Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

Today’s readings

Today we celebrate a feast that is a bit unusual for us.  First of all, it’s a saint’s feast day, and saints’ days don’t usually take precedence over a Sunday celebration.  Secondly, whenever we do celebrate a saint’s day, it is usually celebrated on the feast of their death, not their birth.  But today we do gather to celebrate the birth of a saint, Saint John the Baptist, and the fact that we’re celebrating his birth and his day at all at this Sunday celebration points to the fact that St. John the Baptist had a very special role to play in the life of Christ.  In fact, the only other saint for whom we celebrate a birthday is the Blessed Virgin Mary, so that tells us something about how important John the Baptist is.

Just as for Jesus, we don’t know the precise day John the Baptist was born.  So the feast of their Nativities – their births – was a tradition developed by the early Church. The dates the Church selected are significant.  Jesus’ birthday was placed around the time of the winter solstice, mostly to counteract pagan festivals of the coming of winter.  John the Baptist’s birthday was then placed around the time of the summer solstice for similar reasons.  But there’s more to it even than that.  In the Gospel of John, there is a passage where John the Baptist says of himself and Jesus, “I must decrease, he must increase.”  So John’s birthday is placed at the time when the days start to become shorter, and Jesus’ birthday is placed at the time when the days start to become longer.  John the Baptist must decrease, Jesus must increase.

Today’s readings have a lot to do with who the prophet is.  Saint John the Baptist was the last prophet of the old order, and his mission was to herald the coming of Jesus Christ who is himself the new order.  Tradition holds that prophets were created for their mission, that their purpose was laid out while they were yet to be born.  Isaiah, one of the great prophets of the old order, tells us of his commissioning.  He says, “The LORD called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name.”

So Isaiah was given his name while in his mother’s womb.  The same was true of St. John the Baptist, whose name was given to Zechariah and Elizabeth by the Angel Gabriel.  Names have meaning, especially the names of the prophets we encounter.  Isaiah means “The Lordis salvation,” which pretty much encompassed the meaning of Isaiah’s mission, proclaiming salvation to the Israelites who were oppressed in exile.  Jeremiah means “May the Lordexalt.”  The name given to the Baptist, John, means “God has shown favor.”  And that was in fact the message of his life.  He came to pave the way for Jesus Christ, who was the favor of God shown to the whole human race.

The point is, these men were created for their prophetic calling.  That’s true for us too.  All of us who have been baptized have a prophetic calling that came before we were ever born.  God created us for something special.  He created us to be with him, he created us to follow him, he created us to draw other people to him.  This means that, according to our abilities, our vocation and station in life, we were meant to serve God in some way that God might be glorified and that others may come to know him.

We live in a society that is all about protecting and promoting ourselves.  Saint John the Baptist would have us promote Jesus instead.  That’s what he was about.  As it was for him, so it is for us: we must decrease, Jesus must increase.

The Passion of Saint John the Baptist

Today’s readings

What we are celebrating in today’s feast is the fact that prison bars cannot silence truth. John the Baptist was not asked to renounce his faith; indeed Herod was probably very interested in John’s faith and may have even asked him about it on occasion. Not that he wanted to convert, mind you, but he just seemed to have a kind of morbid fascination with the man Jesus, and anyone who followed him. But the real reason that he kept John locked up was that Herodias didn’t like John, who had a following, publicly telling them what they should and should not do. Herod’s taking his brother’s wife was not permitted in Judaism, but, in her mind, it would all blow over if John would just stop talking about it.

But that’s not how the truth works. And John’s one purpose in life was to testify to the Truth — Truth with a capital “T” — to point the way to Jesus. So he was not about to soft-pedal the wrong that Herod and Herodias were doing. And that was something Herodias just could not live with. As soon as the opportunity presented itself, she eagerly had John beheaded and rid herself of his prophecy. But that didn’t make her any less accountable to the truth.

This could be a rather sad feast. The end of one who worked hard for the reign of God, and over something seemingly so silly. But, as St. Bede the Venerable says of him: “There is no doubt that blessed John suffered imprisonment and chains as a witness to our Redeemer, whose forerunner he was, and gave his life for him. His persecutor had demanded not that he should deny Christ, but only that he should keep silent about the truth. Nevertheless … does Christ not say: ‘I am the truth?’ Therefore, because John shed his blood for the truth, he surely died for Christ.”

