On Wednesday, the we joyously celebrated the feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. The Church celebrates the birth of only three saints: Our Savior, Our Lady, and the Precursor of the Lord. Usually, we celebrate the feast of a saint on the day of his death, which is his “dies natalis” into Heaven. The feast of John’s Nativity teaches us first of all that John is already holy at his birth. Indeed, John was sanctified by Jesus through Mary when he was six months old in his mother’s womb and, recognizing the Bridegroom of Israel, leapt for joy at the sound of Our Lady’s voice. John is made holy, consecrated as a prophet, and already acknowledges Jesus, while he is still in the womb. This is Jesus’s first miracle of grace, whereby John is given a passing share in the beatific vision in order to have the use of reason in the womb. Thus, he knows and loves his Savior and the Friend of the Bridegroom rejoices to hear the Bridegroom’s spiritual voice.
Many marvels mark the mystery of the Nativity of the Baptist. John is born on the longest day of the year, at the summer solstice. From the time of his birth, the days get shorter. Jesus is born on the shortest day of the year, at the winter solstice. From the time of His Birth, the days get longer. This is the cosmic meaning of the powerful mission statement of St. John: “He must increase; I must decrease.” John exists entirely to point out Jesus. He is His Precursor, who goes “before the Lord to prepare His way, to give His People knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.” John’s birth and Jesus’s Birth are united liturgically in the use of the identical Alleluia tone for both the Nativity of John and Christmas Day Mass.
John is born to declare, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him Who takes away the sins of the world!” We marvel at the beauty of the birth of this holy baby, consecrated a prophet from his mother’s womb. We recall that St. Elizabeth is advanced in years as she gives birth to this miraculous child of hers, with her elderly husband, St. Zechariah, standing by, mute with incredulity. His tongue will be loosened in eight days by his son’s intercession after Zechariah confirms that his name is John. Blessed Mary is there as well at the birth of the Baptist, as is Jesus in her womb. We can imagine the immense charity of Our Mother in assisting her elderly cousin. We marvel at the similarity and contrast between these two holy women: the aged barren wife of many years and the youthful pure Virgin of Virgins.
Like Jesus, John is born finally to give his life in martyrdom. We recall on the feast of his birth that he will die (we celebrate this on August 29) because he preached in defense of God’s law for marriage. In light of the attack on marriage in the United States, we are inspired by John to commit ourselves to the same love for Jesus. The Church rejoices with John to declare herself ready to die for the smallest part of Jesus’s beautiful saving teaching. She knows she will be hated by the Herod and Herodias of today. Her members beg John’s intercession that each one of us will be willing to shed our blood rather than remain silent about God’s holy plan for human sexuality. St. John the Baptist, holy in your birth, holier still in your death, pray for us!
Fr. Joseph Previtali