I remember being at World Youth Day on Cologne, Germany, during the Summer of 2005. We Capuchins were involved with 'Cafe Cappuccino' a venture where the friars, all in habits, ran a downtown cafe for the week and served, coffee, tea, and soft drinks as well as biscuits and cake. It was a pastoral opportunity for people to encounter the friars in a novel way.
A short walk up the street took us to the square in front of the stunning Cathedral in Cologne. Thousands of young pilgrims gathered there all day and into the night, praying, singing, telling stories, exchanging e-mails and adding each other on Facebook. Across the square were two building-size banners; one saying 'Thank you John Paul II.' who had died earlier that year. The other was 'Welcome Benedict XVI.'
Then I heard a loud cry. I looked around but saw no one for a moment only throngs of people. I looked up a lamp - post. (a large out door light) and there on it was a crazy-looking man with a megaphone swinging on it shouting something in German. He was dressed in animal skins and wore long hair and a beard. As I looked and listened, it struck me that it must be street-theater. As the scene went on, I said, this guy reminds me of John the Baptist. And as I stood there with hundreds of others near the banks of the Rhine, I imagined that this must have been what it was like on the banks of the Jordan river.
This weekend at our Masses we encounter John the Baptist. Here is a man full of the Holy Spirit, and we will see this as we draw closer to the liturgies around Christmas time. Even from his mother's womb he praises God in the presence of Jesus Christ. By his words and actions he calls on all of us to prepare the way of the Lord. His preaching is extremely high voltage and it filled people with enthusiasm, and as a result of this many went to him for baptism. Was he the one who was to come? But he was not the light, only one who speaks for the light. "Someone is coming after me...." John the Baptist, through the power of the Holy Spirit knew the signs of the times and was ready.
I've said this before, but it is interesting in our northern hemisphere that the feast of John the Baptist falls around mid-summer and the light slowly begins to fade. "I must decrease..." And of course, Christmas falls on December 25th; mid-winter. "He must increase..." John the Baptist calls all of us to make the paths straight for the Lord when he comes so that all of humankind will see the saving power of God. The cry of the Baptist rings out in our time as we approach Christmas. We need to prepare the way of the Lord because God is coming to us - to all of us.