From the Pastor's Desk
This Sunday is now six months and a day until Christmas. The Solemnity of the birth of John the Baptist keeps the Christmas story not far from our minds and thoughts. Saint Luke’s Gospel tells us that Mary’s elderly cousin Elizabeth was pregnant with a son, who would be known as John the Baptist, the great precursor and herald of the Messiah. Regarding Elizabeth, “it was the sixth month for her who was called barren. For nothing is impossible for God!” The Church’s liturgical calendar captures the timing of this event by placing this commemoration of the birth of John the Baptist six months and a day previous to the celebration of our Lord’s Nativity. The extra day is added to express the specialness of the “25th,” which is reserved for the Lord Himself.
Yet, today’s liturgy is set aside to honor the cousin of the Lord Jesus, the great prophet of conversion and repentance, a voice crying out in the wilderness, who said: “prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” This occasion, a prominent solemnity in our liturgical tradition, is meant to help us appreciate the action of God, particularly as we ponder the life and important role of John the Baptist in the unfolding story of salvation history. Jesus, himself, once said of John the Baptist: “there is no man born of woman greater than John the Baptist.” Yes; John was the one privileged to point out, to announce and to identity Jesus as the Messiah, whose sandal straps John was unworthy to untie. Indeed, the era of the prophets was coming to conclusion. The era of the Messiah and the definitive chapter of the redemption of mankind was about to begin.
On one of my recent trips to the Holy Land, our pilgrimage travelers and I had the opportunity to go to Ein Karem, the Church of the Visitation, where the pregnant cousins, Mary and Elizabeth had their holy encounter of joy and anticipation. God had favored them both in very unexpected and miraculous ways. Upon Mary’s arrival to her cousin’s house, the child in Elizabeth’s womb leaped for joy, so near was the salvation of the world, soon to be ushered in by the glorious birth of Christ, born of Mary and by the power of the Holy Spirit. No wonder Mary broke into a canticle of praise with her famous Magnificat: “My soul magnifies the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.” At the Church of Ein Karem, the Magnificat is on display in beautiful artistic plaques throughout a garden courtyard, presenting this magnificent canticle in dozens and dozens of the languages of the world. When we understand the extent to which God was willing to go, even to the point of fooling the Evil One, to accomplish the redemption of the human race, we, too, can break into a similar song of thankful praise and acknowledgement of the mighty deeds of the Lord.
Our pilgrimage group subsequently visited the nearby church, built over the exact spot of the birth of John the Baptist. We, each, had the opportunity to go into the undercroft of the church and kneel in reverence of the holy marker, which indicated the place of the Nativity of John the Baptist, whose solemnity we commemorate today on June 24th. Birthdays are important occasions for us all, as we ponder the privilege of being alive, as we treasure our personhood and our life’s purpose, as we ponder the grandeur of God’s good creation, and consider again God’s plans in allowing us to be born, to know, love and serve Him. Occasions like the anniversary of the birth of John the Baptist help us, as followers of Christ, to know of the deep spiritual story that underpins it all; a sacred story, which reflects the mystery of God in history, working through his people, bringing about the building of his kingdom.
Have you thought about the action of God in your own life story lately? It’s been there from the beginning, whether you know it or not. It’s now up to you to discover it, announce it, and magnify the Lord.