Today we celebrate the birthday of St. John the Baptist. Throughout the course of the liturgical year the Church celebrates the birthdays of only three individuals: Jesus on December 25, the Blessed Virgin Mary on September 8, and John the Baptist on June 24. The reason being is that all three were pivotal players in the plan of salvation.
The Annunciation is celebrated on March 25. This feast commemorates that moment in history when Mary was asked by the Archangel Gabriel if she would consent to being the mother of the Savior. When that moment occurred, Mary’s cousin Elizabeth was six months pregnant with John. So, three months later John was born, and six months after the birth of John, Jesus was born.
You can see from this that the Church strategically places certain feasts on certain dates. Jesus spoke highly of John when he said, “I tell you, among those born of women, no one is greater than John,” but then Jesus also added, “Yet the least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he.”
John spent his time in the desert as an ascetic dressed in the traditional garb of a prophet, camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and living on a prophet’s diet, locusts and wild honey. He was sent into the world to proclaim the coming of the kingdom and to call people to repentance and a new way of life.
John’s purpose was to prepare the way for Jesus and his baptism was for repentance. John proclaimed that One mightier than he was to come who would baptize with the Holy Spirit.
With great humility he said, “I am unworthy to loosen the straps of his sandals.” As John would draw nearer to the end of his earthly life, he said, “I must decrease so that he may increase.”
The greatness of John in the history of salvation is seen in the great emphasis Luke gives to the announcement of his birth and the event itself; both made prominently parallel to the same occurrences in the life of Jesus. People were attracted to John and great numbers flocked to the Jordan River to listen to his preaching and receive his baptism of repentance. But John constantly deferred to Jesus, as he knew that it was Jesus who was of the greatest importance.
John challenges us Christians to the fundamental attitude of our faith, that being, total dependence on the Father, in Christ.
Except for Mary, no one had a higher role in the unfolding of salvation. The attractiveness as well as the austerity of John, his fierce courage in denouncing evil, all stem from his placing his life totally within doing the Will of God. May we have that same courage to follow his example as we seek to make Jesus known and loved in our world today.
Oh, by the way, if you are doing the calculating, you will know that Christmas is only six months away!
— Fr. Dennis, June 24, 2018, Solemnity of the Birthday of St. John the Baptist