St. Denis, Beheaded

Stunning statue of St. Denis in Virginia Museum of Fine ArtSt. Denis was beheaded by pagan priests 1756 years ago today, at the top of Montmartre in Paris. He picked up his own head and then walked six miles to a cemetery, which is where the magnificent basilica of St. Denis now sits.

Countless statues depict St. Denis holding his own head in his hands, including one from the 1400s which is kept in the Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond.

Among other things, a St.-Denis statue reminds us of man’s grim capacity to do violence to man. When I was growing up, I remember hearing plenty of people dismissing such things as relics of a barbaric past now vanished forever. Such ugliness has been conquered by our modern enlightenment!

But we have learned that man still has the same capacity for inhumanity to man. 2014, the year that has given us the iPhone 6, has also given us plenty of public beheadings.

The malice of the fallen human race does not die. But there’s a difference between beheading people, on the one hand, and letting yourself be beheaded on the other—in order to bear witness to the good news of Jesus Christ.

The great moment of ‘enlightenment’ for the human race does not occur when “all great religions accommodate devout faith with a modern, multicultural world,” as President Obama put it at the UN last month.

No, the great moment of enlightenment for the ugly and violent human race came when God became man and died on the cross.

If we, as a race, think we can cross the river from barbarity to civilization by ourselves, without divine aid, we fall into a dangerous fantasy. The only boatman Who can get us from the darkness of beheading our enemies to the light of loving and praying even for those who would behead us—the only boatman to a world of light is Jesus Christ crucified.

Beheading of the Baptist

Hardly want to celebrate the Memorial of John the Baptist’s martyrdom today, since we have already heard about one beheading too many lately.

May St. John the Baptist intercede for Mr. Foley, that he may rest in peace. And may the Lord’s cousin pray for all who suffer, as he did, at the hands of depraved and violent Middle-Eastern despots.

head-platterSt. John the Baptist said many wise things. The wisest of them all, perhaps, came when one of his disciples asked him about the Lord Jesus’ growing popularity. Anyone remember how John responded? “He must…”

He must increase; I must decrease.

Speaking for myself, I often grow impatient with what I see as other people getting in the way of my accomplishing good things. I could achieve such-and-such glorious success—if only so-and-so didn’t get in the way!

Then it struck me that the most-guilty so-and-so in this scenario is…me. No one gets in my way more, when it comes to doing good, than me myself. My preening ego, my desperate grasping for petty prominence.

He must increase; I must decrease. St. John knew—because it constituted the entire prophetic message that he had been consecrated to deliver—the Baptist knew that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Savior, the Redeemer. The Lamb of God has been slain, has conquered the evil over which all of the rest of us are utterly powerless, and now reigns on high, the one true Lord.

Which means that John the Baptist knew during his pilgrim life, better than anyone, that he himself is not the Messiah and one true Lord. I myself stand like a will-o’-the-wisp, armed with nothing but dust and wind, a pathetic tinker-toy of a workman, without Jesus working in me. I can do nothing without Him.

So let me get out of His way! May I count myself nothing, a pencil in someone’s hand, desperately in need of sharpening—that is what I am.

But what the Lord Jesus can do! That’s another thing; that’s an awesome prospect. May I be small enough so that He can use me to big advantage.