Solemnity of the Nativity
of St. John the Baptist

June 24, 2018

Fr. José Maria Cortex, F.S.C.B.

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Today is a very important liturgical solemnity, the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist. The Church does not usually celebrate the saints’ birthday. Instead we celebrate the day of their death, dies natalis, the day they were born to eternity. That the only exceptions are Our Lady and John the Baptist is indicative of John’s importance in the history of salvation. Moreover, in the Litany of the Saints, he comes right after the angels and archangels. God entrusted John with the unique mission of preparing for Jesus’ coming, as the herald of the long-awaited Messiah.

John’s mission did not end with his martyrdom. Now, in the glory of the saints, through his humble example and powerful intercession, he challenges us to prepare for Jesus’ coming through the conversion of our hearts. The Precursor illuminates our path. The first reading says: “I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth” (Is 49:6).

Preparation is crucial. We prepare very well when something is important to us. For example, when a young couple is expecting their firstborn, they do many things to welcome the baby. The nine months preceding the great event are filled with high expectation. We eagerly anticipate what matters.

John’s preaching had a profound impact. After two hundred years without a prophet, Israel’s hopes were raised very high by the Precursor’s ministry. Crowds flocked to the shore of the Jordan to hear him preach and be baptized. Many mistook this godly man for the Messiah. However, to those who confused him with the Messiah, he vehemently replied: “What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. Behold, one is coming after me; I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of his feet” (Acts 13:25). John was a profoundly humble man, who directed people’s attention toward Jesus and away from himself.

From the beginning,  there was great mystery surrounding John’s life. People were amazed that he could have been born to such elderly parents and said: “What, then, will this child be?” (Lk 1:66). It was evident that God was present in the life of this child.

John was chosen for a special mission. The first reading says: “The LORD called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name” (Is 49:1). John’s vocation consisted of revealing God’s glory. He was a servant of God, “a sharp-edged sword” and a “polished arrow.” He hid himself in God and went to the desert, in order to bring the people back to God, as first reading says: “For now the LORD has spoken who formed me as his servant from the womb, that Jacob may be brought back to him and Israel gathered to him” (Is 49:5).

We need to look to Saint John the Baptist in order to prepare for Jesus’ coming. Two thousand years ago, Jesus came in the flesh and now comes in a spiritual way to those who are waiting for him to return. The Church is waiting for the final coming of her spouse, which will occur at the end of history. Now is the time for conversion. In the second reading, Saint Paul declares: “John heralded his coming by proclaiming a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel” (Acts 13:24). The Baptist, with the power and spirit of the great prophet Elijah (cf. Lk 1:17) urges us to pass from idolatry to the worship of the true God. Let us pray that the celebration of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist will increase our desire to prepare for Jesus’ coming. May the conversion of our lives to Christ help us to follow Saint John’s example of humility.  Amen.

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