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Nativity of John The Baptist


From Fr. Tony Kadavil:

Synopsis: Nativity of St. John the Baptist [A, B, C] June 23: Vigil Mass)
Introduction: Usually, we reflect upon two advents and two angelic messages during the Advent season, namely, the advent of John the Baptist and the advent of Jesus. This year the feast of the Birth of John (which occurs June 24), falls on a Sunday and thus replaces the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time. That is why we hear again the angelic message announcing the birth of Christ’s forerunner. The archangel Gabriel informed the childless Zechariah the priest that a son, whom he was to name John, would be born to him and his barren, aged wife. Today’s Gospel describes how Zechariah got the Divine message in the Holy of Holies in the Temple of Jerusalem while he was offering incense.


Scripture lessons: Jeremiah’s call is cited in the first reading to connect it to today’s Gospel in which the call and prenatal purification received by St. John the Baptist, the last of the Old Testament prophets, is recounted: “He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb and he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.”
 In the second reading, Peter guarantees his people that whatever the Holy Spirit has spoken through the prophets, including John the Baptist, about Christ the Saviour, has been fulfilled.
In today’s Gospel, we hear again the angelic message about the Birth of John the Baptist. The angel informs Zechariah the priest that a son, whom he is to name John, will be born to him and his barren, aged wife. Zechariah got that divine message in the Holy of Holies in the Temple of Jerusalem while he was offering incense. But Zechariah doubted the words of the angel and, hence, was rendered mute until those words had been fulfilled.

Life messages:

1   We should not take our small misfortunes as big tragedies. We should imitate Zechariah who remained optimistic, continuing in prayer and Temple service.

2   We need to ask God’s help to get rid of the barrenness of our heart, cleanse it daily, liberate it from evil attachments and prepare it for the rebirth of Jesus.
 We need to be good parents and grandparents offering incessant prayers for our children and grandchildren.

Solemnity of the birth of St. John the Baptist (June 23)
Readings for the Vigil Mass: Jer 1:4-10; I Pet 1:8-12; Lk 1:5-17

Anecdotes: # 1: John’s birthday in Church history and tradition: This is one of the oldest feasts on the Church calendar. In the early Church, as in medieval times, this was one of the biggest feasts of the year. As was done on Christmas, three masses were offered, one at midnight, and two in the morning. All over Europe, fires were lighted on mountains and hilltops on the eve of this feast. The people had parties and lit bonfires in honor of John because our Lord called him a “burning and shining lamp” (John 5:35). These fires, sometimes called St. John’s fires, were lit on St. John’s Eve and burned until at least midnight. These fires were also a sign of Christ the Light, and a reminder that we, too, are called to be a light for the world. In Catholic sections of Europe, people prayed together to Saint John for his intercession that the summer might be blessed in homes, fields, and country. Finally, they performed some of the traditional folk dances, usually accompanied by singing and music. In addition to celebrating around outdoor fires, other customs included decorating one’s home with flowers, making floral wreaths (which were sometimes sent down a river as a symbol of Jesus’ baptism), placing sprigs of St. Johnswort around the house much as we do Palm Sunday palms, and eating strawberries. This feast placed three months after the feast of the Annunciation, and six months before Christmas, also served the useful purpose of supplanting the immoral pagan feasts of the Summer solstice. St. John the Baptist was highly honored throughout the whole Church from the beginning. Proof of this is, among other things, the fact that fifteen churches were dedicated to him in the ancient imperial city of Constantinople.

# 2: The crippled Doctor who transformed tragedy into sacrificial service: Take the story of Mary Varghese. Mary Varghese was a brilliant young Indian surgeon. Crippled as a result of a car accident, she was able to feel and move only her arms and her head. But she believed that God could still use her, and she became interested in treating lepers. In the words of John Lane, "She realized she could transform their wasted stumps into something like hands and feet. Mary Varghese underwent major surgery herself so that she could be made to sit upright in a wheelchair. In her operating room at Vellore, she reconstructed hands and feet and faces, the type of surgery that can be performed from a wheelchair, a type of surgery she would never have done if she had not been deprived of her normal strength. What for many would be catastrophe, for Mary Varghese became opportunity." [John E. Lane, Expository Times 96 (Fifth Sunday in Lent, 19), 145-146.] That is what the parents of John the Baptist, Zachariah and Elizabeth, did, transforming the painful memory of their childlessness into service, for Zechariah in the Temple of God, for Elizabeth at home.

