First Point — St. John refuses all honors. At once he refuses those honors to which he has no right. The object of the Jews, in addressing St. John the question, '' Who art thou?" was to compel him to declare if he was, or was not, the Messiah. The mere expression of such a doubt filled the precursor with confusion. He was sorrowfully surprised at the thought that anyone should confound him with the Master. He therefore rejects this supposition with all the strength of an indignant soul, and boldly and emphatically declares that he is not the Messiah — "And he confessed and did not deny, and confessed, I am not the Christ." But they still urge him: ''Who, then, art thou? art thou Elias? and he said to them, I am not. Art thou a prophet? He answered. "No" The humility of St. John had here to undergo a severe trial. In fact the Jews were disposed, if he had wished it, to recognize him as their king, their liberator, and even as the Messiah. He had but to say a single word, and the whole synagogue would have come to do him homage; but St. John is too humble to accept a title and honors which he does not merit, and hence he declares without hesitation that he is not the Christ. His humility goes farther; he refuses even the honors to which he has a just right. Without being the Christ, St. John the Baptist was great enough to be extolled and praised; without any usurpation he could claim at least the titles which Jesus had given him on several occasions. If he were not really Elias, he was a figure of him. He represented him. and he exercised, in the first coming of the Son of God, the ministry which Elias shall exercise at His second coming. He leads the same life as Elias led, he manifests the same virtues, the same zeal, the same mortifications, and the same fearlessness before the powers of the earth. True, he was not Elias in reality, but he was Elias in spirit and in virtue. With the same truth, he could accept or refuse the title of prophet. He could refuse it, since the minister of the prophets consisted in announcing, from afar, the coming of the promised Messiah. His mission was to show that the Messiah had come to the Judeans. This, however, was not to prophesy, but only to announce what already existed. He could also accept the title of prophet; the Messiah whom he preached existed in truth, but He had not yet manifested Himself. His mission hitherto remained in the class of future things, so that he was really predicting and prophesying what he announced. So that, between the two, St. John, without hesitation, takes the part which is most favorable to his profound humility. But Jesus bestows on him, with superabundance, the glory of which he had deprived himself; He declared that not only was St. John the Baptist a prophet, but that he was more than a prophet, thus realizing what He had so often preached, i,e, that ''he who humbles himself shall be exalted."
Second Point — St. John speaks of himself in the most modest terms. The Jews, dissatisfied by the response which St. John had given, said to him: "Who art thou, what sayest thou of thyself?" He answered: ''I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Make straight the way of the Lord. I indeed baptize in water, but there is One in your midst whom you do not know, whose shoes I am not worthy to loose." The holy precursor abstained as much as possible from declaring whom he was, and confined himself strictly to the questions which were proposed to him. He was content to modestly, but positively, avow what he was not. But a precise question puts him to the necessity of an explanation and to say exactly who he is. He speaks of himself, but it is because he is constrained to do so. It is an avowal which is forced from his modesty, and by declaring the truth he shall still more conciliate this duty with his sentiments of humility. He shall say only what is necessary to make known his mission. The interests of his Master demand it, but he shall say it in the most simple terms, and far from all pretension and praise for himself: ''I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord." It was simply impossible for him to speak of himself in a more modest manner. A voice is only a mere sound, entirely without substance. St. John, therefore, declares that he is absolutely nothing by himself. For a moment put yourself in the place of St. John the Baptist. Think that some one comes with authority to demand who you are, what have you to say of yourself? Candidly, what response should you make? Would you, as the holy precursor, be principally occupied in preventing an opinion, too advantageous, which might be formed of you? Would you acknowledge with the same frankness what was wanting in you? And, if obliged to speak of what was advantageous to you, would you do so as simply and as modestly as St. John did?
Third Point — While St. John speaks of himself and of all that concerns him with so much modesty and reserve, he enlarges with pleasure on the grandeur of Jesus, and finds also in praising Him the means of humbling himself. This is the conduct of one who possesses a truly humble heart. As much as he tries to conceal in secret the gifts which he has received from God, just so much does he love to publish the gifts with which others are adorned. His modesty suffers from the eulogies he receives, while his charity rejoices at those which he gives. Are these your sentiments? Do you love to bestow praise rather than to receive it? Are you eager to extol the good qualities of your neighbor, and to be forgetful of his defects? How rare are dispositions like these, and yet how suitable they are in a Christian soul?
O my God, how far I am from having the sentiments of humility which Thy holy precursor had ! I am as proud as he was humble. Do not permit, Lord, that I should ever forget the nothingness from which Thou hast drawn me; and if I am obliged to extol the good which I possess, let it be only to make known the greatness of Thy power and the magnificence of Thy gifts.
Source: Short Instructions for Every Sunday of the Year and the Principal Feasts, Imprimatur 1897