Sunday, June 24, 2018
The Nativity of John the Baptist
Religious Freedom Week
There are only three persons whose birthdays are celebrated on the Church calendar. Do you know who they are? I can almost hear the background music for “Jeopardy” playing right now, and your time is up!
The first, of course, is Jesus. Last March 25th, we celebrated the Feast of the Annunciation – when the Angel Gabriel came to Mary and asked her to be the Mother of God’s Son. And Jesus was conceived in her womb on that March 25th. Nine months later, on December 25th, we celebrate the birthday of Jesus.
The second has to do with the holy day of obligation that we celebrate on December 8th: the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary was conceived without original sin in the womb of her mother St. Ann. We celebrate this on December 8th. Then we move forward nine months to September 8th when we celebrate the birthday of Mary.
The third one is John the Baptist. We celebrate his birthday every year on June 24th, six months before Christmas. He was a relative of Jesus, a cousin, and he was six months older than Jesus.
Now, the Church is telling us that John the Baptist is worthy of our notice because the only three birthdays that are celebrated on the Church calendar are those of Jesus, Mary and John the Baptist. So he’s right up there.
John the Baptist was the greatest of the Old Testament prophets, and the last of them. He was completing the work that was begun by prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel and Daniel. They announced to the world that the Messiah was coming and that we need to prepare the way.
John figures in today’s Gospel: we hear about his birth to Zechariah and Elizabeth, and about his being named “John.”
We hear about him in today’s second reading from the Acts of the Apostles: “John heralded the Savior’s coming by proclaiming a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel.”
If we were to sum up the ministry of John the Baptist, it would be this one word: repentance… repentance of our sins.
People today might want to take John the Baptist aside and say, “Listen, John, that message might have flown two thousand years ago, but it doesn’t fit with our age. John, if you really want to be effective you should be affirming people, telling them how good they are. The philosophy of our age is, ‘I’m ok, you’re ok, everybody and everything is ok!’ Haven’t you ever seen Oprah? John, we really don’t need to repent because we don’t believe in sin anymore!”
Have you ever heard a message like that? I think we all have! Present that message to John the Baptist and you had better run for cover, because John says, “Repent! If you want to turn to the Savior, you must turn away from your sins. You can’t have it both ways!”
A wonderful way to do that is with the Sacrament of Penance – the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Confession.
If John the Baptist were to be among us today, I don’t think he’d be clothed in camel’s hair. I think he’d be wearing a violet confessional stole around his neck. I don’t think he would be washing us up in the River Jordan. I think he would be hearing our confessions and giving us absolution to help us prepare for the coming of the Lord.
We have a great patron in John the Baptist. He didn’t shrink from confronting soldiers or tax collectors or Pharisees on Jordan’s bank. Nor did he hesitate to tell King Herod the truth, even if this literally cost him his head.
In our era of compromise and waffling, of lying and blaming others, we need the rock-solid example of a person like John the Baptist.
We Catholics in America are presently observing “Religious Freedom Week.” It opened on Friday, June 22nd, the feast of Saints Thomas More and John Fisher. And it will close on Friday, June 29th, the solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. They all were martyrs: witnesses to Jesus by shedding their blood out of loyalty to Him.
Religious freedom is one of our country’s most precious possessions. It gives us the liberty to serve others with God’s love in ministries like education, adoption and foster care, health care, and immigration and refugee services.
It is important for us to defend the religious freedom of individuals to act in accord with their faith, and the religious freedom of church institutions to act in accord with their teachings – for the two are so closely linked. And we need them both now more than ever in our nation and in our world.
Saint John the Baptist preached the message of repentance. We all need a John the Baptist in our lives, somebody who loves us enough to tell us the truth. And we can all be a John the Baptist to others, never shying away from the truth, but always telling the truth with love.
Through the grace of God and with the prayers and example of John the Baptist, may we each do our part to ensure that our beloved America will always be “the land of the free and the home of the brave” for allher citizens – and for all who would like to be. Amen.