Introduction: Usually we reflect on two advents and two angelic messages during the Advent season, namely, the advent of John the Baptist and the advent of Jesus. This year the feast of the Birth of John (which occurs June 24), falls on a Sunday and replaces the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time. That is why we hear, again, the angelic message announcing the birth of Christ’s forerunner. The archangel Gabriel informed the childless priest, Zechariah, that a son, whom he was to name John, would be born to him and his barren, aged wife. Today’s Gospel describes how Zechariah got the Divine message in the Holy of Holies in the Temple of Jerusalem while he was offering incense. Jeremiah’s call is cited in the first reading to connect it to today’s Gospel which recounts the call and prenatal purification given to St. John the Baptist, the last of the Old Testament prophets: “He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb, and he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.” In the second reading, Peter guarantees his people that whatever the Holy Spirit has spoken through the prophets, including John the Baptist, about Christ the Saviour has been fulfilled. In today’s Gospel, we hear again the angelic message about the Birth of John the Baptist. The angel informs Zechariah the priest that a son, whom he is to name John, will be born to him and his barren, aged wife. Today’s Gospel describes how Zechariah got the Divine message in the Holy of Holies in the Temple of Jerusalem while he was offering incense. But Zechariah doubted the words of the angel and hence, was rendered mute until the words of the angel had been fulfilled.

First reading: Jer 1:4-10, explained:  Jeremiah began his ministry in Jerusalem around 627 BC. He witnessed the final years of Jerusalem before it fell to Nebuchadnezzar in 597 BC. He came from a priestly family from the town of Anathoth, a few kilometers north of Jerusalem and formerly in the territory of Northern Israel. Jeremiah’s ministry covered a period of 40 years (627 BC -- 587 BC). There are similarities and differences in the “Calls” of the major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel). These “Calls” are initiated by God who tells the future prophet what he will be doing, often with some form of assurance that God will be with him.  In Jeremiah’s case, (Jer 1:4-10), God said, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you(Jeremiah 1: 5). The clear message from God is emphasized by the use of the strong and frequent verbs in v.5 - I formed you, I knew you, I set you apart, I appointed you. Jeremiah had the reassurance all through his ministry that he was called by God to be a prophet. Sometimes, the person called protests, as did Jeremiah: “Ah, Lord God!” I said, “I know not how to speak; I am too young” (Jeremiah 1:6). The Lord God demolished this objection and spelled out for His prophet both His own aid and the prophet’s mission. The prophet experiences a compulsion and a drive to do what God asks, once he has surrendered his will to God and accepted His call. Jeremiah was give the mission to “root up and tear down, to destroy and to demolish, to build and to plant. “ That is, God was sending him  to build and plant new nations and a new people of God and to sow the seeds of God’s reign. Jeremiah’s call is cited in the first reading to connect it to today’s Gospel which recounts the call and prenatal purification given to St. John the Baptist, the last of the Old Testament prophets: “He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb and he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.”

Second reading: I Pet 1: 8-12, explained: Peter had been in the company of Jesus for three years and he was now writing to people who, though they had never seen Jesus, still loved Him. To “believe in” Jesus means to trust and obey him, although we cannot see him. It means more than believing facts about him; it means having a personal relationship with Jesus, here and now. People who believe in Jesus have joy in their spirits. This joy comes from God. We understand “salvation” in three ways: in the past, in the present, and in the future. ·Salvation in the past, occurs when we first become Christians. Salvation in the present is the process of growing in the relationship between God and us as we learn to love and trust God more each day and to receive the help He offers us.  Salvation in the future is our receiving of all of God’s promises in Heaven. The prophets of God lived before the birth of Jesus Christ, and they brought messages from God to the people. They could not understand all the things that God told them. Nor did they know when these things would happen. But all that the prophets spoke about Jesus came true. Hence, Peter guarantees his people that whatever the Holy Spirit has spoken through the prophets, including John the Baptist, about Christ the Saviour has been fulfilled.

Gospel Exegesis: Two exceptional birthday celebrations: Ordinarily the Church observes the day of a saint's death as his feast, because that day marks his entrance into heaven. To this rule there are two notable exceptions, the birthdays of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of St. John the Baptist. All other persons were stained with original sin at birth, and hence, were displeasing to God. But Mary, was, from the moment of her conception, free from original sin (for which reason even her very conception is commemorated by a special feast). John was cleansed of original sin in the womb of his mother. When Mary visited Elizabeth, John recognized the presence of Jesus in Mary’s womb and leaped for joy (Luke 1:41). This is the dogmatic justification for today's feast.

