24 June 2018Nativity of John the Baptist

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
Nativity of John the Baptist

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
Nativity of John the Baptist
Nativity of John the Baptist: God's Plan For Us

Today's celebration, the Solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist, has two sets of readings, one for the vigil Masses on Saturday, and one for the Sunday Masses. When I went over the readings, I was first struck by a phrase in 1 Peter, during the vigil Mass. Peter says that the ancient prophets did not serve themselves but served us. That caught my attention. The exact quote is: "It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you with regard to the things that have now been announced to you by those who preached the Good News to you through the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels longed to look." The prophets were called by God for this special mission. Two of them were called from their mothers' wombs. We come upon Jeremiah in Saturday's first reading saying about himself and, really, about another, "I was set aside from my mother's womb." Similarly, Isaiah says in Sunday's first reading, "The Lord called me from birth from my mother's womb."

John the Baptist was called from his mother's womb. The annunciation of his conception to Zechariah in the Temple, Saturday's Gospel, and the naming of the child with the name provided by God, Sunday's Gospel, point out that God had a special mission for John to fulfill. When Mary visited Elizabeth, Elizabeth exclaimed, "The baby in my womb stirred when we heard the sound of your voice." Today's feast points out that from the first moment of his life, John was an integral part of God's plan. Another prophet, the greatest of the Old Testament Prophets, Elijah, would meet with Jesus and Moses on the Mountain of the Transfiguration to discuss God's plan. The last book of the Old Testament prophets, the Book of Malachi, says that Elijah would come again to prepare the way for God's plans. The Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, say that John the Baptist is Elijah come once again. God's plan for man's salvation was first revealed by the prophets. It was set into motion when Mary agreed to be the mother of the Son of God at the Annunciation, and it was announced to the world by John when he proclaimed in his preaching that Jesus was the Lamb of God. But the plan is not complete. Nor have all the players in God's great drama assumed their roles.

The plan will not be complete until the entire world embraces the Kingdom of God. The plan will not be complete until each of us and those who come after us assume our own mission in salvation history. We are called to do far more than just witness God's wonders. We are also part of God's plan. We have a function, a responsibility to the Kingdom. What exactly is your role? What is my role? We know in general, but the specifics become more evident as life progresses. In general, I am a priest, and therefore I have a role as an intermediary for God's people. You may be married. Therefore, in general, your role is to find God in your spouse and allow him or her to find God in you. You may be a parent. Therefore, in general, your role is to lead your children to God. You may be single. Therefore, in general, your role is to give witness to the world as a dedicated Christian and moral single. You may be a Teen. Therefore you have a role to prepare for your future so you can assume your responsibilities as a leader in the faith. These are our general roles in God's plan, but how about our specific roles?

These evolve with life as we become more aware of our individual gifts. Once we know what our talents are, we must use them for God. This priest might be skilled at caring for those in prison. He needs to make this part of his life even if he has other responsibilities. That priest can care for sick children and their parents, even if they are not within his parish. He is obliged to reach out to them. This spouse has developed a talent for recognizing other's needs and caring for them. Now he needs to use this to care for his own wife who is seriously ill. That parent has learned how to motivate her children. She cannot say, "They are now in college. My work is done." She needs to keep using her talent for the Kingdom of God.

That single has developed fantastic organizational skills. She needs to use her talent to meet the needs of many within her parish. This Teen has developed great talent in music, both singing and writing. He needs to use this to minister to his own peers as well as those older then him. We are all part of God's plan. Like John we have been named by God. This took place at our baptism. We have been given the mission to lead the world to God, in ways general to our state of life and specific to our own talents. Like John, we have a responsibility to use our lives to point to the Savior.

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
Nativity of John the Baptist
Baptism of Repentance (June 24, 2018)

Bottom line: Same as our president none of us likes to ask for forgiveness. Yet we need a baptism of repentance - it's the first step to receiving the power of Jesus.

