Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Birth of Saint John the Baptist


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The Church's liturgical year celebrates three births that are milestones in the history of salvation: the birth of Our Lord, the birth of Our Lady and the birth of Saint John the Baptist.

While the celebration of the birth of our Lord falls on December 25, around the time of the winter solstice when the daytime begins to increase, the solemnity of the birth of Saint John falls on June 24, around the time of the summer solstice when the daytime begins to shorten,.in cosmic harmony with what Saint John himself said: "He must increase and I must decrease."

The birth of Saint John is of great importantance in the history of salvation. The Gospel of Luke begins in fact with the annunciation of the birth of John, for indeed this event was the signal that the coming of the Lord was at hand. The canticle that Zechariah, his father, sang upon his birth, encapsulates the great role this infant was to fill:

You, my child shall be called the prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord to prepare His way,
to give his people knowledge of salvation
by the forgiveness of their sins.

We sing this canticle every morning at Lauds, when we bask with praise at the promised dawn heralded by John, who guides our feet on the way to peace. The birth of John is a gift, not only for his parents who waited for it in hope for a very long time, but for the Church that sees in it, the beginning of the fulfillment of God's solemn promise to Abraham.

Our Lord himself does not hesitate to praise John most generously, saying, that there is no man, born of woman, greater than John the Baptist, attesting to the greatness of his life of witness to the Lord, in word and in deed. Even the death of John was a death in witness, martyrdom in its truest sense, a reference still to the Lamb who will give his life on the Cross.

As we celebrate the birth of Saint John, let us pray that our lives, and even our death may always proclaim Jesus. In our hearts and in our life, may we learn to decrease and allow Him to increase until, in the words of Saint Paul, "It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me".