Solemnity of the Nativity of St John the Baptist
When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child 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.
Introductory Prayer: Lord, I make this effort at prayer for the sake of my soul and the souls of my loved ones. I believe that you died for us and want us to be with you forever in heaven.
Petition: Grant me new respect, Lord, for parents.
1. Her neighbors and relatives rejoiced with her: The arrival of the baby was an obvious sign to all present that God had favored Elizabeth and Zechariah, showing them great mercy. What they could not yet see was the greater plan of God, the greater plan of mercy and joy that he was beginning to uncover with the birth of John and that was for the time being hidden from them. So is God always, giving us more than we can hope for or even imagine, working his marvelous plan through our free cooperation. While the immediate and obvious gift captured the attention of the onlookers, what God was giving us in John was much more than a child for a barren, elderly couple: he was the forerunner of the Messiah, a blessing not only for the aged couple but for all of Israel, for the whole world for every generation, a joy to extend far beyond the small circle of friends and relatives in that little town of Ain Karim and to affect all creation. God’s plans are breathtaking, more generous than we can imagine, but we run the danger of only seeing the immediate gift (or cross) and failing to grasp the true dimension and marvel of God’s action. We need to emerge from the limitations of our human understanding and joys in order to breathe the pure air of faith, and thus take in the vast dimensions of God’s goodness in order to experience true joy and bring that to the world.
The truth is, what God gives satisfies our human hunger for love and happiness far better than any material thing or person. While we are busy looking at the call, examining it and questioning how it affects us, its possible cost, we easily neglect to lift up our eyes and see the beauty of what he wants to realize in our life.
2. He will be called John. Elizabeth does what the angel told Zechariah, and she does so firmly in the face of misunderstanding and opposition. It is moving to see the unity of these two in their fidelity to God. Despite his initial reaction of disbelief, Zechariah had made sure that Elizabeth understood what God wanted, and she on her part faithfully carried it out. We can see how their faith and obedience brought them even closer in mind and spirit, how it strengthened the bond between them. God comes to strengthen and build up what is good, not to destroy it.
Zechariah is also an example of a true spirit of penance: he reacted to the punishment he had received by correcting himself and entrusting himself completely to God. This is what God wants and this humble man, standing on the dividing line between the Old and New Testaments shows that the Messiah that his son will announce is the God who does not want the death of the sinner but for him to be converted and saved. The repentant Zechariah makes sure God’s plan is carried out, turning from his doubt he becomes a keeper of God’s plan. God transforms weakness into strength when we allow him. When he is given back his speech after months of being mute, his first words are to praise God.
3. What then will this child be? The people had ample reason to ask this question because of the marvels surrounding the circumstances of his birth. But if we look at our own life and at all the graces surrounding it, we could well ask this question of ourselves: God did not have to give us life, yet he did; he did not have to redeem us, yet he did; he did not have to give us a share in his own life, yet he did at Baptism; he did not have to forgive our faults, yet he did; he did not have to stay reachable in the Eucharist, yet he did; and we could go on listing all the particular circumstances of our life and continue the litany of “he didn’t have to, yet he did.” We have to ask why. We would need to have neither head nor heart not to ask. So, again, why?
This is not a rhetorical question, and it is not one that we can answer without using our faith, without looking at Christ in the Gospel and learning the answer from there. For some reason that is hidden in the mystery of who God is, he loves us. While our limitations generally repel others they seem to be what attracts God to us, in his mercy. He knows what we are, but he also knows and gives greater importance to what we can become if we recognize the transformation worked by Baptism and strive with his grace to live it out and grow in Christ.
So what will we be? Will we be the messengers of his love and pardon? Will we be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, as he hopes? Have I found and am I following the particular path he wants me to follow?
Conversation: (Talk over the above in conversation with Christ, reflecting and asking him….)
1. To what extent does my faith allow me to see beyond the realities of life and find the greater plan of God?
2. Am I able to recover from my faults and use them to grow in humility and obedience to God?
3. What do I intend to do with the gifts God has given me?