Today we celebrate the Birth of John the Baptist. In our second reading St. Paul says that John heralds Jesus' coming by proclaiming a baptism of repentance. In John's time people knew they needed to repent - to change their hearts, to change their lives. People knew they had fallen short. Today not so much. Most of us don't think we've done anything really wrong. I'm going to use an example from President Trump but it applies broadly. When he was running for president a reporter questioned him whether he ever asked God for forgiveness. "I like to be good. I don't like to have to ask for forgiveness," said candidate Trump. "And I am good. I don't like to do things that are bad. I try to do nothing that is bad." We might smile but we have to admit that attitude affects us all. President Trump grew up deeply influenced by Rev. Norman Vincent Peale and his "Power of Postive Thinking." Positive thinking is OK as far as it goes. After all, we are created in God's image and from him we have received gifts. We should think positively about those gifts and ask God's help to use those gifts for his glory and the good of others. Still we do need to take positive thinking a step further: to think positively not only about ourselves but about what God can do in us if we repent.

Along with our bright side we have a dark side. We may not recognize it but other people do - especially the ones we live and work with. You and I have done things that require forgiveness. When we acknowlege that need, that need to change, then God can both forgive us and do powerful things in us. We see this power when we face addictive behavior. We have patterns of thoughts and actions that cause harm: to us personally as well as to others. The 12 Steps program shows an effective way to deal with addiction. The 12 Steps have roots in Catholic theology. The first step says, "We admitted we were powerless over addiction–that our lives had become unmanageable." Then, "We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity." At Priest Days last week we listened to talks on how to help people dealing with sexual addictions. Bruce and Jeannie Hannemann have an online program for recovery called RECLAiM Sexual Health.

Pornography can affect the mind like alcohol or drugs releasing chemicals that weaken or overpower the will. These things not only destroy the addict but cause great damage to the people close to him. The devil can use addictions to take control of people and to spread misery. Before a person falls into immoral behavior the devil says, "It's no big deal. Everybody does it." When a person falls the devil changes his tune. "What you did is despicable and you are a despicable person. Go ahead and despair."

When the devil says this there's really only one response: Go. To. You know where - hell. Yes, say that to the devil because that's where he belongs. Then say, "I belong to God. He made me and he redeemed me at a great price, the blood of Jesus. I'm not relying on my puny power. I rely on a Higher Power, the power of God, Jesus. That's what John the Baptist did. St. Paul tells us that when John was completing his course he would say, "What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. Behold, one is coming after me..." John always points to Jesus and so should we. This summer we are going to hear more about the power of Jesus' blood. By his blood we belong to God and we have forgiveness of sins. Same as our president none of us likes to ask for forgiveness. Yet we need a baptism of repentance - it's the first step to receiving the power of Jesus. Amen.

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
Nativity of John the Baptist
Birth of John the Baptist, Classic Luke 1: 57–66, 80

Gospel Summary Luke introduces his gospel narrative of Jesus with the events surrounding the birth of John the Baptist. In prior verses related to our passage, we learn that a priest Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth have no children, both being well advanced in years. While Zechariah is performing his priestly duty in the sanctuary of the temple, an angel appears and says to him that Elizabeth will bear a son who was to be called John. But because Zechariah did not believe, and questioned the angel, he became unable to speak. After Elizabeth did give birth to a son, Zechariah wrote on a tablet, "John is his name." Immediately his tongue was freed and he spoke, blessing God. The child (whose name means "Yahweh has shown favor") grew and became strong in spirit, for he was to become a prophet of the Most High.

Life Implications
The unbreakable bond between the Jewish people and the people of the new covenant in God's plan of salvation is clearly evident in today's feast. It is from the Jewish people that John the Baptist, Mary, and Jesus are born so that the tender mercy of God will visit all people. It is from the Jewish people that the church receives the revelation of the most fundamental truths of faith. In the words of the Second Vatican Council, the church continues to draw "sustenance from the root of that well-cultivated olive tree onto which have been grafted the wild shoots, the Gentiles." The most fundamental truth from which we draw sustenance is that God is present in human history as one who extends to us the favor of merciful love. We also learn from the Jewish people that the mystery of divine presence is beyond comprehension.