The annunciation of John’s birth: Traditionally, the Birth of Jesus is celebrated on 25 December. That means that the Birth of John is celebrated six months earlier on 24 June. The appearance of Gabriel to Mary (assumed to be nine months before the birth of Jesus), is celebrated on 25 March and called the Annunciation, and the appearance of Gabriel to Zechariah in the Temple is celebrated by the East Orthodox on 23 September. Zechariah was one of the 1800 priests serving the Temple of Jerusalem. They were divided into 24 groups of 75 each. Thirty priests of each group were to serve the Temple for worship services each day, and only one of them got the rare chance to offer incense inside the Holy of Holies. It was while performing this priestly function that Zechariah received the vision of the angel and was summarily, if temporarily, punished for his lack of Faith in the angel’s message.

 John the Baptist in history and in the Gospels: According to the Jewish historian Josephus (who wrote after 70 AD), John the Baptist was a Jewish preacher in the time of Pontius Pilate (26-36 AD). The Gospels present John as a wild desert preacher dressed in leather-belted camel skin and eating locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed the Kingdom of God and a coming judgment and challenged people to accept baptism as a sign of their repentance for their sins. He took up Isaiah’s cry, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” He called the multitudes who thronged to him a “brood of vipers,” demanding of them, “produce good fruits as evidence of your repentance” (Luke 3:7-8). John warned them of God’s wrath and threatened with hellfire those who prided themselves on their religious heritage. “Exact no more than the appointed rate” he advised tax collectors. “No intimidation! No Extortion! Be content with your pay!” (Luke 3:14), he exhorted the soldiers. The Baptist had the humility to reassure the people that he was not the Messiah. Mark says all Jerusalem and Judea made their way to him, and as they were baptized in the Jordan, they confessed their sins (Mark 1:5). He baptized Jesus amid the attending crowds yet recognized that he was uniquely sent by God. John is most remembered as the forerunner who prepared for the coming of Jesus. After Jesus’ baptism, once again John turned people’s attention to Jesus as he declared, “He must increase, I must decrease.” (John 3:30). John extended His mission of preparing for the Messiah by actually introducing his own disciples, John and Andrew, to Jesus as the promised Messiah:  “Look, there is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” (John 1:29). No wonder, Jesus later complimented John in the superlative saying, “among those born of women no one is greater than John” (Luke 7:28).    John died a martyr’s death because, with the prophetic courage of his convictions, he criticized his immoral King, Herod Antipas, for that King’s double violation of the Mosaic Law: Herod had divorced his lawful wife and married his brother Philip’s wife Herodias, Herod’s own niece.

Life messages: 1) We should not take our small misfortunes as big tragedies. We should imitate Zechariah who remained optimistic, continuing in prayer and Temple service. 2) We need to ask God’s help to get rid of the barrenness of our heart, cleanse it daily, liberate it from evil attachments and prepare it for the rebirth of Jesus. 3) We need to be good parents and grandparents, offering incessant prayers for our children and grandchildren.
Joke of the week: 1) A little girl was sitting on her grandfather's lap as he read her the story of John the Baptist from the Children’s Bible Story Book.  From time to time, she would take her eyes off the book and reach up to touch his wrinkled cheek. She was alternately stroking her own cheek, then his again. Finally she spoke up, "Grandpa, did God make you?"
"Yes, sweetheart," he answered, "God made me a long time ago."
"Oh," she paused, "Grandpa, did God make me too?"
"Yes, indeed, honey," he said, "God made you just a little while ago."
Feeling their respective faces again, she observed, "God's getting better at it, isn't He?"
2) Here is the story of two rival medieval French monasteries. Each claimed that it possessed the head of St. John the Baptist. The monks of the big monastery used to explain this uncomfortable fact to the critics saying that the big skull they had belonged to St. John as a man whereas the smaller skull kept by the other monastery belonged to St. John as a boy! (“Relic Worship” New York Times, January 16, 1861)                            

 Additional anecdotes

1) Others listen, but they don't really hear:" Flannery O'Connor, the South Georgia novelist, was a semi-invalid. She was confined to her home and she raised peacocks. One day a repairman came to her farm and she invited him to stop his work to watch her peacocks in the barnyard. She was enthralled with their beauty and she wanted to share it. She described how "the bird turned slightly to the right and the little planets above him hung in bronze, then he turned to the left and they were hung in green." As the peacocks walked away, she asked the repairman, "Well, what did you think of that?", to which he responded, "Never saw such long ugly legs! I'll bet that rascal could outrun a bus!" Some people look and listen, but they don't really see. And that's the way it is with us, isn't it? Others, Jesus said, "listen, but they don't really hear." That is what happened to Zechariah when the angel spoke to him. Zechariah was startled -- surprised - that the angel would speak to him.

