In our world we see that the emphasis in society is on being known. We promote ourselves to find work and we seek the limelight for works accomplished. This is even at a very small personal scale when we wish to be seen or noticed among our friends and families. We are human, and this is perhaps a trait that permits us to rise above competition. And this may also have come from an earlier time when this was very much a necessity for survival.
But in our world is that truly needed today? Perhaps not, but we are not immune to this desire to be noticed. Is this what was called for by the Saviour? No. And I think one of the most apt examples of how we should live is St John the Baptist. He preached, not for himself, but for the coming Kingdom of God and the conversion of sinners. At the appropriate time he said: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
Our society is oriented towards those who stand out, are famous. In our own entourage we seek to be noticed in our family and friends. Sometimes our work may require that we are seen and known. Quite acceptable of course. And we want our work to succeed. Perhaps a high profile is necessary for the sake of sales and branding. It is the inner self who must remain that quiet apostle working untiringly in the background.
Of course there are those always working quietly in the background, not seen or heard. So to emulate them is not popular. However, we are called to a bit of both the limelight and the background. John the Baptist was known in his era – a prophet in the desert wearing animal hides and eating bread and insects in that wilderness. He attracted a great deal of attention from the lowly and the great in his society, calling them to repentance: the Kingdom of God is at hand.
The attention garnered was not for himself but rather for the sake of the Kingdom. His message was not directed to himself. The message was that of the prophets of Israel to turn back to God because the Day of Salvation was near. And when the moment arrived that the Lamb was revealed he made that statement in humility that characterized the prophets. The Lamb, the Messiah-Saviour must have first place so to be heard. Anything said by John after this would simply point to the Master and the message of Salvation.
The simplicity of John’s message, difficult for those not prepared to change for the sake of Salvation, meant he could indeed fade into the background. As the “one crying out in the wilderness” he had fulfilled his role. He would fade from notice so that the Son would be heard all the greater.
How many of us seek first place, seek the light of notice and popularity? How many prefer to be in the background unseen and unsung? But that is, in fact, what we are called to do. The message we carry is not about us, though it may be that it is what others may see and hear. So we need to do as John the Baptist did throughout our lifetime.
“And you and I, who are proud —who were proud—, promise to be humble.” – St Josemaria Escriva