The "I AM" of the divine name is a name beyond names (Exodus 3: 14 and John 8: 58). A child born of aged Abraham and Sarah or a bush that burns but is not consumed before Moses signals a presence beyond human understanding and control. It is precisely because the mystery of the divine presence is beyond comprehension that the decision to trust or not to trust is inevitable for every one of us. Zechariah, upon hearing the outlandish words of the Lord's angel, did not trust and became mute, unable to speak a word (Luke 1: 20). Luke immediately afterward tells us that the Virgin Mary, too, was not able to understand the promise of the Lord's angel. However, her response "How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?" (Luke 1: 34) is asked out of trust, not out of doubt.

The mystery even of human friendship can deal with a thousand difficulties and questions that are asked out of trust, but is deeply wounded by even one question asked out of doubt. To receive the gift of recognizing the divine presence through faith calls forth a wholehearted response. The essence of that response is not only to trust, but also to bless God with praise and gratitude. When Zechariah wrote on the tablet "John is his name" immediately his mouth was opened and he spoke a blessing "because of the tender mercy of our God by which the daybreak from on high will visit us to shine on those who sit in darkness and death's shadow, to guide our feet into the path of peace" (Luke 1: 68–79). Mary's canticle of praise and gratitude in response to the favor of divine presence is one of the most beautiful blessings of the entire biblical tradition (Luke 1: 46–55). Today's feast celebrating the birth of John the Baptist reminds us to pray again for the faith to recognize the divine presence in our lives, to trust in God's tender mercy with an undivided heart, and to bless God always and everywhere with a glad and grateful heart. Further, in the difficult circumstances that life brings to us all, only as a grateful expression of trust that God's will is to love us can we with confidence pray, "Thy will be done."
Campion P. Gavaler, O.S.B.

The Birth of John the Baptist,
Modern Lectionary 586

The Church celebrates the birth of Saint John the Baptist this Sunday, allowing the usual Sunday readings and prayers to give way to this saint not so much on his own account—as impressive a figure as he was—but rather because of his close connection with the life and ministry of Christ. John was the forerunner after all, the one who would go before the Lord to command his people: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths" (Mark 1:3; cf. Isa 40:3). As we mark the feast of Saint John the Baptist we marvel over how unlikely his very existence was: he was born of parents who were thought to be unable to have a child—a source a great suffering for many couples now as in the time of our Lord. John's birth of course was announced in a dramatic way, with an angel appearing to his father Zechariah in the Temple and telling him: "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John" (Luke 1:13).

The angel further told Zechariah that not only would their son bring joy and gladness to Zechariah and Elizabeth, but in fact "many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord" (Luke 1:13-15a). The angel thus revealed that John had a special task to perform in his life, and later we come to know that this task was to prepare the way for the messiah. At the same time however it is important that we carefully note the angel's words "he will be great in the sight of the Lord." What we see here is that John's grandeur—the reason we honor him at mass this day—lies not in his worldly accomplishments or in the recognition that he received from power brokers and members of polite society. On the contrary, it was the power brokers and polite society of John's day that saw to his beheading. Rather, John's grandeur and holiness lay in the fact that he was "great in the sight of the Lord;" that is, his innate human dignity came from the fact that he was made in the image and likeness of the Lord, and called by the Lord, and loved by the Lord.

In the sight of other people we are held sometimes in esteem, sometimes in contempt, but God sees through that pettiness and loves us—great or humble, rich or poor, famous or obscure, simply as we are, precious in his eyes if scorned in the eyes of men. Perhaps we can take a lesson from this as to the value of human life: even an infant destined for worldly insignificance is "great in the sight of the Lord" and deserves the same welcome into life that John the Baptist received from his parents. We see a similar recognition of the preciousness of all life in God's eyes, especially the lives of the unborn who cannot yet speak in their own defense, in the first reading today from the prophet Jeremiah: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you" (Jer 1:5), and in today's responsorial Psalm: "For you are my hope, O Lord; my trust, O Lord, from my youth. On you I depend from birth; from my mother's womb you are my strength" (Ps 71:5-6). Mindful of John the Baptist and the "greatness" he held in the eyes of the Lord even before his birth, let us pray that all God's children may be welcomed into life with love, for all are truly "great in the sight of the Lord." Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
Nativity of St John the Baptist

