24 Jun – Solmenity of the Nativity of St John the Baptist (Mass of the Day)
John the Baptist (d.30) was the cousin of Jesus Christ. His father, Zachary, was a priest of the order of Abia whose job in the Temple was to burn incense; and of Elizabeth, a descendant of Aaron. As Zachary was ministering in the Temple, an angel brought him news that Elizabeth would bear a child filled with the Holy Spirit from the moment of his birth. Zachary doubted and was struck dumb until John’s birth.
John began his ministry as prophet around age 27, wearing a leather belt and a tunic of camel hair, living off locusts and wild honey, and preaching a message of repentance to the people of Jerusalem. He converted many, and prepared the way for the coming of Jesus. After baptizing Christ, he told his disciples to follow Jesus.
Imprisoned by King Herod, John the Baptist died a victim of the vengeance of a jealous woman; he was beheaded, and his head brought to her on a platter. St. Jerome says Herodias kept the head for a long time after, occasionally stabbing the tongue with her dagger because of what John had said in life.
– Patron Saint Index
Islands, listen to me,
pay attention, remotest peoples.
The Lord called me before I was born,
from my mother’s womb he pronounced my name.
He made my mouth a sharp sword,
and hid me in the shadow of his hand.
He made me into a sharpened arrow,
and concealed me in his quiver.
He said to me, ‘You are my servant (Israel)
in whom I shall be glorified’;
while I was thinking, ‘I have toiled in vain,
I have exhausted myself for nothing’;
and all the while my cause was with the Lord,
my reward with my God.
I was honoured in the eyes of the Lord,
my God was my strength.
And now the Lord has spoken,
he who formed me in the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him,
to gather Israel to him:
‘It is not enough for you to be my servant,
to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back the survivors of Israel;
I will make you the light of the nations
so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.’
Acts of the Apostles 13:22-26
Paul said: ‘God deposed Saul and made David their king, of whom he approved in these words, “I have selected David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart, who will carry out my whole purpose.” To keep his promise, God has raised up for Israel one of David’s descendants, Jesus, as Saviour, whose coming was heralded by John when he proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the whole people of Israel. Before John ended his career he said, “I am not the one you imagine me to be; that one is coming after me and I am not fit to undo his sandal.”
‘My brothers, sons of Abraham’s race, and all you who fear God, this message of salvation is meant for you.’
The time came for Elizabeth to have her child, and she gave birth to a son; and when her neighbours and relations heard that the Lord had shown her so great a kindness, they shared her joy.
Now on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother spoke up. ‘No,’ she said ‘he is to be called John.’ They said to her, ‘But no one in your family has that name’, and made signs to his father to find out what he wanted him called. The father asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And they were all astonished. At that instant his power of speech returned and he spoke and praised God. All their neighbours were filled with awe and the whole affair was talked about throughout the hill country of Judaea. All those who heard of it treasured it in their hearts. ‘What will this child turn out to be?’ they wondered. And indeed the hand of the Lord was with him.
Meanwhile the child grew up and his spirit matured. And he lived out in the wilderness until the day he appeared openly to Israel.
The Lord called me before I was born
Lately, I found myself watching yet another rerun of the movie I-Robot on television. Instead of being bored at the repetition, I was pleasantly surprised to gain some interesting insights about God from the show. I had always found the character of Sonny very moving. His creator made him unique, different from the rest of the robot clones. He knew he was different, but his creator did not tell him why he made him that way. He gets some clues about his purpose as the plot progresses, and the movie ends with a scene that seems to call him to a much larger purpose than he imagined.
John was the last in a long line of prophets who prepared God’s people for the coming of Jesus as Saviour. His purpose was decided even before he was formed in his mother’s womb, and while he was there, he was already witnessing to the glory of God by leaping with joy at Mary’s greeting to Elizabeth. In a way, his entire life, from birth to death, was spent paving the way for Jesus. He was truly a servant of the Lord.
In a way, I think John was fortunate, in that it was clear that he was to herald the coming of Christ. He probably did not need to think very hard about his purpose in life. For the vast majority of us, though we may be aware of the fact that we are unique creations of God, it remains a challenging, life-long task to discern our true purpose. Many priests and religious have written books and given retreats to guide people on the discernment journey. I have yet to seriously carry out that discernment, but for now, the acceptance of the fact that God made me for a purpose is motivating me to live life to the best of my abilities.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)
Prayer: Dear Lord, we pray for the wisdom to discern our role in building your kingdom here on earth.
Thanksgiving: Dear Lord, we thank you for creating us with love.
Sat, 25 Jun – Genesis 18:1-5; Matthew 8:5-17; World Refugee Day
Sun, 26 Jun – Genesis 14:18-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Luke 9:11-17; Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of the Lord (Corpus Christi)