# 2: “God explains himself very well!" In his novel, The Clowns of God, Morris West has Jean-Marie, the Pope, say, "The biggest mistake we have made through the ages is to try to explain the ways of God to men. We shouldn't do that. We should just announce Him. He explains Himself very well!" Well, He does. God explains Himself in his action, and Zechariah knew that as we do. Zechariah knew about the mighty acts of God in the history of his people -- the deliverance from Egyptian captivity -- the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea -- the gift of God of the promised land -- and God's activity through judges, kings, prophets. Zechariah knew the story. He knew that God had acted -- that God had intervened and sometimes that intervention had been dramatic -- sometimes very personal. Yet, here the Angel was speaking to him, and he was startled. It is no less true with us.

# 3: Whistling for closeness: Once a man was driving along the country road lost his way. Looking for some person to give him fresh direction, he went ahead and discovered a farm house with a man working in the field and an elderly woman sitting right in front of the house doing some little odd things. The old man in the farm was whistling clearly and loudly and he was certainly out of tune. To overcome his curiosity and also to find directions the man went there to him and asked for directions which he got instantly. Then he asked why he was whistling all the while, was it part of his work? The man said that he had been married for 45 years and the couple had been happy together. But suddenly his wife lost her sight and became helpless. In order to acknowledge his closeness to her and his presence he would whistle all the while, so she would know he was close to her. Zachariah and Elizabeth were equally sad over their barrenness and hence they spent time together praising God and serving the pilgrims. (Fr. Lobo)

Synopsis: Birthday homily of St. John the Baptist (Sunday Mass)
Introduction: We celebrate the feast of John the Baptist's birth (June 24), in place of the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time today because of John’s prominent role in the history of salvation as the forerunner of the Messiah.  It was John the Baptist who prepared Israel to receive their long-awaited Messiah by preaching repentance.

Scripture lessons: Since John was the forerunner of Jesus and prepared Israel for their Messiah, the “Servant” Messianic prophecy of Isaiah is given as the first reading. The passage expresses important aspects of John’s career as a prophet to God’s people and a light to the nations who was named and sanctified from his mother’s womb. The second reading describes the mission of John the Baptist. It tells us how John the Baptist in all humility publicly acknowledged his role as being only the Messiah’s herald. His role was to prepare Israel to receive the Messiah by inviting the people to receive the baptism of repentance. Today’s Gospel describes the birth of John the Baptist and his circumcision and naming ceremony on the eighth day. In the presence of friends and relatives, Zechariah miraculously regained his power of speech after declaring in writing, “John is his name.” The name John means “God is gracious.” The remaining part of the chapter 1 in St. Luke’s Gospel records Zechariah’s prophecy of the role his son is to take in the history of salvation.
Life messages:  1) We need to pray for our parents and be thankful to them for the gift of life, the training they have given us and the love and affection they have lavished on us.  Let us ask God’s pardon if we are, or were, ungrateful to them, do/did not take proper care of them in their illness or old age or ever inflicted pain on them.
 2) We need to remember and pray for our godparents who, by Baptism, brought us to the Church to be made children of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus, heirs of heaven and members of the Church. 
3) We need to have the courage of our Christian convictions as John the Baptist did, and we should become heralds of Christ as John was, by our transparent Christian lives.

Solemnity of the birth of St. John the Baptist (June 24)
(Sunday Mass Readings: Is 49:1-6; Acts 13:22-26; Lk 1:57-66, 80)
Anecdote: Be the finger of John the Baptist: Karl Barth, the great 20th century Calvinist theologian, would wake up early in the morning, read the newspaper, and stare at a painting by Grunewald called Crucifixion. Jesus is hanging from the cross, apparently dead, while Mary and others morn. John the Baptist, holding the Scriptures and leaning away from Christ, is pointing to Jesus on the Cross. Before he would teach theology or write in his famous work Church Dogmatics, Karl Barth would meditate on this painting, particularly on John the Baptist. He said that, as a Christian (whether a theologian, pastor, teacher, mother, doctor, storekeeper, etc.), our job is to be the finger (and only the finger), of John the Baptist. The only thing we should do – indeed, the only thing we can do – is simply point to Jesus on the cross. This scene painted by Grunewald is the sum of all history, from Creation in the past to eternity. And we are that finger, and within that finger rests the weight of salvation.