Today we celebrate the Birth of John the Baptist; it is a midsummer feast just as the Birth of Christ is a midwinter feast, John being born six months before Jesus There is a sort of theological logic in this, although some might call it romantic logic, in that one of John's most famous prophesies is that ‘I must decrease and he must increase.' And it reflects the fact that from midsummer on the days do decrease until the arrival of Christ at Christmas when they increase again. Besides the fact that this completely ignores the Southern Hemisphere, you might wonder why the feast falls on the 24th rather than 25th June if it is supposed to be exactly six months from the date of Christmas? The reason lies in the Roman way of counting, which proceeded backward from the first day or Kalends of the following month. Christmas was "the eighth day before the Kalends of January." Consequently, the Birth of St John the Baptist was put on the "eighth day before the Kalends of July." However, since today we use the Germanic way of counting in which June has only thirty days the feast now falls on 24th June. Looking more closely at the text you might wonder about all the trouble in it over the choice of a name; but, of course, names are very important and they were especially significant to the Jewish people.

And, as we see in the text, everyone in the family felt they had a right to be consulted. It has been a great joy to us that we have had rather a lot of new babies born in the parish this year. I am sure that the parents have thought very hard about choosing a name for their new child. They want a name that sounds good, a name that means something. The name John, that Zechariah chose, means ‘God will show him favour' which is certainly auspicious. This is an echo of the Angel's greeting to Mary when he used the words: ‘you who enjoy God's favour'. And although John the Baptist lived an extraordinarily ascetical life in the desert and preached an uncompromising message and ended his life in a gory death at the whim of a dancing girl, he certainly did enjoy God's favour. He enjoyed God's favour because he was chosen to play a crucial role in the salvation of the world. He is the bridge between the Old and New Testaments and is regarded as one of the highest of all the saints.

Of course, everyone in the village assumed that John would be called Zechariah after his father and they also believed that he would most likely follow him as a priest in the Temple, but God had other ideas. There is a good lesson for us here. We often think we know how someone will turn out in life, we often have very firm ideas about what we ourselves will do in our own lives and careers, but we soon learn that quite often God has other ideas. John was marked out from his very birth to be the herald of Christ. In a similar was God has marked each one of us out for a particular work in the world. Maybe we already know where God wants us to go and what he wants us to do, or maybe not. John is the one who brought Baptism into being for the Church and maybe this could give us a clue. Each one of us was Baptised, each one of us has made those Baptismal promises to reject Satan and to embrace belief in Christ. This is more than a clue to what God wants for us. He has chosen us to be his witnesses in the world.

We can with confidence say that John the Baptist was the last of the Old Testament Prophets. In his manner and speech he clearly has something of Jeremiah or Elijah about him. But you could certainly also say that John the Baptist was the first of the New Testament Prophets, the very first of the witnesses to Christ. There is always a need for prophets in the Church and God has not been neglectful in providing them. There are people in our own day who speak up for Christ. In recent times we can think of Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul, Oscar Romero, Josephine Bakhita and so on. We may not consider ourselves saints but each of us can make a spiritual impression on the world in our own way.

Each of us is capable of being a Prophet of the New Testament. Each of us can make an impact for Christ on our neighbours. As we have seen the name John means God will show him favour. But as we recognise this favour is shown not only to John, it is shown to all of us. Paul was invited to say a few words in the synagogue of Antioch he stood up and gave the beautiful account of the history of salvation that we heard in the second reading today. And he concluded it by saying to his Jewish brothers: this message of salvation is meant for you. He speaks to the Jews of Antioch but he also speaks to us. This message of salvation is meant for us too. We receive the salvation Christ won for us but we are also, like John, its heralds. We too proclaim a Baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. We too reject sin and proclaim our belief in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

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