24 June 2009

Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

Saint John the Baptist, watercolor by Theophanis Strelitzas (1545-46)

24 JUNE 2009. Today is the Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist. While the feast day of most saints is celebrated on the date of the saint's death, Saint John the Baptist and the Virgin Mary, Our Mother, get an additional day in celebration of their earthly births.

Saint John the Baptist was the last and greatest prophet, sent by God the Father to herald the coming of Christ the Messiah. In the eastern Catholic rites, Saint John the Baptist is referred to as Saint John the Forerunner, depicting the role of John in salvation history.

You might notice that the Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist occurs six months before Christmas (December 25) and three months after the Annunciation on March 25. The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist was first celebrated as a part of the Church's calendar in the region of Agde (in Southern France) and was listed as a celebration of the Church by the Council of Agde in 506.

Following the Archangel Gabriel's visit to Mary (the Annunciation), Mary traveled to visit Elizabeth, who was six months pregnant with Saint John the Baptist (Luke 1:36). At the sound of Mary's greeting, the baby lept in Elizabeth's womb (Luke 1:41-42)--the first prophecy of Saint John the Baptist which is commemorated, in part, in the Angelic Salutation:

Hail Mary, full of grace,
blessed art though amongst women,

and blessed is the fruit of thy womb,

Holy Mary, mother of God,

pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death.


My thoughts of Mary's visit with Elizabeth and Elizabeth's greeting always turn warmly to the joy with which Elizabeth and her unborn Child greeted Mary and Our Savior. The joy of Elizabeth is evident in her words:
When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit,cried out in a loud voice and said, "Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
(Luke 41-43) The joy of Saint John the Baptist, however, is evident only in his action--leaping in his mother's womb at the greeting of Our Holy Mother and the Messiah. Where John is silent, he still speaks of the joy of the presence of Christ in his actions.

May we too pray to live--to act--with the same joy for the presence of Christ in our lives that was modeled for us by Saint John the Baptist!

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