Today is the Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist. The beautiful artwork for this post is attributed to Jan Provoost, a mid-to-late fifteenth and early sixteenth century Flemish painter. In this piece our Blessed Mother is enthroned beneath a canopy. The Child Jesus is holding a book in His right Hand, perhaps the Sacred Scriptures, while in His left Hand He is holding a Rosary. In the background on the right is a figure enclosed in a garden, symbolizing our Lady’s virginity and chastity. A Carthusian monk is kneeling, apparently to be the recipient of the Rosary. The life of a Carthusian, that of silence and solitude, of both communal and eremitical life, is reflected in the iconography of this painting. The Carthusian is accompanied by Saint John the Baptist, a hermit of the desert. Behind him is the Lamb of God. Also accompanying the Carthusian is Saint Jerome, which symbolizes asceticism.
In the Statutes of the Carthusian Order we read: “One should note that all our hermitages are dedicated in the first place to the Blessed Mary ever Virgin and Saint John the Baptist, our principal heavenly patrons.”
An example of Carthusian Profession goes like this: “I, Brother ______, promise stability, obedience, and conversion of my life, before God, His saints, and the relics belonging to this hermitage, which was built in honor of God, the Blessed Mary ever Virgin, and Saint John the Baptist, in the presence of Dom ______, Prior.”
For the Carthusian, Saint John the Baptist is a hermit in the desert, a solitary, and one who is focused on God alone.
Also in the Statutes of the Order are these words: “John the Baptist, greater than whom, the Savior tells us, has not risen among those born of women, is another striking example of the safety and value of solitude. Trusting not in the fact that divine prophecy had foretold that he would be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb, and that he would go before Christ the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah; nor in the fact that his birth had been miraculous, and that his parents were saints, he fled the society of men as something dangerous and chose the security of desert solitude: and, in actual fact, as long as he dwelt alone in the desert, he knew neither danger nor death. Moreover the virtue and merit he attained there are amply attested by his unique call to baptize Christ, and by his acceptance of death for the sake of justice. For, schooled in sanctity in solitude, he, alone of all men, became worthy to wash Christ — Christ Who washes all things clean — and worthy, too, to undergo prison bonds and death itself in the cause of truth.”
And then the Statutes give us something to think about: “And now, dear reader, ponder and reflect on the great spiritual benefits derived from solitude by the holy and venerable Fathers, Paul, Anthony, Hilarion, Benedict, and others beyond number, and you will readily agree that for tasting the spiritual savor of psalmody; for penetrating the message of the written page; for kindling the fire of fervent prayer; for engaging in profound meditation; for losing oneself in mystic contemplation; for obtaining the heavenly dew of purifying tears — nothing is more helpful than solitude.”
Sancte Ioannes Baptista, ora pro nobis!