Introduction: We celebrate the feast of the Birth of John the Baptist this Sunday instead of the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time because of John’s prominent role in the history of salvation as the forerunner of the Messiah.  It was he who prepared Israel to receive their long-awaited Messiah by preaching repentance. Since John the Baptist was the forerunner of Jesus who prepared Israel for her Messiah, the “Servant” messianic prophecy of Isaiah is given as the first reading. The passage expresses important aspects of John’s career as a prophet to God’s people and as a light to the nations who was named and sanctified from his mother’s womb. The second reading describes the mission of John the Baptist. It tells us how John the Baptist, in all humility, publicly acknowledged his role as only the Messiah’s herald, whose role was to prepare Israel to receive the Messiah by inviting the people to receive the baptism of repentance. Today’s Gospel describes the birth of John the Baptist and his circumcision and naming ceremony on the eighth day. In the presence of friends and relatives, Zechariah miraculously regains his power speech after declaring in writing, “John is his name.” The name John means “God is gracious The remaining part of the chapter 1 in St. Luke’s gospel records Zechariah’s prophecy of the role his son is to take in the history of salvation.
First reading: Is 49:1-6: 49:1, explained:  Since John was the forerunner of Jesus who prepared Israel for her Messiah, the “Servant” prophecy of Isaiah serves as the first reading. These verses come from the so-called "Servant Songs" of Second Isaiah. This passage was chosen most obviously for its reference to the servant having been named from his mother’s womb (see Luke 1:60). But the passage also expresses important aspects of John’s career as a prophet to God’s people and a light to the nations. At the same time his status as servant makes him subordinate to Jesus. The author wrote these verses during the final days of the Babylonian exile. Christians understand this as a Messianic prophecy where the Servant is Christ. God gives his Servant two commands: 1) gather the Diaspora and bring them back to the land of Israel, and 2) be a light to the nations. Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled this mission. He is the Servant, and Faith in him gathers the faithful together, making Jesus the light to the nations. As mentioned in the prophecy, Jesus' name and office were given to him before he was even born, first to his mother Mary (Luke 1:31-33) and then to his stepfather Joseph (Matthew 1:20-21. 49:2). Isaiah compares the Servant to a “sharpened sword” and a “polished arrow. This Servant Jesus will bring salvation to the Gentiles, too.

The second Reading: Acts 13:22-26, explained: The second reading, taken from the Acts of the Apostles, is part of a speech given by Paul in a synagogue in Pisidian Antioch. The passage, describing the mission of John the Baptist and telling of his pivotal role in salvation history, won a place in the Gospel proclamation of the early Christians. In the passage, John the Baptist in all humility publicly acknowledged that his role was only that of a herald for the Messiah. As such, he had the task of preparing Israel to receive the Messiah by inviting them to receive the baptism of repentance. "John heralded [Jesus'] coming by proclaiming a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel."  The reading also explains that Jesus of Nazareth was the Savior, descended from the family of Jesse as foretold by the prophets.

Gospel Exegesis: Parallels and contrast between John and Jesus in St. Luke’s infant narratives: Both births are miraculous. John was born of his aged parents and Jesus from a virgin. The coming births of both were announced by the angel: John’s in the Holy of Holies in the Temple and Jesus’ in a village house. The mission of John was to be the forerunner of the Messiah and the mission of Jesus was to be the saving Messiah. Luke highlights the greatness of Jesus and the subsidiary position of John as the precursor of the Messiah and the herald of God’s coming kingdom.
 John’s birth: Since the birth of a boy was an occasion of great joy among the Jews, Zechariah’ s neighbors and relatives and local musicians gathered at the courtyard to celebrate the occasion. At the announcement of John’s birth there was great rejoicing and the musicians broke into music and songs. In Elizabeth's house there was a double joy because at last she had a child in her old age and because that child was a son.

