A Reflection on the Birth of Saint John the Baptist

ANTIPHON
He will be great in the sight of the Lord and will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb; and many will rejoice at his birth. (Luke 1:15, 14)

COLLECT
O God, Who raised up Saint John the Baptist
to make ready a nation fit for Christ the Lord,
give Your people, we pray
the grace of spiritual joys
and direct the hearts of all the faithful
into the way of salvation and peace.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
Who lives and reigns with You
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
One God, for ever and ever.

RESPONSORIAL PSALM
I praise you, for I am wonderfully made. (Psalm 139:14).

GOSPEL EXCERPT
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.” (Luke 1:65-66, 80)

REFLECTION
Who is a prophet? What does a prophet do? Popularly, many have an image of a prophet as an other-worldly guru endowed with some magic-seeing power that gives him or her an ability to predict the future. Fortunately for us, such is NOT the biblical prophet and it certainly does not describe Saint John the Baptist.

The biblical prophet lived and worked in a world familiar with prophecy. In the Ancient Near Eastern world practically every king or queen had a guild or a company of prophets. These prophets acted as counselors or advisors on all sorts of matters pertinent to day-to-day living. At times guilds of prophets contended with each other jockeying for position and prominence in society. Often the counsel or advice rendered was not so much about what was needed for the occasion but a word or two that sounded nice or appealed to the monarch’s pleasure.

In Israel, like so many other aspects of her life in the Ancient Near Eastern world, prophecy was different. Sure there was a need for counsel and advice, but prophecy had another function vital for living the Covenant. In Israel, the prophet (nabi in Hebrew) was one ‘who spoke on behalf of God.’ The prophet tended to be an individual person, not a guild or a school. Unlike the guild prophets throughout the world of that time, Israel’s nabi were called by God. Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel – to name only a few – did not ‘join’ or sign-up to be a nabi. In fact, many of Israel’s nabi resisted and balked when called by God to speak on His behalf. Israel’s nabi also nurtured an intense, intimate relationship with God and even some of their ‘conversations’ with God sound shocking in their apparent audacity (cf. ‘The Confessions’ of Jeremiah) yet they reveal a profound relationship with God and a willingness to serve Him and the people to whom the prophet is sent.

So what does this have to do with Saint John the Baptist and why are we even celebrating his birth as a Solemnity? All four Gospels open in one way or another with the testimony of Saint John. From a Gospel perspective, John is the fulfillment of prophecy and embodies all of Israel’s nabi. The desert living, countenance and demeanor of Elijah, the hope-filled stirring words voiced by Isaiah, the stingingly sharp ‘politically incorrect’ invectives of Jeremiah, the mystic quality of Ezekiel, the authentic social justice message of Amos and continuous call to conversion and repentance reminiscent of Hosea – all of these and more are embodied in the “Voice crying out in the desert.”



When we meet the adult John in the Gospels, he noticeably lives life differently from other people. The desert is his home, rough animal skins form his not-so-elegant wardrobe, a diet of crunchy locusts and bitter, sticky honey sustains his body and he addresses people who come to him as vipers and they are not offended! In fact, John’s proclamation of God’s word to the crowd – done in a way that is unique to John – stirs the hearts of all to repentance. Even Herod was drawn to John’s preaching. Most importantly, John is the one who recognizes Jesus’ presence and His presence as Savior. As an infant John leapt in the womb when Mary visited Elizabeth. As an adult John exclaimed, “Behold! The Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world.” (John 1:29) and ultimately bears witness to this Lamb with his own life. From birth to death and at all times in-between, John is a model disciple. Life is never about himself, it is about the Lamb of God: “He [Jesus] must increase, I must decrease.”

