The homilist this past Sunday spent some time talking about the humility of John the Baptist, who denied being the Messiah, Elijah, and the Prophet. I would have said his denials were more a sign of truthfulness than humility. Then again, maybe truthfulness is itself a sign of humility, a recognition that what I wish doesn't trump what actually is.
In any case, the thought occurs that the greatest act of humility St. John ever performed was to submit to his death. Consider: He is the herald of the Messiah, the kinsman and precursor of the Christ, the fulfillment of prophecy whose conception was announced by an angel; no man born of woman is greater than he; people of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem went out to him and were baptized; his protestations notwithstanding, he is Elijah; it was through his ministry that Jesus' own ministry began. The Gospel (in Mark's case, literally) begins with his preaching.
And his death? Could it be any more miserable, ordered by a shabbier man for a more shameful reason, plotted by a more wretched woman out of a pettier anger at the denunciation of a more pathetic sin? What does the contravention of a minor law of pseudo-consanguinity by some barely Jewish Roman puppet have to do with preparing the way of the Lord?
Yet the words John preached weren't his own. He could no more refrain from condemning Herod for his sin than he could take credit for recognizing Jesus as the Lamb of God. To have lived to serve and listen to Jesus; what man could have ever wanted that more, for better reason? In humility, though, he baptized Him by Whom he should have been baptized, he spoke the words and followed the way God gave him, and he died for it far from his Lord, without even being able to complete the task of leading all his followers to Christ.