The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist
This weekend, as secular Quebec society marks “La Fete Nationale”, the Church celebrates the birth of John the Baptist. Aside from Jesus and Mary, he is the only saint whose birthday is celebrated in our liturgical calendar. His life and mission are recorded not only in the Gospels, but in the secular accounts of Roman and Jewish historians. His ministry by the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance, drew thousands of followers. Regarded by the crowds as a great prophet, he drew the unfavorable attention of King Herod Antipas: his denouncing of the King’s murderous and adulterous ways led to his eventual imprisonment and execution.
However, once Jesus appears on the scene, John moves out of the spotlight. Enter Jesus stage right; exit John stage left. John was not the light, but a witness to the Light. John was the herald but Jesus is the message; John was the voice but Jesus is the Word; John is the Best Man but Jesus is the Bridegroom. John preached repentance and Jesus brought forgiveness. John baptized with water, but Jesus baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire. John called for justice and conversion of heart, but Jesus offered the grace that enables and empowers change and spiritual growth. John prepared the path, but Jesus is the Way. John’s whole life and all his energies were spent in directing people to Jesus. John pointed to Jesus.
As a pointer to Jesus, John can be a great model for us. Is that not what we want, deep down, for ourselves and for those we love: to be brought closer to Jesus? To become more and more like Jesus? When we ponder all John suffered in remaining faithful to his prophetic mission, we may have some reservations. But this ideal of following Jesus is what motivates us: to come to church, to pray, to strive to be loving, to bear witness to our faith at home, at work, in the larger society.
How different would our Quebec society look if we really took seriously the message of St. John the Baptist, to whose patronage we are entrusted? If we strove to imitate his example of humility, courage, self-sacrifice, fidelity to his vocation? So as we celebrate this weekend, let us be grateful for the courageous witness of John, the cousin of Jesus. Like him, let us renew our commitment to live in a way that points to Jesus, in all we say and do. And as we enter into our summer vacations, may we create that desert space within us, the wilderness in which God reveals to us our deeper identity and our life’s purpose. Amen!!