As the one who brings the Old Testament prophetic ministry to it fulfillment, John challenges present day disciples of Jesus Christ. As people baptized in the blood of the Lamb, we are constituted priest, prophet and king. As prophets of the Lamb (we’ll save priest and king for another day), the Lord has given each a word to speak and has fashioned each as a unique “polished arrow” ready to point out Jesus as Savior. Pauline wisdom is helpful here: “No foul language should come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for needed edification, that it may impart grace to those who hear (Ephesians 4:29)” and “be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another [in] psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and playing to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.” (Ephesians 5:18-20) Because the Lord has given His word to the baptized, there can be no room for any other type of word. As good as this wisdom is, there is more to this than mere verbal etiquette. For those baptized in the Blood of the Lamb, we confess that the “Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us!” The word entrusted to us is the Word and as such each thought, each word, each action must be that of Jesus Christ. We ‘speak’ the Word by our manner of living. 



PREFACE
It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give You thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God,
through Christ our Lord.

In His Precursor, Saint John the Baptist,
we praise Your great glory,
for You consecrated him for a singular honor
among those born of women.

His birth brought great rejoicing;
even in the womb he lept for joy
at the coming of human salvation.
He alone of all the prophets
pointed out the Lamb of redemption.

And to make holy the flowing water,
he baptized the very author of Baptism
and was privileged to bear Him supreme witness
by the shedding of his blood.

And so, with the Powers of heaven,
we worship You constantly on earth,
and before Your majesty
without end we acclaim ...

Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist



“He made my mouth like a sharp-edged sword, concealed me, shielded by his hand. He made me a sharpened arrow, in his quiver he hid me.” (Isaiah 49:2)

Origen of Alexandria (part 2 of Pope Benedict’s reflections on Origen) comments on this verse from the First Reading proclaimed at Mass today:

“If anyone has been able to hold in the breadth of his mind and to consider the glory and splendor of all those things created in him, he will be struck by their very beauty and transfixed by the magnificence of their brilliance or, as the prophet says, “by the chosen arrow.” And he will receive from him the saving wound and will burn with the blessed fire of his love.” (Commentary on the Song of Songs, Prologue)


Collect
O God,
Who raised up Saint John the Baptist
to make ready a nation
fit for Christ the Lord,
give your people, we pray,
the grace of spiritual joys
and direct the hearts of all the faithful
into the way of salvation and peace.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
Who lives and reigns with You
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Glory to the Father
and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit:
as it was in the beginning,
is now, and will be forever. Amen





The voice of one crying in the wilderness



Bishop and Great Western Father of the Church

An excerpt from his Sermon 293

Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

The Church observes the birth of John as a hallowed event. We have no such commemoration for any other fathers; but it is significant that we celebrate the birthdays of John and of Jesus. This day cannot be passed by. And even if my explanation does not match the dignity of the feast, you may still meditate on it with great depth and profit.

John is born of a woman too old for childbirth; Christ was born of a youthful virgin. The news of John’s birth was met with incredulity, and his father was struck dumb. Christ’s birth was believed, and he was conceived through faith.

Such is the topic, as I have presented it, for our inquiry and discussion. But as I said before, if I lack either the time or the ability to study the implications of so profound a mystery, he who speaks within you even when I am not here will teach you better; it is he whom you contemplate with devotion, whom you have welcomed into your hearts, whose temples you have become.

John, then, appears as the boundary between the two testaments, the old and the new. That he is a sort of boundary the Lord himself bears witness, when he speaks of the law and the prophets up until John the Baptist. Thus he represents times past and is the herald of the new era to come. As a representative of the past, he is born of aged parents; as herald of the new, he is declared to be a prophet while still in his mother’s womb. For when yet unborn, he leapt in his mother’s womb at the arrival of blessed Mary. In that womb he had already been designated a prophet, even before he was born; it was revealed that he was to be Christ’s precursor, before they ever saw one another. These are divine happenings, going beyond the limits of our human fraility. Eventually he is born, he receives his name, his father’s tongue is loosened. See how these events reflect reality.

