The birth of Saint John the Baptist is a special day in the Holy Mother Church. Because it is a Solemnity, and because it falls on a Sunday this year, it takes precedence over the celebration of the 12th Sunday in Ordinary time…. a momentous occasion indeed. It is also one of only three birthdays that are celebrated in the Liturgical calendar of the Holy Mother Church. The other two being the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Birth of Jesus Christ.
Falling on June 24th, it is six months before the birth of Christ, as revealed in the time line of Luke’s Gospel.
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”
Saint Augustine recognized the connection of the births of Jesus and St. John the Baptist in relation to the cycles of nature. He noted that whereas the birth of Christ is celebrated just days after the winter solstice, when the days are beginning to grow longer, emphasizing to the world that it is in fact Jesus Who dispels the world’s darkness. It is also why the Church places the Feast of St. John the Baptist’s Nativity in June, just after the summer solstice, when the days are getting shorter…to reinforce St. John the Baptist’s own statement, “He must increase, I must decrease.” (John 3:30)
That is the kicker isn’t it? “He must increase, I must decrease.” That’s a hard one to embrace for many of us. We want to follow Christ, we want to spread His Light into the world, but we really don’t want to ‘decrease‘ do we? We tend to fight this aspect of being a true follower of Christ. We say we are doing things for the Glory of God, but more often that not, we tend to bask in that glory. In our pride, we like when people recognize us for the good we do. We like that people look at us and see God’s goodness…God’s grace and mercy… which in itself is fine and good… But so often we start thinking that we have something to do with it. We don’t decrease…we take a bit of the glory for ourselves…we claim it for our own…as if we could ever do a good that wasn’t created by God… We wear this ‘glory’ like a badge… We turn a virtue into vise by pretending that it is something we have done…“Look at me… I am good.” Is this what Saint John the baptist did? I don’t think so…
But God is good, and He has a way of setting things right. He has a way of adjusting our attitudes… This is precisely why humiliations are given to us. And if you are like me, you want to run the other way…I mean, Who wants to suffer humiliation? But sometimes… actually, all times... God knows better than us. He knows what is the best for us… for our soul. And so we are often given doses of humiliation to help us with our pride…to keep our ego in check…it is the remedy for our, ‘I am so good, look at me‘ illness… Funny thing is, that most of us don’t even realize just how sick we are. We have become that comfortable with our pride. Prancing around with it like it is a beautiful coat. We don’t even realize that we should be wearing camel’s hair and eating locusts…We don’t think that our pride is an issue…we aren’t that bad after all…. Right??? Well, I’m afraid not…
This lack of arrogance and pride is what draws me to St. John the Baptist. He was most special to the Lord, chosen to be born freed from the stain of original sin, by an exemplary grace of being baptized while still in the womb of his mother. And yet, he wandered in the desert. Preaching and preparing the way for the Lord. He took for himself none of the glory. He pointed the way to the Lord. Everything he did was for God. He was all in. All the time. Suffering humiliation after humiliation for God. He recognized that he was not even worthy to untie the sandal of the Lord… do we recognize our own unworthiness?
Saint John the Baptist was indeed special. He shared a special bond with the Lord, that raised him above the others, and yet he was so humble… so poor, here on earth. He is a fine example for all of us today especially in this day and age when we are constantly being told how good we are…how we only deserve what is the best…the world owes it to us.... For most of us, our egos have been fed and groomed to believe such nonsense…When what is really happening, is that we are being distracted from the calling of the Lord.
That is why we must remember Saint John the Baptist, we must look at his life… look at the way he lived… and try embracing a bit of his humility… Even though he was chosen by God for such a vital role, he did not waiver, he set his eyes on the Lord…turning away from all the distractions of the world… and all the temptations that come with it. Choosing instead to devote his life to the One Who made him…to the One Who loved him…and the One of Whom, he loved. Let us say a prayer that we may turn away from our self indulgences and follow the narrow path that was the way of Saint John the Baptist and his life, and let us pray that with God’s mercy and grace…we too may follow the path that leads to the Lord… humiliations and all.
O glorious Saint John the Baptist, greatest prophet among those born of woman, although thou wast sanctified in thy mother’s womb and didst lead a most innocent life, nevertheless it was thy will to retire into the wilderness, there to devote thyself to the practice of austerity and penance; obtain for us of thy Lord the grace to be wholly detached, at least in our hearts, from earthly goods, and to practice Christian mortification with interior recollection and with the spirit of holy prayer. Amen.