And so, for those of us who are heirs of the Truth, this is indeed a joyful feast. John the Baptist could not keep silent about the truth, whether it was truth with a capital or lower-case “T”. We must not keep silent about the truth either. We are called to offer our own lives as a testimony to the truth, even when it’s inconvenient.

The Passion of Saint John the Baptist

Today’s readings

What we are celebrating in today’s feast is the fact that prison bars cannot silence truth. John the Baptist was not asked to renounce his faith; indeed Herod was probably very interested in John’s faith and may have even asked him about it on occasion. Not that he wanted to convert, mind you, but he just seemed to have a kind of morbid fascination with the man Jesus, and anyone who followed him. But the real reason that he kept John locked up was that Herodias didn’t like John, who had a following, publicly telling them what they should and should not do. Herod’s taking his brother’s wife was not permitted in Judaism, but, in her mind, it would all blow over if John would just stop talking about it.

But that’s not how the truth works. And John’s one purpose in life was to testify to the Truth — Truth with a capital “T” — to point the way to Jesus. So he was not about to soft-pedal the wrong that Herod and Herodias were doing. And that was something Herodias just could not live with. As soon as the opportunity presented itself, she eagerly had John beheaded and rid herself of his prophecy. But that didn’t make her any less accountable to the truth.

This could be a rather sad feast. The end of one who worked hard for the reign of God, and over something seemingly so silly. But, as St. Bede the Venerable says of him: “There is no doubt that blessed John suffered imprisonment and chains as a witness to our Redeemer, whose forerunner he was, and gave his life for him. His persecutor had demanded not that he should deny Christ, but only that he should keep silent about the truth. Nevertheless … does Christ not say: ‘I am the truth?’ Therefore, because John shed his blood for the truth, he surely died for Christ.”

And so, for those of us who are heirs of the Truth, this is indeed a joyful feast. John the Baptist could not keep silent about the truth, whether it was truth with a capital or lower-case “T”. We must not keep silent about the truth either. We are called to offer our own lives as a testimony to the truth, even when it’s inconvenient.

The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

Today’s readings

Today’s readings have a lot to do with who the prophet is. St. John the Baptist was the last prophet of the old order, and his mission was to herald the coming of Jesus Christ who is himself the new order.  Tradition holds that prophets were created for their mission, that their purpose was laid out while they were yet to be born.  Isaiah, one of the great prophets of the old order, tells us of his commissioning in our first reading today.  He says, “The LORD called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name.”  The rest of the reading tells us of his mission, a mission of hardship, but one of being compelled to speak the word of god as a sharp-edged sword.  His calling began as a call to preach to his own people, but by the end of the reading, it is clear that that commission became a call to preach to every nation on earth.

Isaiah says that he was given his name while in his mother’s womb. The same was true of Saint John the Baptist, whose name was given to Zechariah and Elizabeth by the Angel Gabriel.  Names have meaning.  Maybe you know what your name means.  But far more significant are the names of the prophets we encounter in today’s Liturgy of the Word.  Isaiah means “The LORD is salvation,” which pretty much encompassed the meaning of Isaiah’s mission, proclaiming salvation to the Israelites who were oppressed in exile.  The name given to the Baptist, John, means “God has shown favor.”  And that was in fact the message of his life.  He came to pave the way for Jesus Christ, who was the favor of God shown to the whole human race.

Saint Augustine reminds us that in the Gospel of John, there is a passage where John the Baptist says of himself and Jesus, “I must decrease, he must increase.”  Ultimately, the purpose for St. John the Baptist’s life was summed up in that statement.  And so it must be for us.  Sometimes we want to turn the spotlight on ourselves, when that is exactly where it should not be.  For John the Baptist, the spotlight was always on Christ, the One for whom he was unfit to fasten his sandals.  Just as the birth of St. John the Baptist helped his father Zechariah to speak once again, so his life gives voice to our own purpose in the world.  Like St. John the Baptist, we are called to be a people who point to Christ, who herald the Good News, and who live our lives for God.  We are called to decrease, while Christ increases in all of us.  We are called to be that light to the nations of which Isaiah speaks today, so that God’s salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.

St. John the Baptist, pray for us.

The Passion of Saint John the Baptist

Today’s readings

What we are celebrating in today’s feast is the fact that prison bars cannot silence truth. John the Baptist was not asked to renounce his faith; indeed Herod was probably very interested in John’s faith and may have even asked him about it on occasion. Not that he wanted to convert, mind you, but he just seemed to have a kind of morbid fascination with the man Jesus, and anyone who followed him. But the real reason that he kept John locked up was that Herodias didn’t like John, who had a following, publicly telling them what they should and should not do. Herod’s taking his brother’s wife was not permitted in Judaism, but it would all blow over if John would just stop talking about it.

