Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist
June 24, 2014
Is 49:1-6, Ps 139, Acts 13:22-26, Lk 1:57-66.80
To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Today on this Solemnity of the Birth of St. John the Baptist, we ponder how he was a triple precursor of the Lord, pointing out the Lord in three different ways and making straight the paths for us and others to encounter him in these three days. What he did has also given us an example to follow.
- The first way he was a herald of the Lord was in gestation and birth. In the scene of the Visitation, we know that John leaped in Elizabeth’s womb as soon as his mother heard Mary’s greeting. The early saints and liturgy of the Church have always interpreted that leaping for joy as an indication of the Good News incarnate’s blessing him from the womb. He became a “voice” of the “Word” pointing out God’s presence while both were still in gestation. Later at his birth, Zechariah’s mouth was opened as soon as he named him “John” (God is gracious) and Zechariah’s famous Benedictus pointed mostly to Jesus and then to his own son’s role in giving witness to him who would come to save his people.
- The second way John was a precursor of the Lord was in life at the Jordan. John the Baptist went out to the Jordan to prepare the way of the Lord. He did this first by announcing the conversion necessary to receive him proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Then he pointed out the fulfillment of this need, indicating Jesus as he came to be baptized as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” He pointed out Jesus as the one who was coming to bring the long awaited salvation.
- The final way John was a forerunner was in death, and not just any death and not just any martyrdom but as a martyr for marriage. John the Baptist was killed because he told Herod Antipas that it was not lawful for him to marry his brother’s wife. He was a witness to what Jesus himself would reveal that once God has joined a man and a woman in one flesh, no one could separate them, and if someone divorces one and marries another, that’s adultery. In Herod’s situation, it was incestuous adultery with his sister-in-law who was also his niece. Jesus had come as the Bridegroom and identified John as the “friend of the bridegroom,” the ancient semitism for “best man.” Jesus had come to espouse us, but in order for us to grasp that nuptial dimension of our creation and redemption, we have to grasp what marriage really is. John had the courage to risk his life to call Herod and Herodias back to the true meaning of marriage, even though it would lead to his imprisonment and to his decapitation. But in doing so, he was pointing to the Divine Bridegroom and to the way that valid human marriage is part of the plan of redemption.
- John the Baptist’s triple heralding of Christ is important for all of us to grasp during this Fortnight for Freedom. We, like John, are all called to point out the presence of the Lord Jesus in each of these three ways and that’s something that we pray for God to strengthen us to do during these two weeks of prayer, fasting, study and witness.
- We’re first called to point out the presence of God in the womb. One of the reasons we need a Fortnight for Freedom is because most of the incursions against religious freedom in our country flow from the attempts of partisans of the sexual revolution to force their immorality on all of us. In the Affordable Care Act, and the directives for the implementation of it from the Department of Health and Human Services, there has been the attempt to force all citizens, including religious institutions and individuals, to cooperate in abortion by funding others’ chemical abortions, sterilizations and accept to contraceptives. But that’s just the beginning. There has been for quite some time moves to force all those in medical schools and nursing programs to be trained in how to perform abortions (by participating in them) and to compel nurses to cooperate in this evil. Just last month in Britain, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists announced that it would refuse diplomas — the equivalent of a medical license — to those who have a moral objection to prescribing abortion-causing drugs and contraceptives even if they should complete all of the coursework and criteria required. The message being sent is that if you don’t want to act against your conscience, you’ll need to find another profession. There previously was a conscience exemption but those who exercise it won’t receive diplomas any longer. There’s no room for freedom of conscience and no respect for religious belief and the rationale conclusion that abortion is the deliberate killing of a child.
- To point out the presence of God in the womb is more and more imperative and courageous. John the Baptist’s in utero witness of Jesus in the womb indicated the sacred presence in both. In the first reading, Isaiah points out that he was already in a relationship with God in utero: “The Lord called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name.” This echoes what the Prophet Jeremiah said in the first reading from the vigil Mass: “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.” We are not only created in God’s image and likeness from our conception but we are in relationship with God from the womb. Jesus would later say that whoever receives a little child in his name receives him and whatever we do to the least of his brothers and sisters we do to him. There’s no child smaller, there’s no brother or sister littler, than when we’re in the womb, and Jesus calls us to receive them and welcome them with the same love with which we’d receive him. In the midst of a culture that wants to poison those little siblings with fatal chemicals, or who make billions a year sucking them into vacuum cleaners, dismembering them or burning them in casting saline, we need the courage to see the image of God in them and defend them, even when powerful interests in government and professional societies are trying to take away our freedom to do so.
- Likewise, we’re called like St. John the Baptist to point out what marriage is and isn’t because of it’s central role in God’s saving plan. St. John told Herod it wasn’t right to marry his sister-in-law and niece. We need to have the courage to say that it’s not right for men to marry their neighbor’s wife if her husband is still alive, to say that it’s not right for men to marry their brothers, women marry their sisters, for people to enter into polygamous unions and all the other deviations from God’s plan for marriage from the beginning. We don’t have to remind others of this truth in a mean-spirited, or condescending or ugly way. But we are called to give witness to the truth, as John the Baptist did. Many people today lack this courage because they don’t love the Lord enough and don’t really believe that his Gospel is good news and indicates the path to heaven. Many times they’ll clam up because they don’t want to hurt someone else’s feelings, but at the same time they don’t seem to care as much about the Lord’s feelings, that he is wounded by their decision to alienate themselves from him in a sinful lifestyle and that in fact he died in expiation for those sins. They also don’t seem to care very much about the salvation and eternal happiness of their friends, which is not going to be secured by living like Herod and Herodias in unlawful unions.