Zechariah is silent and loses his voice until John, the precursor of the Lord, is born and restores his voice. The silence of Zechariah is nothing but the age of prophecy lying hidden, obscured, as it were, and concealed before the preaching of Christ. At John’s arrival, it becomes clear when the one who was being prophesied is about to come. The release of Zechariah’s voice at the birth of John is a parallel to the rending of the veil at Christ’s crucifixion. If John were announcing his own coming, Zechariah’s lips would not have been opened. The tongue is loosened because a voice is born. For when John was preaching the Lord’s coming he was asked: Who are you? And he replied: I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness. The voice is John, but the Lord in the beginning was the Word. John was a voice that lasted only for a time; Christ, the Word in the beginning, is eternal.



Glory to the Father
and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit:
as it was in the beginning,
is now, and will be forever. Amen

 

Solemnity of Most Sacred Heart of Jesus



“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves...” (Matthew 11:29.)

Saint Augustine of Hippo comments on this verse from the Gospel proclaimed during today’s Mass:

“You are to “take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.” You are not learning from me how to refashion the fabric of the world, nor to create all things visible and invisible, nor to work miracles and raise the dead. Rather, you are simply learning of me: “that I am meek and lowly in heart.” If you wish to reach high, then begin at the lowest level. If you are trying to construct some mighty edifice in height, you will begin with the lowest foundation. This is humility. However great the mass of the building you may wish to design or erect, the taller the building is to be, the deeper you will dig the foundation. The building in the course of its erection rises up high, but he who digs its foundation must first go down very low. So then, you see even a building is low before it is high and the tower is raised only after humiliation.” (Sermon 69)





Collect
O God,
Who in the Heart of Your Son,
wounded by our sins,
bestow on us in mercy
the boundless treasures of Your love,
grant, we pray,
that, in paying Him the homage of our devotion,
we may also offer worthy reparation.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
Who lives and reigns with You
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.




Glory to the Father
and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit:
as it was in the beginning,
is now, and will be forever. Amen



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With you is the source of life



Bishop and Doctor of the Church

An excerpt from his Lignum vitae (Tree of Life)

Solemnity of Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

Take thought now, redeemed man, and consider how great and worthy is he who hangs on the cross for you. His death brings the dead to life, but at his passing heaven and earth are plunged into mourning and hard rocks are split asunder.

It was a divine decree that permitted one of the soldiers to open his sacred side with a lance. This was done so that the Church might be formed from the side of Christ as he slept the sleep of death on the cross, and so that the Scripture might be fulfilled: They shall look on him whom they pierced. The blood and water which poured out at that moment were the price of our salvation. Flowing from the secret abyss of our Lord’s heart as from a fountain, this stream gave the sacraments of the Church the power to confer the life of grace, while for those already living in Christ it became a spring of living water welling up to life everlasting.

Arise, then, beloved of Christ! Imitate the dove that nests in a hole in the cliff, keeping watch at the entrance like the sparrow that finds a home. There like the turtledove hide your little ones, the fruit of your chaste love. Press your lips to the fountain, draw water from the wells of your Savior; for this is the spring flowing out of the middle of paradise, dividing into four rivers, inundating devout hearts, watering the whole earth and making it fertile.

Run with eager desire to this source of life and light, all you who are vowed to God’s service. Come, whoever you may be, and cry out to him with all the strength of your heart. “O indescribable beauty of the most high God and purest radiance of eternal light! Life that gives all life, light that is the source of every other light, preserving in everlasting splendor the myriad flames that have shone before the throne of your divinity from the dawn of time! Eternal and inaccessible fountain, clear and sweet stream flowing from a hidden spring, unseen by mortal eye! None can fathom your depths nor survey your boundaries, none can measure your breadth, nothing can sully your purity. From you flows the river which gladdens the city of God and makes us cry out with joy and thanksgiving in hymns of praise to you, for we know by our own experience that with you is the source of life, and in your light we see light.


Glory to the Father
and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit:
as it was in the beginning,
is now, and will be forever. Amen

 

 



Thursday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary time



“This is how you are to pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name ...” (Matthew 6:9.)