But that’s not how the truth works. And John’s one purpose in life was to testify to the Truth — Truth with a capital “T” — to point the way to Jesus. So he was not about to soft-pedal the wrong that Herod and Herodias were doing. And that was something Herodias just could not live with. As soon as the opportunity presented itself, she eagerly had John beheaded and rid herself of his prophecy. But that didn’t make her any less accountable to the truth.

This could be a rather sad feast. The end of one who worked hard for the reign of God, and over something seemingly so silly. But, as St. Bede the Venerable says of him: “There is no doubt that blessed John suffered imprisonment and chains as a witness to our Redeemer, whose forerunner he was, and gave his life for him. His persecutor had demanded not that he should deny Christ, but only that he should keep silent about the truth. Nevertheless … does Christ not say: “I am the truth?” Therefore, because John shed his blood for the truth, he surely died for Christ.

And so, for those of us who are heirs of the Truth, this is indeed a joyful feast. John the Baptist could not keep silent about the truth, whether it was truth with a capital or lower-case “T”. We must not keep silent about the truth either. We are called to offer our own lives as a testimony to the truth.

The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

Today’s readings

Today we celebrate a feast that is a bit unusual for us.  When we celebrate a saint’s day, it is usually celebrated on the feast of their death, not their birth.  But today we do gather to celebrate the birth of a saint, Saint John the Baptist, and the fact that we’re celebrating his birth points to the fact that St. John the Baptist had a very special role to play in the life of Christ.  In fact, the only other saint for whom we celebrate a birthday is the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Just as for Jesus, we don’t know the precise day John the Baptist was born. So the feasts of their Nativity – their births – were traditions developed by the early Church. The dates the Church selected are significant.  Jesus’ birthday was placed around the time of the winter solstice, mostly to counteract pagan festivals of the coming of winter. John the Baptist’s birthday was then placed around the time of the summer solstice for similar reasons.  But there’s more to it even than that.  Saint Augustine reminds us that in the Gospel of John, there is a passage where John the Baptist says of himself and Jesus, “I must decrease, he must increase.”  So John’s birthday is placed at the time when the days start to become shorter, and Jesus’ birthday is placed at the time when the days start to become longer.  John the Baptist must decrease, Jesus must increase.

Today’s readings have a lot to do with who the prophet is. St. John the Baptist was the last prophet of the old order, and his mission was to herald the coming of Jesus Christ who is himself the new order.  Tradition holds that prophets were created for their mission, that their purpose was laid out while they were yet to be born.  Isaiah, one of the great prophets of the old order, tells us of his commissioning in our first reading today.  He says, “The LORD called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name.”  The rest of the reading tells us of his mission, a mission of hardship, but one of being compelled to speak the word of god as a sharp-edged sword.  His calling began as a call to preach to his own people, but by the end of the reading, it is clear that that commission became a call to preach to every nation on earth.

Isaiah says that he was given his name while in his mother’s womb. The same was true of Saint John the Baptist, whose name was given to Zechariah and Elizabeth by the Angel Gabriel.  Names have meaning.  Maybe you know what your name means.  But far more significant are the names of the prophets we encounter in today’s Liturgy of the Word.  Isaiah means “The LORD is salvation,” which pretty much encompassed the meaning of Isaiah’s mission, proclaiming salvation to the Israelites who were oppressed in exile.  The name given to the Baptist, John, means “God has shown favor.”  And that was in fact the message of his life.  He came to pave the way for Jesus Christ, who was the favor of God shown to the whole human race.

Ultimately, the purpose for St. John the Baptist’s life was summed up in his statement: “I must decrease, He must increase.”  And so it must be for us.  Sometimes we want to turn the spotlight on ourselves, when that is exactly where it should not be.  For John the Baptist, the spotlight was always on Christ, the One for whom he was unfit to fasten his sandals.  Just as the birth of St. John the Baptist helped his father Zechariah to speak once again, so his life gives voice to our own purpose in the world.  Like St. John the Baptist, we are called to be a people who point to Christ, who herald the Good News, and who live our lives for God.  We are called to decrease, while Christ increases in all of us.  We are called to be that light to the nations of which Isaiah speaks today, so that God’s salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.

St. John the Baptist, pray for us.

