Dear Friends in Christ,
St. John the Baptist is an outstanding model of faith. His presence on the stage of salvation history is vital. Apart from the story of his birth, we know nothing of his early life other than he grew strong in spirit. His simple and uncompromising message of repentance and conversion has spoken down through the centuries. Jesus affirmed his greatness; and saw in his ministry the forerunner referred to by the prophet Malachi. The Lord also identified the Baptist with the return of the prophet Elijah.
By calling all people to repent, John the Baptist’s message and ministry took on universal significance. In Tertio millennio adveniente Pope St. John Paul II referred to this summons in the context of speaking about the Second Vatican Council as a turning a point in church history: ‘The Council, while not imitating the sternness of John the Baptist who called for repentance and conversion on the banks of the Jordan, did show something of the prophet of old, pointing out with fresh vigour to the men and women of today that Jesus Christ is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”, the Redeemer of humanity and the Lord of history.
The Second Vatican Council was the benchmark, challenging believers with a fresh renewal of penance and action. Most of us do not look forward to confessing our sins, acknowledging the wrongs we have done and repenting. Peter however, offers us a different view of repentance: “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” To repent should not be a burden but a release. When we humbly acknowledge that we have done wrong, acted badly and sinned, there is rejoicing in heaven and, as the Syriac theologian Rabbula of Edessa pointed out, we are drawn back into Christ’s presence: ‘O Christ, you take the sinfulness from sinners, and when we repent you welcome us beside you.’ Sin is not a problem for God, because where sin abounds his grace super-abounds.