St John the Baptist,
Sculpted by Jean-Baptiste Houdon (1741-1828),
Executed in 1808
Plaster Cast
© Galleria Borghese

St John the Baptist,
Sculpted by Jean-Baptiste Houdon (1741-1828),
Executed in 1808
Plaster Cast
© Galleria Borghese

Gospel of 10 December 2023

John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness

Mark 1:1-8

The beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is written in the book of the prophet Isaiah:

Look, I am going to send my messenger before you; he will prepare your way.

A voice cries in the wilderness: Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight.

and so it was that John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. All Judaea and all the people of Jerusalem made their way to him, and as they were baptised by him in the river Jordan they confessed their sins. John wore a garment of camel-skin, and he lived on locusts and wild honey. In the course of his preaching he said, ‘Someone is following me, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to kneel down and undo the strap of his sandals. I have baptised you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.’

Reflection on the sculpture

Today's reading is the very start of the Gospel According to Mark. The first person St Mark introduces is St John the Baptist. The root of St John's message is simple but hugely significant: 'My life is not about me'. He points at Jesus, always. John wasn't interested in being the centre of attention. He wasn't interested in the praise of others. He was only interested in preparing the way for Christ, and he didn't let personal ambition get in the way.

St John's message was as startling as his physical appearance. He was not a richly clothed man. As we read in our reading today, he wore a scratchy camel's hair cloak and stuck to a diet of locusts and wild honey. Our sculpture by Jean-Baptiste Houdon, at the Borghese Gallery in Rome, depicts this contrast between a confident imperial pose (the modelling of this sculpture would have been based on a typical ancient Roman model of an emperor) and the humbleness of a camel hair cloak. Houdon first made an écorché for this sculpture. An écorché is a figure drawn, painted, or sculpted showing the muscles of the body without skin. These are usually highly academic sculptures, to define precisely the study of the body. I share with you the image of the plaster écorché which Houdon did, before then sculpting the actual figure of St John the Baptist in white marble. As a result of the study of the body, we have a perfectly toned and sculpted figure of St John. The final sculpture would then feature more dress. We could even say that as St John prepared the way for Christ's perfect obedient sacrifice of love, this plaster écorché model prepared the way for the final version of the sculpture.

Our lives however cannot point to Jesus unless we have encountered him in that deeply spiritual sense. If Jesus came to immerse people in the Spirit of God’s unconditional love, then we need to allow Jesus to immerse us in God’s love, so we too can point to Jesus. Cardinal Heenan was Archbishop of Westminster here many decades ago. He was once asked in a television interview which piece of the gospel was the greatest challenge to his faith. He paused for a moment and said that the bit of the Gospel he found most difficult to believe in was the truth that God loves me as I am now. Letting this Gospel truth become personal for each of us can take time. Advent is a good time to allow ourselves to be fully immersed in Christ.

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Patricia O'Brien
Member
Patricia O'Brien
2 months ago

John the Baptist. Fantastic.What an example of evangelism coupled with humility.
My favourite depiction is in the Wilton Diptych…he looks really friendly and approachable with his little lamb and arm around Richard.

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
2 months ago

Excellent news Janey!

Jamie Cardinal
Member
Jamie Cardinal
2 months ago

Come Holy Spirit,
fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.
And You shall renew the face of the earth.
O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit,
did instruct the hearts of the faithful,
grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and
ever enjoy His consolations,
Through Christ Our Lord,
Amen.

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
2 months ago

Not many comments today? Everyone at their devotions…..?

George K
George K
2 months ago

This is a link to a Youtube video…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DtZP76wvsTE

George K
George K
2 months ago

I’m not sure how this applies to my life. Maybe it’s that God calls out to me in my wilderness; my wilderness would have been when I was focused on my humanity instead of my spirituality. While I was in the wilderness, I did not see a way out. John tells us we are called to repent. To me, ‘repent’ means to ‘rechoose’. John says Someone will come after him, Someone who will give us The Holy Spirit. I look at this as that the Holy Spirit of Jesus has shown me a path to get home through the wilderness, a wilderness I had created through my earlier self-centered choices. Today I can make choices based on giving unconditional love instead of receiving something for myself.

Some good news is that daylight starts getting longer in a few days! 😊

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
2 months ago
Reply to  George K

Well said George. You’re finding your way through the morass of worthless diversions that this life throws up.🆙😀

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
2 months ago

I can’t think of anything wise or interesting to say this morning, The descent into the depths of winter, the relentlessly awful news including the nugget I heard this morning that our society is becoming like the Victorian in terms of inequality are real downers. I’ve got a group of friends coming round tomorrow evening for wine ‘tasting’ and I’m going to have to lift my mood😖
Let’s see how 11:30 Mass goes….My friend Katelyn from Mississippi told me about a film on Amazon called ‘The Burial’. It’s the story of her family funeral business which has been dramatised. A good story and I will tell her I watched it. 😊

Anthony
Member
Anthony
2 months ago
Reply to  Chazbo M

As Cardinal Heenan said Chazbo, God loves you just the way you are now.

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
2 months ago
Reply to  Anthony

Good one Anthony!!

Anthony
Member
Anthony
2 months ago

Absolutely superb, on all counts
today. Immerse yourself in Christ folks!
As an aside, I did Lazarus in clay for my ‘A’ Level. Then found out we were not allowed to fire it. So for six weeks I had to go into the college every few days to keep it damp for the day of adjudication.
Not one to boast but it came a very close second to our sculpture today! 🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣 I wish!!!

Patricia O'Brien
Member
Patricia O'Brien
2 months ago
Reply to  Anthony

I detect modesty here in measure 😊

spaceforgrace
Member
spaceforgrace
2 months ago

This statue does lead me to Jesus. I can imagine Him being pushed beneath the water here, maybe just at the moment the Holy Spirit appears and the Father’s voice speaks although that isn’t in this passage. John is also holding a cylinder shaped object in his other hand, what is it, and would it be included in the finished scuplture? If this is just a ‘practice’ piece then what an accomplished sculptor Houdon was and I must look him up.

Saint John the Baptist is a staggeringly important saint, we would do well to follow his awesome example of total commitment. We will always fall short, but what a model he is, alongside Mary in giving themselves over completely to the workings of grace. I find myself cowering at my ineptitude in doing this, yet Father Patrick using Heenan’s quote brings me back. To be immersed in Christ, and in His love, is the glorious call and to refuse that love is a grave sin.

My prayer today is to be aware I am bathed in love, however challenging it is to understand and to feel.

A restful and peaceful Sunday to you all.

Chazbo M
Member
Chazbo M
2 months ago
Reply to  spaceforgrace

Et cum spiritu tuo!

Anthony
Member
Anthony
2 months ago
Reply to  spaceforgrace

Bathed in love! True sfg.

Michele Jahncke
Member
Michele Jahncke
2 months ago
Reply to  spaceforgrace

Do you think the object may be the portion of the scroll of Isaiah?!
I felt my breathe was taken away today by the reality of it all.
~Isaiah prophesying 700 years before.
~Loving God preparing hearts through such a man as John.
~Perhaps John had to be a shock to wake people from their slumber.
~that Abba does love us as we are but wants more for us. Repentance to make way for the Holy Spirit!
Ah, it is almost too much and makes my heart soar!

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