Monday of the First Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

It seems like just yesterday that John the Baptist was baptizing Jesus in the Jordan River.  Oh wait, it was just yesterday!  But today’s reading fast forwards a bit and takes us to a time after John has been arrested.  John isn’t dead yet, not yet out of the picture, but clearly he is decreasing, as he said in Saturday’s Gospel reading, so that Jesus can increase.

And Jesus is certainly increasing.  His ministry is kicking into full swing, and he begins by preaching that the kingdom is at , and he begins to call his followers.  Simon and Andrew, James and John, two sets of brothers, two groups of fishermen, give up their nets and their boats and their fathers and turn instead to casting nets to catch men and women for God’s kingdom.

You know, even though today is the first day of Ordinary Time, we continue some aspects of Christmas and the Epiphany right up until February second, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord.  So today’s Gospel fits right in with that.  Today’s Gospel gives us a little more light to see what Jesus is up to.  He calls us all to repentance and to accept the Gospel and the Kingdom of God.  He says to us just as he said to Simon, Andrew, James and John: “Come follow me.”  The year ahead can be an exciting spiritual journey for us.  Who knows what Jesus will do in us and through us and with us to further the kingdom of God?  We just have to answer that wonderful invitation – “Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”

Saturday after Epiphany

Today’s readings

“He must increase; I must decrease.”

By these words, St. John the Baptist indicates that the Epiphany, the manifestation of our Lord in the flesh, is complete.  John’s disciples have got it wrong; they took offense at Jesus baptizing when he himself had been baptized by John.  They assumed that because John had baptized Jesus, that Jesus must in some way be inferior to John.  But John knows his mission as the Forerunner.  He knows that his ministry was one of paving the way for Jesus and the Gospel.  He knows that his own baptism was a mere precursor of the baptism that Jesus would bring, a baptism that imparts the fullness of the Holy Spirit to all believers.

“He must increase; I must decrease.”

St. John the Evangelist tells us in his letters that we are to be on guard against those who come in the name of Jesus but are not of him.  We must be wary of pretenders and totally turn away from false idols.  He has spent this past week in our first readings giving us the standards of discernment that help us to know the Truth.  Anyone of the Truth will testify to the Incarnation of Jesus in the flesh.  Anyone of the Truth will love deeply, and will love neighbors as well as God.  Anyone of the Truth, he tells us today, will cast out sin, from himself and from others.  Even though he may not be perfect, still he will battle sin and turn to Christ incarnate in the flesh for the indwelling of the Spirit, for the grace of his baptism.

“He must increase; I must decrease.”

Christ came in the flesh because, as the Psalmist tells us today, the Lord takes delight in his people.  As his people then, must also delight in him.  We must remember that we are all in the service of the one who came to set us free.  We must remember that our own thoughts, our own desires, all of these are not the be-all and end-all of existence, and quite often, we must die to them in order that God be manifested among us.  As we offer and prepare our gifts for the Eucharist today, may we also offer the decreasing of ourselves in order to pave the way for the increasing of Jesus Christ.

Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

Today’s readings

Today we celebrate a feast that is a bit unusual for us.  First of all, it’s a saint’s feast day, and saints’ days don’t usually take precedence over a Sunday celebration.  Secondly, whenever we do celebrate a saint’s day, it is usually celebrated on the feast of their death, not their birth.  But today we do gather to celebrate the birth of a saint, Saint John the Baptist, and the fact that we’re celebrating his birth and his day at all on this Sunday points to the fact that St. John the Baptist had a very special role to play in the life of Christ.  In fact, the only other saint for whom we celebrate a birthday is the Blessed Virgin Mary, so that tells us something about how important John the Baptist is.

Just as for Jesus, we don’t know the precise day John the Baptist was born.  So the feast of their Nativities – their births – was a tradition developed by the early Church. The dates the Church selected are significant.  Jesus’ birthday was placed around the time of the winter solstice, mostly to counteract pagan festivals of the coming of winter.  John the Baptist’s birthday was then placed around the time of the summer solstice for similar reasons.  But there’s more to it even than that.  In the Gospel of John, there is a passage where John the Baptist says of himself and Jesus, “I must decrease, he must increase.”  So John’s birthday is placed at the time when the days start to become shorter, and Jesus’ birthday is placed at the time when the days start to become longer.  John the Baptist must decrease, Jesus must increase.