- The push to redefine marriage to embrace various unlawful associations is, as we talked about at the beginning of this Fortnight, the second main reason why there’s an aggressive assault against religious freedom. Back in 2009, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the Obama administration was no longer going to be defending religious freedom in foreign policy but would instead defend “freedom of worship.” They would still say that we could worship on Sundays and at home the way we wanted, but that our rights to live by faith would no longer be defended. She said that the reason for this change was so that people would have the right to “love in the way they choose.” That was a euphemism to say that in order to make straight the paths for same-sex couples to marry, they needed to reduce religious freedom, since basically every revealed religion is against this distortion of marriage. This was followed up by an attempt to say that religious institutions couldn’t discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation except those who explicitly teach the faith, something the Supreme Court overturned 9-0 on the basis of the First Amendment. Recently, the Obama Adminstration has been saying it’s going to require, by executive order, any institution that receives any government money at all for programs with which they participate with the government not to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender, which would mean that if a Catholic social agency is going to receive money to implement a program for the common good like a food pantry or housing for AIDS victims, it can’t discriminate against someone who flamboyantly lives contrary to the faith in any position. All of us need to learn from St. John the Baptist in this Fortnight courageously how to defend and indicate about Jesus the Bridegroom and what he has taught us by his words and by his person about the meaning of marriage in God’s plan, even if we should have to suffer for it.
- The third way we need to imitate the precursor flows from the first two. We need to be signs and agents of conversion from a false freedom that leads to abortion, leads to the falsification of marriage, leads to other personal and social evils. St. John’s work at the Jordan was not only to point out the need for conversion but to give people hope that there is a better way with the arrival of the One who takes away the world’s sins. Conversion is not fundamentally about turning away from sin or even turning toward the Lord, but learning how to “turn with” the Lord, to think as he thinks, to want what he wants, to love as he loves. Many people give into false understandings of freedom, of love, of sexuality, of marriage, of family, of happiness because they haven’t really witnessed what Christ is offering because they haven’t seen it adequately lived and embraced. That’s the greatest contribution we can make to our nation, to show the link between freedom and the truth, between liberty and obedience to God, between faithfulness and happiness, between conversion and mercy. One of the most important aspects of the Fortnight for Freedom is our own conversion so that we, like John the Baptist’s repentant life in the desert, can draw people to the Lamb of God.
- All three of these indications of Christ by his forerunner culminate here at Mass. It’s here that John, like at the Jordan, indicates to us in every Eucharistic celebration the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world. It’s here that he show us the same Jesus who was present in Mary’s womb and made him leap for joy. It’s here that he points out the Bridegroom in the consummation of his nuptial union. It’s here that that Bridegroom gives his own life for us and calls us, like he called John, to offer our lives as a holy and acceptable sacrifice with Him to the Father. Jesus said about John that he was the greatest ever born of woman, but the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. The reason is because the least in the Kingdom has the ability every day to receive Jesus within, to strengthen us in our living and proclaiming the Gospel even and especially when challenging. Today on the Solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist when we ponder the whole meaning of his life, we also thank the Lord for our own and ask him here to strengthen us so that we may be as faithful in indicating his presence in the womb, in marriage, in conversion and in death as John did!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
listen, O distant peoples.
The LORD called me from birth,
from my mother’s womb he gave me my name.
He made of me a sharp-edged sword
and concealed me in the shadow of his arm.
He made me a polished arrow,
in his quiver he hid me.
You are my servant, he said to me,
Israel, through whom I show my glory.Though I thought I had toiled in vain,
and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength,
yet my reward is with the LORD,
my recompense is with my God.
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;
and I am made glorious in the sight of the LORD,
and my God is now my strength!
It is too little, he says, for you to be my servant,
to raise up the tribes of Jacob,
and restore the survivors of Israel;
I will make you a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.
PS 139:1B-3, 13-14AB, 14C-15
O LORD, you have probed me, you know me:
you know when I sit and when I stand;
you understand my thoughts from afar.
My journeys and my rest you scrutinize,
with all my ways you are familiar.
R. I praise you for I am wonderfully made.
Truly you have formed my inmost being;
you knit me in my mother’s womb.
I give you thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made;
wonderful are your works.
R. I praise you, for I am wonderfully made.
My soul also you knew full well;
nor was my frame unknown to you
When I was made in secret,
when I was fashioned in the depths of the earth.
R. I praise you, for I am wonderfully made.
In those days, Paul said:
“God raised up David as king;
of him God testified,
I have found David, son of Jesse, a man after my own heart;
he will carry out my every wish.
From this man’s descendants God, according to his promise,
has brought to Israel a savior, Jesus.
John heralded his coming by proclaiming a baptism of repentance
to all the people of Israel;
and as 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;
I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of his feet.’
“My brothers, sons of the family of Abraham,
and those others among you who are God-fearing,
to us this word of salvation has been sent.”
LK 1:57-66, 80
she gave birth to a son.
Her neighbors and relatives heard
that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her,
and they rejoiced with her.
When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child,
they were going to call him Zechariah after his father,
but his mother said in reply,
“No. He will be called John.”
But they answered her,
“There is no one among your relatives who has this name.”
So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called.
He asked for a tablet and wrote, “John is his name,”
and all were amazed.
Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed,
and he spoke blessing God.
Then fear came upon all their neighbors,
and all these matters were discussed
throughout the hill country of Judea.
All who heard these things took them to heart, saying,
“What, then, will this child be?”
For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.
The child grew and became strong in spirit,
and he was in the desert until the day
of his manifestation to Israel.