 Circumcision and naming ceremony: When friends and relatives had assembled for the naming ceremony, to their great surprise, Elizabeth said that her son must be called John. Zechariah, consulted by the relatives and friends, concurred, writing “John is his name,”  on a tablet. At that moment, his muteness was miraculously healed, and he began to praise God. John is a shorter form of the name Jehohanan, which means "Jehovah's gift" or "God is gracious." It was the name which God had commanded the child be given, and it described the parents' gratitude for this unexpected joy. The miraculous birth of the child to the elderly parents, the miraculous healing received by Zechariah and his prophetic hymn about the mission of his son prompted the people gathered there to ask the question, "What will this child turn out to be?"
Life messages:  1) We need to pray for our parents and be thankful to them for the gift of life, the training they have given us and the love and affection they have lavished on us.  Let us ask God’s pardon if we are, or were, ungrateful to them, do/did not take proper care of them in their illness or old age or ever inflicted pain on them.
 2) We need to remember and pray for our godparents who, by Baptism, made us children of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus, heirs of heaven and members of the Church. 
3) We need to have the courage of our Christian convictions as John the Baptist did, and we need to become heralds of Christ, as John was, by our transparent Christian lives.

 Joke of the week (birthday jokes)
1)    Some employees bought their boss a gift for his birthday. Before opening the gift, the boss shook it slightly, and noticed that it was wet in the corner. Touching his finger to the wet spot and tasting it, he asked, "A bottle of wine?"
His employees replied, "No."
Again, he touched his finger to the box and tasted the liquid. "A bottle of scotch?"
"His employees replied again, "No."
Finally the boss asked, "I give up. What is it?"
His workers responded, "A puppy."
2)     It's a hot day, and there's a traveling salesman passing through a small town in Texas when he sees a little old man sitting in a rocking chair on the porch of a house. So, he stops and says to the little old man, "You look as if you don't have a care in the world! What's your formula for a long and happy life?" And the little old man says, "Well, I smoke six packs of cigarettes a day, I drink a quart of bourbon every four hours and six cases of beer a week. I never wash, and I go out every night; I don't get to bed until four in the morning." And the guy says, "Wow, that's just great. How old are you?" And the little man says, "Twenty-two."
3)     A little boy was kneeling beside his bed with his mother and grandmother and softly saying his prayers, "Dear God, please bless Mummy and Daddy and all the family and please give me a good night's sleep." Suddenly he looked up and shouted, "And don't forget to give me a bicycle for my birthday!!" "There is no need to shout like that," said his mother. "God isn't deaf." "No," said the little boy, "but Grandma is."

Additional anecdotes: 
1) Pointing the way: Mother Teresa relates this incident from her life. Once a man came to the home for the dying in Kalighat, and just walked straight into the ward. Mother Teresa was sitting there. A while later the man came to Mother and said to her, “I came here with so much hate in my heart; hate for God and hate for man. I came here empty and embittered, and I saw a Sister giving her wholehearted attention to that patient there and realized that God still lives. Now I go out a different man. I believe there is a God and he loves us still.” That sister paved the way for God in that embittered man’s life. John the Baptist, as foretold by the prophet Isaiah was the voice that was making the way straight for the Lord. He facilitated the coming of Jesus. He paved the way for Christ’s coming by his austere life, preaching and death. (John Rose in John’s Sunday Homilies;   quoted by Fr. Botelho)
2) What’s in a name? William Shakespeare in his play Romeo and Juliet wrote, “What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.” Actually, in Biblical names there was often a rich meaning in the name. When the time came to circumcise this child, neighbors and relatives expected him to be named after his father, Zechariah. But his mother insisted, “No, he is to be called John.” “The name, “John,” in Hebrew is “Yehohanan.” It means “The Lord is gracious,” or maybe better, “The Lord shows favor.” The birthday of John Baptist relates to the birth of Jesus. The Church selected the time of the winter solstice to celebrate the birth of Jesus because from that time the days gradually grow longer; the amount of daylight increases. The Church selected the time of the summer solstice to celebrate the birth of the Baptist because from this time the days gradually grow shorter; the amount of daylight diminishes. This symbolizes the words of the Baptist in speaking of Jesus, “He must increase while I must decrease”
(Charles Miller in Sunday Preaching; quoted by Fr. Botelho) L/18
 ****
From Fr. Jude Botelho:

The prophet Isaiah was well aware of the specialness of his calling and vocation. “The Lord called me before I was born; while I was in my mother’s womb he named me. In the shadow of his hand he hid me.” He said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be gloried.” “I will give you as the light of the nations, that my salvation will reach the ends of the earth.”

