This past Wednesday, June 24, was the feast of the “Nativity of Saint John the Baptist”. That we celebrate his birth may seem surprising or obscure or irrelevant. Upon closure pondering, however, we realize that we witness the gratuitous loving action of God. John was called—completely unaware, of course!—and filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb. Wait a minute: Jesus had not yet come, and does not Jesus, along with the Father, give the Holy Spirit?!? Well, God gives freely and unconditionally and with generosity beyond measure.
I share with you with a meditation full of awe for this feast day from the early Church, by Saint Maximus of Turin († 5th century), the first Bishop of Turin, Italy, and an outstanding biblical scholar and preacher.
The Wonders of Saint John the Baptist
In praise of the holy and most blessed John the Baptist, whose birthday we celebrate today, I do not know what is the most important thing that we should preach—that he was wonderfully born or more wonderfully slain. For he was born as a prophecy and murdered for truth; by his birth he announced the coming of the Savior and by his death he condemned the incest of Herod. For this holy and righteous man, who was born in an uncommon way as the result of a promise, merited from God that he should depart this world by an uncommon death, that he should lay aside his body, which he had received as a gift from the Lord, by confessing the Lord. Therefore John did everything by the will of God, since he was born and died for the sake of God’s work….
This too seems unworthy to pass over in silence in praise of John—that, not yet born, already he prophesies and, while still in the enclosure of his mother’s womb, confesses the coming of Christ with movements of joy since he could not do so with his voice. For Elizabeth says to holy Mary: As soon as you greeted me, the child in my womb exulted for joy. John exults, then, before he is born, and before his eyes can see what the world looks like he can recognize the Lord of the world with his spirit. In this regard I think that the prophetic phrase is apropos which says: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you came forth from the womb I sanctified you. Thus we ought not to marvel that, after he was put in prison by Herod, from his confinement he continued to announce Christ to his disciples, when even confined in the womb he preached the same Lord by his movements.
The Rev. Charles Hoffacker is a retired priest of the Diocese of Washington