indeed) seriously.


  21. golden chersonnese says:

    Ooooo (dare I say it again?), but what an exasperating Toad!

    And you would make a very imperfect Elchasite, I must say.


  22. Robert says:

    Again St John the Baptist. Look at what Our Lord told the Apostles about Elias and the Prophecy’s and then go back and look very carefully at the Visitation. Also look at Our Lady Of Mount Carmel.(Elias’s Order = Carmel).
    St Therese is again another example of Carmel in 20th Century.
    St John The Baptist = the spirit of Elias. Elias remember in the time of Ahab and Jezebel and His life in the desert. The world bereft of Grace is a spiritual Desert.
    See it was St John The Baptist response in His mother (St Elizabeth) womb at the approach of Jesus and Mary! The first soul to recognise Jesus and Mary , before the Nativity was St John The Baptist (spirit of Elias).


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