On Thursday 24 June 2021 we celebrated the Feast of St John the Baptist. St John is the Forerunner and the Baptist of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
The entrance antiphon of the Vigil Mass ascribes to him what the Angel Gabriel said to Zechariah: Hic erit magnus coram Domino, et Spiritu Sancto replebitur adhuc ex utero matris suae, et multi in nativitate eius gaudebunt, in other words, He will be great in the sight of the Lord and will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb; and many will rejoice at his birth (Luke 1: 15, 14).
John is great because of what he told us that Jesus is. In the collect of the Vigil Mass for the Feast of the Nativity of St John the Baptist we pray: Grant, we pray, almighty God, that your family may walk in the way of salvation and, attentive to what Saint John the Precursor urged,
may come safely to the One he foretold, our Lord Jesus Christ. Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
John is great because it was God himself who called him for such a singular mission. We can freely apply to him what we find in the first verses of the first chapter taken from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, `I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you you shall go, and whatever I command you you shall speak. Be not afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” Then the LORD put forth his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” (Jer 1:5-10).
John is great because his life gave ample witness of what Psalm 71 says in the Vigil Mass. John’s life was the following constant prayer to God: Since my mother’s womb, you have been my strength. In many ways throughout his life John was able to say to God: In you, O LORD, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame. In your justice rescue me, and deliver me; incline your ear to me, and save me (From Psalm 71 of Vigil Mass).
In the face of the harshest opposition from Hero’di-as, the wife of Herod’s brother Philip, who had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him (Mk 6:19), John’s plea to God was the following: Be my rock of refuge, a stronghold to give me safety, for you are my rock and my fortress.bO my God, rescue me from the hand of the wicked (Psalm 71). And when John’s two disciples Andrew and John left him to follow Jesus John the Baptist silent prayer was the subsequent:
For you are my hope, O Lord; my trust, O Lord, from my youth. On you I depend from birth;
from my mother’s womb you are my strength. My mouth shall declare your justice, day by day your salvation. O God, you have taught me from my youth, and till the present I proclaim your wondrous deeds.
John is great because Jesus told us of him: I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John (Luke 7:28). Christ’s word on John is magnificently proved by what St John himself says.
First, He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Mt 3:11). Unlike the Essenes in who’s ranks John the Baptist underwent some formative years and lined the Holy Spirit with water, John linked the baptism of the Messiah with the Holy Spirit and fire to bring heat!
Second, He must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:30). Liturgically speaking John’s birth is celebrated after the summer solstice, the amount of sunlight starts diminishing as John started to diminish in the prospect of the arrival of the Messiah. It arrives at is lowest ebb exactly before Christmas. Here, the Light of Lights comes down from heaven and physical light immediately starts to increase.
Third, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matt 3:2). As an authentic man of God John urged those around him to change their way of life if they wanted to see Heaven. Since he was baptized by the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb, John’s life was fashioned by the intervention of God’s Kingdom in his life. Due to the exact analysis of reality John’s words became Jesus too in Mark’s Gospel: The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel (Mk 1:15).
Fourth, You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? (Luke 3:7). When speaking to the Pharisees and Sadducees John the Baptist hated their hypocrisy. On the other hand he spoke gently of tax collectors and prostitutes who repented. In all this John teaches us that the humble recognition of our sins has far more value that keep up appearances.
Fifth, Behold, the Lamb of God! (John 1:36). John is among the first who openly acknowledge Jesus’ divinity. Thus he leapt for joy in Elizabeth’s womb and advices his disciples Andrew and John to follow Jesus. He called Jesus the Lamb of God. Jesus’ identity, given to us by John the Baptist, is still claimed today when the priest repeats this powerful realization at every Eucharistic celebration: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”
As we let these life-changing words of John the Baptist ignite the fire of love within us so that we decrease, see Heaven in our daily circumstances, live with faithfulness to God and behold the Lamb of God let us now invoke him to protect us!
Saint John the Baptist, pray for us.
St. John the Baptist, precursor of Christ, pray for us.
St. John the Baptist, glorious forerunner of the Sun of Justice, pray for us.
St. John the Baptist, minister of baptism to Jesus, pray for us.
St. John the Baptist, burning and shining lamp of the world, pray for us.
St. John the Baptist, angel of purity before thy birth, pray for us.
St. John the Baptist, special friend and favorite of Christ, pray for us.
St. John the Baptist, heavenly contemplative, whose element was prayer, pray for us.
St. John the Baptist, intrepid preacher of truth, pray for us.
St. John the Baptist, voice crying in the wilderness, pray for us.
St. John the Baptist, miracle of mortification and penance, pray for us.
St. John the Baptist, example of profound humility, pray for us.
St. John the Baptist, glorious martyr of zeal for God’s holy law, pray for us.
St. John the Baptist, gloriously fulfilling thy mission, pray for us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, spare us, O Lord
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, hear us, O Lord
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Christ, hear us, Christ, graciously hear us
V. Pray for us, O glorious St. John the Baptist,
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Let us pray:
O God, Who hast honored this world by the birth of Saint John the Baptist, grant that Thy faithful people may rejoice in the way of eternal salvation, through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap