23 Dec – Memorial of Saint John of Kanty, Priest
Polish country lad. Brilliant student at the University of Cracow, Poland. Priest. Professor of theology at University of Cracow.
Falsely accused and ousted by university rivals, at age 41 he was assigned as parish priest at Olkusz, Bohemia. He took his position seriously, and was terrified of the responsibility, but did his best. For a long time that wasn’t enough for his parishioners, but in the end he won their hearts. After several years in his parish, he returned to Cracow and taught Scripture the rest of his life.
John was a serious, humble man, generous to a fault with the poor, sleeping little, eating no meat and little of anything else. Pilgrim to Jerusalem, hoping to be martyred by Turks. He made four pilgrimages to Rome, carrying his luggage on his back. When warned to look after his health, he pointed out that the early desert fathers lived long lives in conditions that had nothing to recommend them but the presence of God.
At the time of his death, John was so well loved that his veneration began immediately. For years his doctoral gown was worn by graduates receiving advanced degrees at the University of Cracow. He was declared patron of Poland and Lithuania in 1737 by Pope Clement XII, thirty years before his final canonization.
– The Patron Saint Index
The Lord God says this: Look, I am going to send my messenger to prepare a way before me. And the Lord you are seeking will suddenly enter his Temple; and the angel of the covenant whom you are longing for, yes, he is coming, says the Lord of Hosts. Who will be able to resist the day of his coming? Who will remain standing when he appears? For he is like the refiner’s fire and the fullers’ alkali. He will take his seat as refiner and purifier; he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and then they will make the offering to the Lord as it should be made. The offering of Judah and Jerusalem will then be welcomed by the Lord as in former days, as in the years of old.
Know that I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before my day comes, that great and terrible day. He shall turn the hearts of fathers towards their children and the hearts of children towards their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a curse.
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.
I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me
Christmas is a big event in Singapore. Orchard Road, the main shopping district, gets strung up with lights a month before, and shopping malls compete to see who has the best Christmas decorations. I was out at a mall in Orchard Road today and it was packed with last-minute shoppers. As I was waiting in line I couldn’t help but observe my fellow shoppers wandering around looking for that “perfect” gift. One husband, tired of shopping, remarked to his wife that he didn’t like the idea of aimlessly looking for something without knowing what he was looking for. Another shopper asked her boyfriend if he really wanted to get a present for so-and-so. Others were impatiently tapping their feet waiting for their presents to be wrapped at the gift wrapping counter. Despite the Christmas decorations and carols playing over the speakers, it did not feel like Christmas at all.
Too often have we been caught up in the consumerism that comes with the Christmas season. Do we even know or remember why we are celebrating Christmas? When we put up our tree and purchase our gifts, who are we putting it up for? The meaning of “advent” is the arrival of a notable person or thing. The period of advent is to prepare ourselves to receive Christ. What are we preparing for when we get hassled with all our shopping or indulge in the often excesses of our office Christmas parties?
John the Baptist’s role was to prepare for the coming of Christ. This he did by preaching to the people of the coming of our saviour. He warned them of judgment day and called them to repent, baptizing those who did. He set things in motion, ready for when Jesus was to come to tend to his people. A modern-day illustration would be something like the backstage production crew that prepares everything ready before the main show. However, there were no lights or cameras for John the Baptist. His preparations were a call to the people to renounce their sinful ways of life and to have instead a faithful and contrite heart. He put the fear of God in the people, and they sought forgiveness for their sins. This was how he heralded the coming of Christ.
What about us then? How are we preparing our hearts to receive Christ? As we go about with our final preparations for Christmas, let us stop for a moment and reflect on how and what we are doing to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ. Let us not forget what Christmas really means – “Christ’s Mass” – the birth and arrival of Jesus our Saviour, and follow John the Baptist’s call to “produce now the fruits of a true change of heart” (Luke 3:8).
(Today’s OXYGEN by Annette Soo)
Prayer: Lord, we pray that we do not get lost in the consumerism of Christmas. Help us to understand and recall the true meaning of Christmas and do what we need to do to prepare for the coming of Christ.
Thanksgiving: Lord, we give thanks for the message of John the Baptist who preached repentance and a conversion of heart. Help us to realize this message in our own lives and in our own ways.