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June 24, 2009

Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

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 Is 49:1-6; Ps 139:1b-3,13-15; Acts 13:22-26; Lk 1:57-66,80
"You knit me in my mother's womb."
The preaching of Saint John the Baptist is still vital in the life of the Church. We take full advantage of his message during our season of Advent each year. His summons to repentance and to make way for the Messiah is still necessary for each believer. If we are honest with ourselves our maturation in Christ is still yet to come. The Responsorial Psalm for today's solemnity is a summons to meditate upon the origins of our humanity for we are wonderfully made. Even in the womb the LORD has known us and He continues to probe us and know us better than we know ourselves. Like Saint John the Baptist we are fully known because the LORD has probed us. The LORD knows when we sit and when we stand, and He understands our thoughts from afar. Before we open our mouths, the LORD already knows what we are going to say. Such knowledge is too wonderful for us too high for us to understand. How can anyone know us so well? Only the Father who loves us so much would be willing and able to know us so well. All our wandering and all our resting the LORD scrutinizes. Even when we move ever so slightly away from Him and His Will, the LORD continues to be present and interested in our every pondering. It is in our mother's womb that we are given our human dignity. Our value is beyond all price from the very moment of conception. This is the foundational human right, and without it, without the right to life we can have no other rights. This is why our Church at this time in history has such a prophetic role in society that has bought into the lie that a child within the womb is not yet human and can be disposed of when he or she is an "inconvenience." Indeed, this celebration of the birth of Saint John is a liturgical moment for celebrating the truth that human dignity is a gift from God from the first moment of conception to the natural ending of life. With all who believe we give thanks that we are fearfully, wonderfully made; wonderful are all the works of the LORD! When each of us was being made in secret, when our frame was yet unknown, we are precious in the sight of the LORD! Our rejoicing and gladness at the birth of Saint John is a summons to renew our commitment to human rights. We are being called by today's liturgy to take up arms against a sea of troubles in our culture of death and to affirm life from its very beginning. We arm ourselves with the weapons of truth. Indeed, these are the only weapons a Disciple of Christ is given by the gospel. We can never feel comfortable with violence to promote the truth. Any kind of violence already denies the truth it attempts to promote. This includes the violence of silencing our protest, and the violence of destroying the life of those who promote or perform abortions. Today, we pray for the intercession of Saint John the Baptist for the courage to proclaim the truth even when we are threatened by rejection or imprisonment.
The proclamation of the Prophet Isaiah invites us to realize the dignity of our call in Baptism. By our being plunged into the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ we are made new. We are given the role and dignity of the prophet. From the baptismal womb of Mother Church we are given a name, given an identity, given a dignity. Indeed, the Lord God has made us a sharp-edged sword and concealed us within the shadow of his arm. He formed us in the truth of His Word to cut through the deceptions of the world in which we live. Indeed, we are in the world but not of the world. The truth we speak is from the Truth himself, and it has power to cut through the lies we encounter everywhere around us. The Lord God has made us a polished arrow and hidden us in his quiver. We are polished, strong and straight. We are ready and able to be shot from his bow into the heart of darkness. Into the beast that breathes the deadly fire of deception, we are shot to give witness to his truth that can alone destroy the lies and half-truths that poison the body politic. The witness we bear is necessary for the salvation of the nations. We cannot limit our proclamation of the truth to just the survivors of Israel. Our prophetic role is a light for all nations so that the salvation of God might reach to the ends of the earth. Indeed, we are caught up in the very mystery of the Father's loving kindness and boundless concern for the dignity and freedom of all his children, even those who deny this dignity and freedom. Indeed, our proclamation is the truth that sets everyone free.
In his preaching Saint Paul testifies to the history of the LORD's plan for salvation. Saint Paul sees in the witness and ministry of King David a model and a promise from God. The LORD found the Son of Jesse to be in is deepest self a man after God's own heart. Indeed, King David wanted what the LORD wanted. He desired to carry out every wish of his Father in Heaven. This is the model of everyone who is grafted onto the family tree of King David. Indeed, the Lord Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise that the LORD made to his people through King David; Christ is the perfect son of David. Unlike his ancestor, King David, the Lord Jesus never turned away from the Father’s will and purpose. He never experienced lust; he never acted out of lust to seduce or murder. The Lord Jesus is sinless and immaculate from the womb of his Mother, the Immaculate Conception. As she cooperated with the Father's will in giving her "yes" to the Archangel Gabriel, so too, Saint John fulfilled the Father's will by his call to repentance. In this prophetic witness Saint John knew his place; he was the voice in the wilderness announcing the arrival of the Word of God. Though not worthy to unfasten the sandals of his feet, Saint John was sent to unfasten the bonds of sin to set us free to follow the Way. This message of good news is intended, as Saint Paul preached for all the sons and daughters of the Father of Faith and for all God's children not yet grafted onto the family tree of King David. It is this very word of salvation that the Church continues to proclaim to us and through us who live out the mystery of our baptism.
On this solemnity of the birth of Saint John the Baptist we too are summoned to take to heart the wonderful things the LORD has done in sending his Son and in sending the Prophet John. This mouth of the LORD, Saint John, grew in the womb of Saint Elizabeth, he was called by the name the Angel had given him. The custom of the day was to name him after his father, but even Zechariah wrote, "John is his name." Such a new and wondrous event revealed the movement of the LORD in the lives of his humble people. He loosed the tongue of his priest to give word to his praise. No longer did his doubt silence him; Zechariah blessed the LORD God who is faithful to his promise through the Archangel. Saint John grew in grace and wisdom from his childhood with his saintly parents, and when he became strong in spirit he lived in the solitude of the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel. During the days of his wilderness sojourn Saint John listened in prayer to the Word of the LORD and was nourished by the LORD on a prophet's diet, locust and wild honey. These days of desert formation are necessary for all of us who are summoned to prophetic ministry. We must fast and pray to prepare for our day of manifestation when we are given the Word to announce, "Prepare the way of the LORD!"

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