Sunday, June 24, 2012

Homily for Solemnity of Birth of John the Baptist

Homily for the Solemnity 
of the Birth of
St. John the Baptist
June 24, 2012
Ursulines, Willow Dr., New Rochelle

“You raised up St. John the Baptist to make ready a nation fit for Christ the Lord…” (Collect).
Naming of John. Artist unknown. "Borrowed" from The Deacon's Bench.

1st, let’s thank the Lord that our translators have ditched “John the Baptizer” and returned to the traditional nomenclature.  (Actually, the Sacramentary never went with “Baptizer”; that was only the hapless 1st run of the NAB, amended when they revised the New Testament.)

Then, let’s thank the Lord for having called us to be his people, partly thru the ministry of John the Baptist.  God’s people is in fact the object or purpose of John’s life, according to our Collect.

Every collect begins with a statement of the mystery or saving event being commemorated on a given day, or a tribute to some divine attribute.  Today we note—and by implication praise God for—his having “raised up St. John the Baptist to make ready a nation fit for Christ the Lord,” and immediately move on to the petition part of the prayer:  “give your people, we pray….”  Thus the Collect identifies us—“God’s people”—with that “nation fit for Christ” which “John the Baptist made ready.”

Here we acknowledge John as the forerunner, as the lamp shining (John 5:35) in a dark place, as the one who points out the Lamb of God (John 1:29-36), as the one who steers his own disciples toward the One who is to come (John 1:19-40).  In his lifestyle, in his preaching, in his spiritual direction (if we may call it that), and finally in his martyrdom John is at the service to Someone greater than he—a service consisting largely in helping people get ready for that Someone, preparing the way.
John the Baptist. Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Turin.
Isn’t that what we’re all supposed to do?  None of us is the Expected One—not even those sometimes called alter Christus (“other Christ”).  Rather, we’re the servants of Christ, or his friends (as he said at the Last Supper [John 15:15], and as John the Baptist referred to himself in a little parable about a bridegroom and best man [John 3:28-30]).  Like John, in our lives, in all the varied forms of our ministry, in our prayer, in our openness to God’s direction in our lives—in all this, we imitate John the Baptist and point to the Lord Jesus as the true Lamb of God, the one who redeems the world from its sins.  We have the mission of making ready a nation fit for Christ the Lord as much as John the Baptist did.  Most of you spent a lifetime doing that in classrooms, and many of you still have the opportunity, the divine opportunity, to continue in other settings.

You all remember Shakespeare’s “Seven Ages of Man” speech—is that in As You Like It?[1]—which credits each person with playing many parts in a lifespan.
The Seven Ages of Man by William Mulready, 1838
We play many parts too—imitating now this saint, now that one.  We might imitate the Virgin Mother in how we treasure God’s Word and meditate upon it; imitate Angela in how we relate to young women; imitate the fearless heart of great St. Teresa.[2]  And in John the Baptist we have a model of pointing always to Jesus in whatever we say and do—if not in words, which we can’t always do or shouldn’t always do, then in our character, our manner, our actions.

The Collect asks God to “direct the hearts of the all the faithful into the way of salvation and peace.”  That’s what John strove to do.  That’s what each of us can still do:  direct our own hearts, direct the hearts of our sisters, friends, alumnae, into God’s saving ways, the pathways of Christ—with God’s help, of course, which is why we make it our prayer.

[1] Good recall!  Specifically, it’s from Act II, scene vii.
[2] St. Teresa of Avila is patroness of the convent.

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