Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Memorial of the Passion of Saint John the Baptist

Traditionally, today is the Feast of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist. In the Roman Catholic Church, we observe it nowadays as the much less violent and bloody liturgical Memorial of the Passion of St. John the Baptist.

The Gospel reading for today (Mark 6:17-29) started me thinking along the same lines that resulted in my last homily, preached this past Sunday, based on the second reading, a lengthy passage on marriage at the end of the fifth chapter of the Letter to the Ephesians, particularly this extract:
Herod was the one who had John the Baptist arrested and bound in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, whom he had married. John had said to Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." Herodias harbored a grudge against him and wanted to kill him but was unable to do so
Of course, Salomé, the daughter of Herodias, after performing a dance that pleased Herod, after Herod promised her anything she might ask of him, requested the head of the Baptist on a platter.

There is a brilliant film version of Oscar Wilde's wonderful play, Salomé's Last Dance, directed by Ken Russell (I have not seen the recent one with Al Pacino and Jessica Chastain- I can't imagine it being better). In the film, Oscar Wilde and his lover Lord Alfred Douglas come to the brothel of a friend late on Guy Fawkes Day, where they are treated to a surprise performance of Wilde's play, which has just been banned from being performed publicly.

Erotic dances, beheadings, Beckett, Wilde, Ionesco all in one early mid-week evening puts me in mind of Ionesco, who, after a trip to Mount Athos as a young man, remained a devout Orthodox Christian the rest of his life, particularly his epitaph. But before getting to that, because it is related, I also think of the passage in the eleventh chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel (because I watched Pasolini's film last week):
When John heard in prison of the works of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to him with this question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Jesus said to them in reply, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me” (verses 2-6)

Translated, Prirer le Je Ne Sois Qui J'espère Jèsus-Christ, means, "Pray to the I don't-know-who: Jesus Christ, I hope." It's pretty cool that this picture, complete with epitaph and translation, is on his Wikipedia page!

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