“He will be called John”
In our culture, sometimes a name is not much more than the whim of our parents. But in many cultures, and in the Bible certainly, people were given names, which embodied their parents hope for their children. Names often served as prophecies about what a new life would mean for the whole nation. Because naming was such a crucial business, a person could be renamed if his or her life took a crucial turn. Names gave identity and belonging, as in our present use of first and last names. The idea that God gives someone a name in the womb, then, is a way of saying that God brings a life into being intentionally and with a purpose. When Elizabeth and Zachariah had a son, they named him John, as the angel had prompted them to. John means “God has shown favor” and the truth of the statement was revealed in the ministry of John. –Consider the meaning of your name, or perhaps the name under which you were confirmed. Has the meaning of your name been revealed in your life?
John Pichappilly in ‘Ignite Your Spirit’

Today’s gospel records the birth of John the Baptist told in great detail as it was a wondrous event. Neighbors and relatives rejoice at his birth and his father Zachariah’s speech is returned at his birth. The gospel says that they were going to call the child Zachariah after his father, but his mother said in reply, “No, He will be called John.” Elizabeth was a wise old woman. She knew that the baby that had come into being in her body at so late an age was given to her for a special purpose. Her husband had not been struck speechless all these months by accident. Nor had her young cousin Mary, visited her for no reason. God was doing something new here, in all this, something really rare. So she would not allow the relatives to name the baby after the father. He was not going to take his place in going to be like his father. This child was God’s child and God had some novel purpose for him that had yet to be revealed. Elizabeth refused to fetter the boy with the burden of his father’s identity, when he was destined to be something the world had not yet seen. Wise parents know that God gives them a child with a purpose. Wise parents know to bring them up as God’s children. Gathering as a believing community today reminds us that God is with us and that our lives have a purpose.

The new can be good
A film producer, notorious for his habit of belittling any suggestion from his co-workers was taken ill. No sooner had he left the set, an actor hung a sign which read: In case of fire, do not call the Fire Department. Just call our producer. He’ll put a wet blanket on it. No one can be expected to accept every new idea or suggestion which is offered him. Each of us should use his judgement each time some novel notion or solution to a problem is presented. But there is such a thing as developing the bad habit of resisting the new because it is new. If we are to change the world at all, we must recognize that the very idea of change implies something new. The fact that a method is old does not mean it is good; because it is new it is not necessarily bad. We ought to adapt changeless truths to our changing times.
J. Maurus in ‘Today is Ours’

The Home we need
Often the value of a thing is best seen in its absence. This is certainly true in the case of a family. Take the case of Johnny. There is something broken in Johnny –something in his mind or heart. He grew up in a large urban area. He was only seven when his father left. His mother did the best she could, but it wasn’t good enough. When at nine Johnny was sent to his granny’s place to make room at home he felt rejected. He was in trouble from the age of ten –fighting, shoplifting, and so on. At fourteen he was into housebreaking. Next it was into joy riding in stolen cars. Soon he was well known in the juvenile court. He was sent to a reform school for six months, but when he came out he went back to his old ways. Then he was sent to a lock-up center. Here he had a team of professionals looking after him, all experts in fixing up broken kids. There was a doctor, a nurse, a psychiatrist, a welfare officer, a housefather and mother, and so on. It cost the state a staggering 70,000 pounds annually to keep him there. Will all those experts succeed in fixing Johnny? It’s possible but far from certain. And just think of it. All those experts could be got rid off in the morning. Their work could be done, and done far more efficiently, by two people: a man and a woman. Not the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman either; just two very ordinary people –two parents. If Johnny had two parents who loved him and cared for him in the first place, he would never have got broken, and he would never have needed all those experts. The family is vital for our well-being as individuals and for the well-being of society as a whole. No family is perfect, but no better place for raising children has been devised.
Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday & Holy Day Liturgies’

Building God’s Kingdom
I remember an elderly priest saying, “To serve is hard work and often humbling – but being a servant of Christ is Joy.” We have to remember, we are not sampling mortar. We are building a Cathedral. We do not give time and money grudgingly; we are building the Body of Christ. We have been entrusted with a stewardship. It is good to have money and the things money can buy, but it is good to check up once in a while and make sure you haven’t lost the things money can’t buy. Opals are often dull and lusterless when first picked up. After a few moments in the hand they become bright and glowing with soft colors that make them so beautiful and appealing. They have been called ‘sympathetic jewels’ because of this response to the hand that holds them. The explanation for the change we are told is that opals are composed of sensor crystals. They need the warmth of the human touch for them to sparkle. Money as well, can be dull and without life or color. But suddenly it glows into warmth, quickened into new beauty and new vitality because it is shared with God’s ministry to others. God’s touch releases the brilliance, the glow, the luster, when we put our money and other resources in the hands of God.
John Pichappilly in ‘The Table of the Word’

