Two Johns, One Message of Ongoing Conversion

And you, my child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
For you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
To give to His people the knowledge of salvation
By the forgiveness of their sins (Luke 1:76-77).

Even in his infancy, John the Baptist was marked to become one of the greatest prophets and preachers in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Jesus said himself that “among women there is none greater than John the Baptist” (Luke 7:28).
I count John the Baptist as one of my favorite saints. I am awed by his humility and how he always points to Christ, never to himself. I admire how his courage and conviction for the truth led him to die a martyr’s death. I also appreciate his “wild side”, living off the land and eating wild locusts and honey.

Recently, I have come to appreciate another great preacher named John, who lived centuries after John the Baptist in a little town in Italy.  He is known to the world as St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis was baptized with the name John. Francis was a nickname given to him by his father, Pietro Bernadone, who was out of town for his son’s birth and disapproved of the name that was given to him by his mother.

I identify St. Francis as being a prophet, preaching a message of penance and peace. In my studies of St. Francis, there was one passage from the writings of St. Bonaventure that really stood out to me:

Under divine inspiration the man of God now began to strive after Gospel perfection and invite others to penance. His words were not empty or joking, but full of the power of the Holy Spirit; they penetrated to the innermost depths of the heart, causing his hearers to be filled with amazement. In all his preaching, he proclaimed peace, saying: “May the Lord give you peace,” as the greeting to the people at the beginning of his sermon. As he later testified, he had learned this greeting in a revelation from the Lord. Hence, according to the words of a prophet and inspired by the spirit of the prophets, he proclaimed peace, preached salvation and by his salutary warnings united in a bond of true peace, many who had previously been in opposition to Christ and far from salvation. (Bonaventure, The Life of St. Francis)

After praying with this passage, I made a powerful connection that St. Francis resembles John the Baptist in his preaching. Bonaventure says that Francis was inspired by the “spirit of the prophets.” It is clear to me that Bonaventure realized this connection as well, as he later refers to Francis as being a “friend of the Bridegroom,” which is the same phrase that John the Baptist uses to describe himself to his followers (John 3:29).
Today, on the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, I am grateful for both Johns pointing me toward Christ and to penance and conversion.

Elise Chabot, Postulant

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