Origen of Alexandria (part 2 of Pope Benedict’s reflections on Origen) comments on this verse from the Gospel proclaimed at Mass today:

According to the apostle, “as long as the heir has not reached his majority, he differs little from a servant, though he be lord of all. He remains under tutors and governors until the time of his maturity appointed by his father.” But the “fullness of time” consists in our Lord Jesus Christ coming among us, when those who desire it receive adoption as sons, as Paul says in these words: “For you have not received the spirit of bondage in fear, but you have received the spirit of adoption as sons, whereby we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (On Prayer, 22.)


Collect
Almighty ever-living God,
Whom, taught by the Holy Spirit,
we dare to call our Father,
bring, we pray, to perfection in our hearts
the spirit of adoption as Your sons and daughters,
that we may merit to enter into the inheritance
which You have promised.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You in the
unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.


Glory to the Father
and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit:
as it was in the beginning,
is now, and will be forever. Amen


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After the gift of bread we ask pardon for our sins



Bishop, Father of the Church and Martyr

An excerpt from his Treatise on the Lord’s Prayer

Thursday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

As the Lord’s Prayer continues, we ask: Give us this day our daily bread. We can understand this petition in a spiritual and in a literal sense. For in the divine plan both senses may help toward our salvation. For Christ is the bread of life; this bread does not belong to everyone, but is ours alone. When we say, our Father, we understand that he is the father of those who know him and believe in him. In the same way we speak of our daily bread, because Christ is the bread of those who touch his body.

Now, we who live in Christ and receive his eucharist, the food of salvation, ask for this bread to be given us every day. Otherwise we may be forced to abstain from this communion because of some serious sin. In this way we shall be separated from the body of Christ, as he taught us in the words: I am the bread of life which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats my bread will live for ever and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world. Christ is saying, then, that anyone who eats his bread will live for ever. Clearly they possess life who approach his body and share in the Eucharistic communion. For this reason we should be apprehensive and pray that no one has to abstain from this communion, lest he be separated from the body of Christ and be far from salvation. Christ has warned of this: If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood you will have no life in you. We pray for our daily bread, Christ, to be given to us. With his help, we who live and abide in him will never be separated from his body and his grace.

After this we ask pardon for our sins, in the words: and forgive us our trespasses. The gift of bread is followed by a prayer for forgiveness. To be reminded that we are sinners and forced to ask forgiveness for our faults is prudent and sound. Even while we are asking God’s forgiveness, our hearts are aware of our state! This command to pray daily for our sins reminds us that we commit sin every day. No one should complacently think himself innocent, lest his pride lead to further sin. Such is the warning that John gives us in his letter: If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, the Lord is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins. His letter includes both points, that we should beg for forgiveness for our sins, and that we receive pardon when we do. He calls the Lord faithful, because he remains loyal to his promise, by forgiving us our sins. He both taught us to pray for our sins and our faults, and also promised to show us a father’s mercy and forgiveness.



Glory to the Father
and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit:
as it was in the beginning,
is now, and will be forever. Amen

 






Memorial of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, Religious



“But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face...” (Matthew 6:17.)

Saint Augustine of Hippo comments on this verse from the Gospel proclaimed during today’s Mass:

“Vainglory can find a place not only in the splendor and pomp of worldly wealth but even in the sordid garment of sackcloth as well. It is then all the more dangerous because it is a deception under the pretense of service to God. When one dazzles by immoderate adornment of the body and its raiment or by the splendor of whatever else one may possess, by that very fact one is easily shown to desire ostentacious display. This person deceives nobody by a crafty semblance of holiness. But if, through extraordinary squalor and shabbiness, one is attracting others’ attention to one’s manner of professing Christianity, and if one is doing this of choice and not merely enduring it through necessity, then one may determine by one’s other works whether one is doing it through an indifference toward needless adornment or through ambition of some kind. Indeed, the Lord has forewarned us to beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing: “By their fruits you shall know them.” Trials of one kind or another that cause these people to lose the very advantages they have gained through their dress or claimed to deny what they sought to gain by it will inevitably reveal whether it is a case of a wolf under a sheep’s skin or a sheep under its own. But just as sheep ought not to change their skin even though wolves sometimes hide themselves beneath it, so a Christian ought not try to delight the eyes of others by needless adornment just because pretenders very often assume that scanty garb which necessity demands and assume it for the purpose of deceiving those who are less aware.” (Sermon on the Mount, 2.)



