Today we take a break from our series of readings in Ordinary Time to give way for the Solemnity of the Birth of St. John the Baptist. Solemnity is our highest liturgical celebration as it shows a direct link with the salvific work of Jesus Christ like the birth of St. John the Baptist who prepared the way of the Lord. This is the reason he is the greatest of all prophets according to our Lord Jesus Christ Himself who declared “Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”(Mt.11: 11) But, here we also discover our own greatness though we are the least in the kingdom of heaven because as disciples of Jesus Christ, we are tasked like John the Baptist to make way for Him whom we proclaim by preparing His path, showing Him to those who seek Him. We are all a precursor, a forerunner of the Lord like John whose name means “God is gracious” who is so good to call us for such a mission despite our sins and weaknesses. Three things I wish to share with on being another John the Baptist, a forerunner of the Lord: rejoicing, being amazed, and becoming strong in spirit.
“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.”(Lk.1:57-58)
They rejoiced with her. How sad that in our world today characterized by affluence and convenience, there is that growing trend of dissatisfaction and gloom among us, giving rise to depression that leads to suicide. For the past couple of years, we have been shocked by news of celebrities here and abroad ending their lives. They are the people we looked up to for making our lives better with their thoughts and creations, people who have made us laugh and cry in the movies and arts, and people who have simply inspired us with their success. Joy is more than being happy; it is having that firm conviction within that no matter what happens in our life, there is always God who loves us despite our sins and shortcomings. Joy is always a gift of the Holy Spirit, a result of our faith in God. The neighbors of Elizabeth rejoiced because they have felt the spirit of God in the birth of John. Unless we are able to go back to our grounding in God, we can never experience joy. Wealth and fame, gadgets and other things can make us happy for a moment but never joyful which comes only from within. Pope Francis explained “Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless.”(Evangelii Gaudium, 2)
He asked for a tablet and wrote, “John is his name,” and all were amazed.(Lk.1:63)
All were amazed. Joy always leads to amazement or surprise and sense of awe. The neighbors were amazed not only with the miraculous birth of John by his mother who was not only old but also barren. Likewise, they were more amazed because when they asked his father what name to be given him, he wrote “John”. Immediately, Zechariah spoke anew after being deaf and mute as punishment in doubting the angel’s announcement of Elizabeth’s giving birth to their child. Being surprised or amazed is an expression of a sense of wonder that indicates our recognition of God and His presence. Remember how Isaac’s son, Jacob fled to Bethel where he slept and upon waking up from a dream, “he exclaimed, ‘Truly, the Lord is in this spot, although I did not know it.’ In solemn wonder he cried out: ‘How awesome is this shrine! This is nothing else but an abode of God, and that is the stairway to heaven!’”(Gen.28:16-17)
See how in our world today we are losing that sense of awe due to “demystification” when everything has to be empirical to be true. No more surprises, no more patient waiting, no more spiritual because when something cannot be dissected or explained, it is dismissed as untrue. What amazes us these days are often the extraordinary, the ones at the extremes of the scale like longest or shortest, bestest or worst. We have forgotten to appreciate and be surprised by the usual and ordinary things that actually make up real life! The most significant things in life are not the “pinaka” and “bonggacious” (spectacular) but the most ordinary and average things we experience and encounter like the usual people we meet day in and day out, the sunrise and sunset, the plants and trees we see around us, the gentle breeze on our face or simple sights of kids playing on the streets, licking an ice cream cone. Without that sense of awe in us, then we stop “taking things into our hearts” and everything becomes fleeting and temporary that we no longer pause to reflect on the meaning of life. It is that taking things into our hearts that truly enrich us, always surprising us to go on with life amidst all the pains and difficulties and uncertainties. Every time we are surprised in life, that is when God is beside us.
The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel. (Lk.1:80)
The child grew and became strong in spirit. Becoming strong in spirit is being holy. Again, Pope Francis reminds in his latest letter “Gaudete et Exultate” (Rejoice and Be Glad) that holiness remains our call as Christians. He writes, “We are frequently tempted to think that holiness is only for those who can withdraw from ordinary affairs to spend much time in prayer. That is not the case. We are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves.”(14) The Holy Father stressed that holiness is “oneness in Christ” (20) which is the meaning of our celebration today in the birth of St. John the Baptist: we have to see our life as a mission in Christ. Sometimes like Isaiah, we feel discouraged because we “thought we have toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly spent our strength”; but, that is our task, to lead others to God, to be a light on their path to God (cf. Is.49: 4-6) that when they find Him, we vanish from the scene like John who said “He must increase; I must decrease.”(Jn.3:30) Continue to rejoice in the Lord always, be amazed of His love and mercy, grow and be strong in the spirit for God remembers His promise to His people like Elizabeth which means “God promised” and Zechariah that means “God remembered.” God be with you! Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Parokya ni San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista, Gov. F. Halili Ave., Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan 3022
*Photo from Google, mosaic detail of the Baptism of Christ found in Ravenna, Italy (c. 451 AD).