Today’s readings have a lot to do with who the prophet is.  St. John the Baptist was the last prophet of the old order, and his mission was to herald the coming of Jesus Christ who is himself the new order.  Tradition holds that prophets were created for their mission, that their purpose was laid out while they were yet to be born.  Isaiah, one of the great prophets of the old order, tells us of his commissioning in our first reading today.  He says, “The LORD called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name.”  The rest of the reading tells us of his mission, a mission of hardship, but one of being compelled to speak the word of god as a sharp-edged sword.  His calling began as a call to preach to his own people, but by the end of the reading, it is clear that that commission became a call to preach to every nation on earth.

Isaiah says that he was given his name while in his mother’s womb.  The same was true of St. John the Baptist, whose name was given to Zechariah and Elizabeth by the Angel Gabriel.  There’s a dubious story in my own family’s history that my mother had my name picked out from the time she was twelve.  But it’s pretty hard for me to believe that a young Italian woman would have picked the name Patrick Michael for her son.  But that’s how the story goes.  Names have meaning.  Maybe you know what your name means.  I looked mine up this week and found that Patrick means “nobleman,” so if you feel like bowing when you see me, it seems like that would be appropriate!  But far more significant are the names of the prophets we encounter in today’s Liturgy of the Word.  Isaiah means “Yahweh is salvation,” which pretty much encompassed the meaning of Isaiah’s mission, proclaiming salvation to the Israelites who were oppressed in exile.  The name given to the Baptist, John, means “God has shown favor.”  And that was in fact the message of his life.  He came to pave the way for Jesus Christ, who was the favor of God shown to the whole human race.

The point is, these men were created for their prophetic calling.  That’s true for us too.  All of us who have been baptized have a prophetic calling that came before we were ever born.  God created us for something special.  He created us to be with him, he created us to follow him, he created us to draw other people to him.  This means that, according to our abilities, our vocation and station in life, we were meant to serve God in some way that God might be glorified and that others may come to know him.

During these couple of weeks, we have been asked to observe a fortnight of religious freedom.  As our nation’s bishops point out, religious freedom is one of our first and most cherished freedoms.  It was largely in pursuit of religious freedom that our nation’s forefathers came to this great land, and in defense of that freedom that they fought and died.  But now, many issues have put that freedom in danger.  The so-called HHS mandate is kind of the banner issue on the religious freedom front.  The HHS mandate requires all employers to pay for birth control regardless of whether it is against their moral teachings, as it is for us.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg.  Another sad assault on religious freedom has been the requirement of any adoption placement agency to place children for adoption with people in same-sex unions.  Since our religion forbids this practice, we have been unable to comply, and so we have been pushed out of the adoption process, something that has been an extension of our acts of charity since this country began.

The essence of the issue is that freedom of religion is now being defined in a very narrow way, which amounts to freedom of worship.  One is free to worship in any way one chooses, but must obey the law in all other things.  Let’s bracket for the moment the obvious objection that such a narrow definition was never intended by our founding fathers.  More important is that, for us, worship is not something we can separate from our daily living.  When we are sent out to “go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life,” we are just beginning to worship.  What we do in our daily life is our real worship, not just the hour we’re here on Sunday.

So our worship of God may indeed call us to speak against issues of the day, or to take in an adoptive or foster child to share God’s love, or any number of charitable acts, and our Church should have the freedom to pursue those according to our moral teachings.  That’s the essence of religious freedom, and that is what we are seeking to defend.  The prophetic call in all of us absolutely must speak up for what we believe as a Church and preach the Gospel by the way that we live our lives.

We live in a society that is all about protecting and promoting ourselves.  Saint John the Baptist would have us promote Jesus instead.  That’s what he was about.  As it was for him, so it is for us: we must decrease, Jesus must increase.

Friday of the Second Week of Advent

Today’s readings

We Americans tend to believe that we ourselves have all the answers; and I don’t necessarily mean that all of us together have the answers, but rather that we individually have the answers.  We hold relative truth, even if we wouldn’t say that we do.  It’s cold comfort to see, in our gospel reading this morning, that we aren’t alone.  Jesus’ generation was much the same.  John the Baptist came across too strict, and Jesus came across like a drunkard and a partier.  But they both proclaimed the truth; Jesus, obviously more so than John.  But the crowds dismissed them both, because both required them to change their lives and their ways of thinking.  If John and Jesus were right, then they weren’t, and that was unsettling.  It’s unsettling for us too, but we have the benefit of centuries of Church teaching to help us.  Maybe it’s time we abandoned our weak answers and points of view and put on the attitude of Christ.