Courage versus Cowardice, Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist, August 29, 2013

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist
August 29, 2013
Jer 1:17-19, Ps 71, Mk 6:17-29

To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click here: 


The following points were attempted in the homily:

  • There’s a huge contrast between courage and cowardice in today’s Gospel. We see courage in St. John the Baptist. His whole mission was one of courage, announcing the call to conversion. He likely knew that, just as had happened with so many prophets before him, people would try to kill the messenger to extinguish God’s message. But he preached on, including about the immorality of Herod’s marriage to his sister-in-law and niece, Herodias, even when it would enrage her and put her on a mission to end his life.
  • Herod is an example of cowardice. He threw an orgy for a birthday party putting on display his step-daughter and great niece Salome as the sad Miley Cyrus of her day to arouse all of his drunken courtiers. But Herod was the most aroused, which is a sign of how perverted he was. He swore an oath — to God!, in the midst of so much immorality — that he would grant anything she asked up to half his kingdom. She could have asked for his own suicide. When her mother got her to ask for John the Baptist’s head on platter, even though he knew St. John the Baptist was a prophet and a representative of God, he was too weakened by his own pride and immoral promises not to go through with it.
  • The reasons for John the Baptist’s courage and Herod’s cowardice go to the lives they were living. John the Baptist was living a life of conversion and penance before preaching it to others; Herod was living one of immorality and self-indulgence. John the Baptist’s life strengthened him to do the right thing; Herod’s life weakened him so that he didn’t even have the strength to avoid doing the obviously evil thing. John the Baptist was free even in prison; Herod was a slave even on his throne.
  • The application to us is to ask whether we are prepared to be courageous or cowardly before the Lord and whether we’re living the type of life that will strengthen or weaken us. We’re living at a time when many are in immoral marriages, pseudo-marriages and immoral relationships, including members of our families. St. Paul tells us that those who live such lifestyles will not inherit the kingdom of heaven, but do we have the love and the courage to try to bring them to the Lord? Or will we let them cut off their own heads and commit spiritual suicide by ending their relationship with God through immorality just as Herod had done? Immorality always spawns other immorality. Sins against the sixth commandment — as we see with Herod, as we see with King David, as we see repeated on the front page of daily newspapers — often leads to atrocities against the fifth. Our inaction is consequential. One of the reasons why our culture now is where it is is because many of us have hit the mute button on the Lord’s commission to go and teach.
  • It requires courage to imitate St. John the Baptist in his defense of, and martyrdom for, marriage. But the Lord wishes to strengthen us. He says to us what he said to the Prophet Jeremiah in today’s first reading: “But you gird your loins; stand up and tell them all that I command you. Be not crushed on their account, as though I would leave you crushed before them;  For it is I this day who have made you a fortified city, A pillar of iron, a wall of brass, against the whole land: …  They will fight against you, but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.”