Today is the Solemnity of the Birth of St. John the Baptist. A solemnity that falls on a Sunday usually replaces the Sunday. The only two persons whose birthdays are solemnities in the Church year are the Lord Jesus Christ and St. John the Baptist. (The birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary, September 8, is a feast—which is of lower liturgical rank than a solemnity— so her birthday drops out if it falls on a Sunday.)
The names of the Lord Jesus and of St. John the Baptist are the only ones revealed from heaven before their births.
The first person whom the Litany of the Saints invokes is the Blessed Virgin Mary, the second is St. Michael the Archangel, and the third is St. John the Baptist.
In Luke 7:28, Jesus says John the Baptist is the greatest man ever born on earth, but that it is greater to be the lowest born in the kingdom of God.
Here’s a look at the testimony of the Gospels concerning the surpassing greatness of St. John the Baptist, his ancestry, his mission, his message, his light, his joy, and his friendship with the Son of God. After the Gospel passages, I will offer a few remarks.
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In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a
PRIEST named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife of
THE DAUGHTERS OF AARON [the line of the High Priests
], and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both
RIGHTEOUS BEFORE GOD, walking
BLAMELESS IN ALL THE COMMANDMENTS AND ORDINANCES OF THE LORD. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.
But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer is heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name
JOHN [meaning, “God is gracious”
] And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth; for he will be
GREAT BEFORE THE LORD, and he shall drink no wine nor strong drink, and he will be
FILLED WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT, EVEN FROM HIS MOTHER'S WOMB. And he will
TURN MANY OF THE SONS OF ISRAEL TO THE LORD their God, and he will go before him in
THE SPIRIT AND POWER OF ELIJAH, to
TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS TO THE CHILDREN, AND THE DISOBEDIENT TO THE WISDOM OF THE JUST,
TO MAKE READY FOR THE LORD A PEOPLE PREPARED."
In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary,
THE BABE LEAPED IN HER WOMB; and Elizabeth was
FILLED WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears,
THE BABE IN MY WOMB LEAPED for
And his father Zechariah was
FILLED WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT, and prophesied, saying, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel.... And you, child, will be called the
PROPHET OF THE MOST HIGH; for you will
GO BEFORE THE LORD to
PREPARE HIS WAYS, to
GIVE KNOWLEDGE OF SALVATION to his people in
THE FORGIVENESS OF THEIR SINS, through
THE TENDER MERCY OF OUR GOD, when the day shall dawn upon us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” And the child grew and became
Strong In Spirit, and he was in the wilderness till the day of his manifestation to Israel.
John answered them,
“I BAPTIZE WITH WATER;
but among you stands one whom you do not
know, even he who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal
I AM NOT WORTHY to untie.” This took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where
JOHN WAS BAPTIZING.
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said,
“BEHOLD, THE LAMB OF GOD, WHO TAKES AWAY THE SIN OF THE WORLD!
This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, for he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but
FOR THIS I CAME BAPTIZING WITH WATER,
THAT HE MIGHT BE REVEALED TO ISRAEL.” And John bore
“I SAW THE SPIRIT descend as a dove from heaven, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him; but
HE WHO SENT ME TO BAPTIZE WITH WATER
said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne
WITNESS that this is the Son of God.” The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples; and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said,
“BEHOLD, THE LAMB OF GOD!”
Jesus said, “You sent to John, and
HE HAS BORNE WITNESS TO THE TRUTH. Not that the testimony which I receive is from man; but I say this that you may be saved. He was
A BURNING AND SHINING LAMP,
and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his
“What did you go out into the wilderness to behold? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are gorgeously appareled and live in luxury are in kings’ courts. What then did you go out to see? A
PROPHET? Yes, I tell you, and
MORE THAN A PROPHET. This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send
MY MESSENGER before thy face, who shall
PREPARE thy way before thee.’ I tell you, among those born of women
NONE IS GREATER THAN JOHN;
yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
John answered, “No one can receive anything except what is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but I have been
SENT before him.
He who has the bride is the bridegroom; the
FRIEND OF THE BRIDEGROOM, who
STANDS AND HEARS HIM,
REJOICES greatly at the bridegroom’s voice; therefore this
JOY of mine is now full. He must increase, but I must
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That last Gospel text is John’s testimony about himself. He describes the role of the bridegroom’s friend as that of waiting to hear the sound of the bridegroom’s arrival at the wedding. Up to that point the friend has been something of a “master of ceremonies”; but then, once the bridegroom arrives, the wedding can take place, and the friend can step into the background. John brought Israel, the Bride of God, to readiness for the wedding by calling Israel to repentance. Once Christ the Bridegroom arrived to “claim” his Bride, John’s mission was fulfilled. John could now “decrease”, as the Bridegroom now stepped to the fore.
Every man has a mission to “prepare” the way for the arrival of Christ the Bridegroom in his own life first of all. A man does this by calling himself to conversion. Every man is to be the friend of the Bridegroom such that the Bridegroom, Christ, increases in his own life.
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I have posted a homily for the occasion.