23 June 2011

Homily - 23 June 2011

The Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist
At the Vigil

The birth of a child is among the most joyous events experienced in life and anyone who has been around the birth of a child knows this joy, a joy that is a deep and profound mystery. We can understand, then, why the angel of the Lord said to Zechariah, “And you will have joy and gladness” (Luke 1:14). But why did the angel also say, “and many will rejoice at his birth” (Luke 1:14)? Why did he not say that all people will rejoice at his birth? The answer lies in the mission of this newborn child.

Zechariah was told, “you shall name him John,” a name that means, “the Lord has favored” or “the Lord is gracious” (Luke 1:13) The news that Elizabeth was with child brought great joy to Mary because she knew her relatives were “advanced in years” (Luke 1:7). The name of this child, then, can be said to convey the graciousness of God to Zechariah and Elizabeth when the Lord heard their prayer (cf. Luke 1:13); John’s name can also be said to show the favor the Lord has given to this child. But what sort of favor, what kind of grace, is it that has only some people rejoicing at his birth?

The grace he is given by God is the very mission he received in his mother’s womb, to recognize and show to others the Messiah; his grace is to “go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah” and “to prepare a people fit for the Lord” (Luke 1:17). Through his life, John the Baptist “testified in advance to the sufferings destined for Christ and the glories to follow them” (I Peter 1:11).

With the spirit and power of Elijah, Saint John stood against King Herod and called him to leave behind his adulterous life. Because of his defense of marriage, John lost his head; he gave his life in witness to the truth. In this, we see that the Lord “set [him] over nations and kingdoms, to root up and to tear down, to destroy and to demolish, to build and to plant” (Jeremiah 1:10). Those looking for salvation rightly rejoiced at the birth of John the Baptist, for by him were planted the seeds of repentance and the way for the Savior was prepared into our hearts. In this, he proved himself to be a true leader and his example calls out to us.

Holy Mother Church gives us Solemnities such as this one to recognize the great joy he has planted in our hearts and she calls us today to “rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy” in the birth of Saint John (I Peter 1:8). By contemplating the life of the Baptist, she calls us to recognize that the Lord also desires us to prepare a people fit for the Lord and to stand for the truth with boldness and with love, regardless of what it may cost us; with this call the Lord has favored us.

Yet despite his favor we are often reluctant to stand for the truth and to call others to repentance. We say with the prophet Jeremiah, “I am too young,” but the Lord also answers us, “Have no fear before them, because I am with you to deliver you” (Jeremiah 1:8).

When we feel hesitant or afraid to speak the truth in love, we must remember that we are serving not ourselves but Christ and those to whom he sends us (cf. I Peter 1:12). Our concern must not be about us but must instead be about the salvation of those we meet, that we might all “attain the goal of [our] faith, the salvation of [our] souls” (I Peter 1:9).

This was the concern of Saint John the Baptist and because of it he has attained the goal of his faith and is “great in the sight of the Lord” (Luke 1:15). Let us then look to Saint John and learn from him to follow Christ Jesus. Let us ask the Lord to give us the words we should speak and to give us the wisdom to know that we must decrease and he must increase that we, with John, may be great in the sight of God. Amen.

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