You are graced by God’s presence!
The greatness of John the Baptist consisted in two very important facts. First, he was chosen by God to be the predecessor or forerunner of Jesus Christ. Second, his birth and the circumstances are nothing short of the most miraculous. His parents, Elizabeth and Zachariah, were well beyond child-bearing age. Nonetheless, Elizabeth did conceive and bore a son, so that all wondered what will this child grow to be. The ways of God are mysterious, but always marvellous. All of us are blessed when we are born into this world. We are further blessed by the way we are brought up by wonderful parents who not only give us life but help us to discover the fullness of life through faith. What we will become will be the unfolding of God’s present to us! Rejoice, the best is yet to come!
James V. ‘Your Words O Lord are Spirit, and They Are Life’


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THE WORD:
Today, sixth months before the celebration of the birth of Christ, the Church celebrates the birth John the Baptizer, the last great prophet and the immediate forerunner of the Messiah.
The Gospel readings for the vigil and day Masses are a near-continuous reading of Luke’s account of John’s birth: in Saturday evening’s Gospel, the elderly priest Zechariah cannot believe Gabriel’s news that he and his beloved Elizabeth will be blessed with a child and is struck silent until the birth of the child; when John is born, Zechariah’s faith and voice are restored when he writes down the name of the child, “John” (Sunday’s Gospel).
Luke’s Gospel begins and ends in the Temple at Jerusalem: from God’s holy place, with the news of John’s birth, God’s salvation will be brought to completion.
The two principal players in the story are Elizabeth and Zechariah.  The Gospel identifies Elizabeth as Mary’s elderly cousin and Zechariah, a temple priest, as Elizabeth’s husband.  For Luke, Zechariah and Elizabeth epitomize the remnant of Israel, the faithful of Judaism who await with expectation the dawning of the Messiah.
According to Luke’s account, Gabriel, before his visit to Mary with news of her motherhood, appears to Zechariah as he was performing his priestly duties in the sanctuary of the temple.  Gabriel tells Zechariah that God will give the elderly couple a son who will be the last great prophet of the coming of the Messiah.  In her greeting to her cousin Mary, Elizabeth greets the news with unbounded joy.  She possesses the depth of spirit to see God’s hand in all of this — and the courage and trust to welcome it. 
For Zechariah, however, none of this makes any sense. Ironically, he, the “professional religious” in the family, cannot see the hand of God in these events.  As a leader of the temple, Zechariah has seen it all.  While he is a man of faithfulness and goodness, he also possesses the cynicism that comes with age.  His understanding is limited by human considerations:  We’re too old for this to happen, he tells Gabriel.  Gabriel makes Zechariah speechless until “the days these things take place.”
 
When their son is born, Zechariah is asked for the name of their new son.  Zechariah writes on a tablet, “John is his name.”  Zechariah now understands what God has called the couple to do and accepts that role.  Zechariah’s speech returns and his first words are a beautiful canticle praising God’s goodness and prophesying the wonderful things that his son John would accomplish (the Benedictus hymn, which is omitted from Sunday’s reading). 
Throughout Luke’s gospel, the Holy Spirit is the agent of transformation and change – God is both the story and the storyteller.  Through the grace of the Spirit, John goes on to realize his role in the story: to prepare a “highway” for the Lord’s coming and to point out his presence in our midst.

HOMILY POINTS:
Today’s liturgy challenges us to recognize our call to be prophets of the Lord, to proclaim the presence of the Lamb of God in our midst.  Like John, we are called to the work of the prophet – “one who proclaims.”  By virtue of our baptisms, we are all called to be agents of integrity, illuminators of the light of truth in every arena, consciences of our homes, our schools, our workplaces. 
“Prophecy,” in the spirit of the Gospels and Scripture, is not about foretelling the future but realizing the Spirit of God moving in the events of our own time and place and pointing to that Spirit transforming our lives with the grace and peace of God.
Our own struggle with faith is reflected in the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah.  Whether we respond to God with the immediate joy of Elizabeth, or we struggle like Zechariah to make sense of it all, God continues with us and for us; God’s love remains in our midst until we are ready to embrace it.