Today the Church celebrates the nativity of St. John the Baptist. No other saint is celebrated on the day of his birth, but only on the day of their passage from this to the next. Why, then, do we celebrate two feasts of St. John the Baptist, that of his birth (today) and that of his martyrdom (in August)? Well the reason is that St. John the Baptist, unlike all the other saints, was born sanctified. Whilst he was still in the womb he was freed from original sin by God; therefore his birth was an event of grace that the Church has celebrated from the very beginning.
Under what circumstances was St. John the Baptist sanctified?
Luke the evangelist tells us of this event when he writes about the visit of the Mary Most Holy to her cousin Saint Elizabeth. On that occasion, when Our Lady entered the house of Zacharias and Elizabeth, John, the foetus who was still in his mothers womb rejoiced, he jumped for joy. This detail was interpreted by the Fathers of the Church as the sanctification of John, whereby he was born as one who had already been freed from original sin. On that occasion it was Mary who brought grace to that house. John was sanctified and Elizabeth began to prophesy and recognised Mary as our Lord and Saviour’s Mother. God worked these wonders of grace using Mary . And it has always been like this: wherever Our Lady enters, Grace enters with her and it begins to blossoms and fruit. Therefore, should we not always let the Blessed Virgin enter into our hearts, our lives, into our homes? Simple, unceasing recitation of the Rosary with all of your family is all it would take. Where Mary enters, sin is unable The set foothold leaves that place pretty sharpish. This is the Grace that is most dear to Mary. She who is the Immaculate Conception, the Most Holy Mother of our Lord and Saviour.
After John’s birth, his father, Zacharias, was also visited by grace and recovered his speech. In fact, he had been rendered mute by the Archangel Gabriel, due to his unbelief. We have to agree with Zachariah, after all it seemed impossible that his wife, Elizabeth, would be able to conceives this late stage of her life. Yet we know that nothing is impossible for God. Because of Zacharias disbelief at Gabriel’s words, who had assured him of the gift of a son, he remained mute; it was only after the birth of the infant that he again recovered his speech. And “his tongue was loosened, and he spoke blessing God” (Luke 1:64). From this we learn to believe in and always trust in God. If this trust is lacking, then we deprive ourselves of many benefits that would otherwise have come our way.
The mission of St. John the Baptist was to prepare the way for the Lord. For this reason he is called the Forerunner. We too, in some way, must be just like the Forerunner, preparing the way for our brothers and sisters to return to the Lord. Sin keeps us away from God. Therefore, like St. John the Baptist, we must enlighten our brothers and sisters, we have to talk to them regarding the gravity of sin and of God’s infinite mercy, we must prepare them for both repentance and conversion. Yet to achieve this we have to fight against a defect which, more or less, is something that is in each one of us: that so-called self respect. Humanities self respect is that shame we often feel when we reveal ourselves to be Christians and by living our Faith coherently in today’s society. Human respect is also a sin to be accused of during confession.
Jesus, in relation to this sin, used some very strong words: ‘Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’ (Mark 8:38). To win human respect we must first of all pray earnestly and ask to be granted this grace. Then we have consider our own mean-spiritedness every time we allow ourselves to be dominated by this shame. We certainly wouldn’t make a very good impression, towards God nor in the face of society. In fact, the world despises those who are ashamed of their own Faith and beliefs, whilst admired, even if at times persecuted, those who live their Faith with courage, with their heads held up high. We therefore need to ask for two graces to be granted to us today. The first is to always live far removed from sin in order to be ourselves, in some way, like the Immaculate Conception and St. John the Baptist. The second grace would be that of being able to profess our Faith with the joy and courage that it deserves..
God grant to the living, grace; to the departed, rest; to the Church, Bishop Alistair, our bishops, clergy, religious our brothers and sisters, all of humankind, peace and concord; and to us and all his servants, life everlasting; the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always.