Collect
O God,
giver of heavenly gifts,
who in Saint Aloysius Gonzaga
joined penitence
to a wonderful innocence of life,
grant, through his merits and intercession,
that, though we have failed
to follow him in innocence,
we may imitate him in penitence
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
Who lives and reigns with You
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.


Glory to the Father
and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit:
as it was in the beginning,
is now, and will be forever. Amen


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God’s mercies shall be my song for ever


(Religious)

An excerpt from A Letter to His Mother

MEMORIAL: Saint Aloysius

May the comfort and grace of the Holy Spirit be yours for ever, most honored lady. Your letter found me lingering still in this region of the dead, but now I must rouse myself to make my way on to heaven at last and to praise God for ever in the land of the living; indeed I had hoped that before this time my journey there would have been over. If charity, as Saint Paul says, means to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who are glad, then, dearest mother, you shall rejoice exceedingly that God in his grace and his love for you is showing me the path to true happiness, and assuring me that I shall never lose him.

The divine goodness, most honored lady, is a fathomless and shoreless ocean, and I confess that when I plunge my mind into thought of this it is carried away by the immensity and feels quite lost and bewildered there. In return for my short and feeble labors, God is calling me to eternal rest; his voice from heaven invites me to the infinite bliss I have sought so languidly, and promises me this reward for the tears I have so seldom shed.

Take care above all things, most honored lady, not to insult God’s boundless loving kindness; you would certainly do this if you mourned as dead one living face to face with God, one whose prayers can bring you in your troubles more powerful aid than they ever could on earth. And our parting will not be for long; we shall see each other again in heaven; we shall be united with our Savior; there we shall praise him with heart and soul, sing of his mercies for ever, and enjoy eternal happiness. When he takes away what he once lent us, his purpose is to store our treasure elsewhere more safely and bestow on us those very blessings that we ourselves would most choose to have.

I write all this with the one desire that you and all my family may consider my departure a joy and favor and that you especially may speed with a mother’s blessing my passage across the waters till I reach the shore to which all hopes belong. I write the more willingly because I have no clearer way of expressing the love and respect I owe you as your son.


Glory to the Father
and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit:
as it was in the beginning,
is now, and will be forever. Amen

 

 






Tuesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time



“... that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45.)

Saint Augustine of Hippo comments on this verse from the Gospel proclaimed during today’s Mass:

“Since he calls us to the adoption as sons through the only begotten Son himself, he calls us to his own likeness. For, as the Lord at once adds, “He makes his sun to rise on the good and the evil and sends rain on the just and the unjust.” Now, if you would understand the expression “his sun” to mean not the sun that is visible to bodily eyes but his wisdom, to which the following expressions refer—“he is the brightness of eternal light” and also “The sun of justice is risen upon me,” as well as “But to you that fear the name of the Lord, the sun of justice shall arise” — then you must also understand the rain as a watering by the teaching of truth, because that teaching has become manifest to the good and to the evil. But you may prefer to understand it as the sun that is manifest to the bodily eyes of beasts as well as people and to understand the rain as the showers that produce the fruits that God has given us for the perfection of the body. I believe this to be surely the more probable meaning, since the other “sun” does not rise except on the good and the holy, for this is the very thing that the unjust bewail in the book that is called the Wisdom of Solomon: “And the sun [of understanding] has not risen upon us.” And the spiritual rain refreshes only the good, for the vine signifies the bad of whom it is said, “I will command my clouds not to rain upon it.” (Sermon on the Mount)




Collect
O God,
strength of those who hope in You,
graciously hear our pleas,
and, since without You
mortal frailty can do nothing,
grant us always the help of Your grace
that in following Your commands
we may please you by our resolve and our deeds.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You in the
unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.



Glory to the Father
and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit:
as it was in the beginning,
is now, and will be forever. Amen


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