The Nativity of St. John the Baptist
Isaiah 49:1-6 + Acts 13:22-26 + Luke 1:57-66,80
June 24, 2017
“The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel.”
When the Church celebrates the feast day of a saint, we are usually celebrating the day of the saint’s death. You might call this the saint’s “supernatural birthday”: the day on which he or she set out for Heaven. But the Church also celebrates the natural birthdays of three persons: Christ Jesus, of course, on the feast we call Christmas; the Blessed Virgin Mary, on September 8th, nine months after the feast of her Immaculate Conception; and Saint John the Baptist, on this day which falls sixth months before Christmas eve.
Considering this celebration of St. John’s birth, we see more clearly the relationship between John and his cousin Jesus. Their relationship is an intimate one, and yet also one of strong contrasts. In the same way, by celebrating the birth of Saint John we see more clearly what our own relationships with Our Lord are to be like.
John and Jesus were cousins by nature. Each one of us is a brother or sister of Jesus by our supernatural baptism into the Paschal Mystery. John and Jesus each had a message to proclaim to others. We are obligated to listen to each of these messages, and to follow each. St. Augustine of Hippo comments on today’s Gospel passage in saying that:
The release of Zechariah’s voice at the birth of John is a parallel to the rending of the veil at Christ’s crucifixion. If John were announcing his own coming, Zechariah’s lips would not have been opened. The tongue is loosened because a voice is born. … The voice is John, but the Lord in the beginning was the Word. John was a voice that lasted only for a time; Christ, the Word in the beginning, is eternal.
We are called to imitate John: we are called to be the voice which speaks the Gospel of Jesus to others. Yet in the Eucharist, we are called to consume the Word made Flesh, and so strengthened, imitate Christ Jesus, to offer our lives in sacrifice for others. The penance of John prepares us each day to renounce our sinful selves. The Sacrifice of Christ prepares us each day to offer our sanctified selves for the sake of Christ’s Body in this world.