God Is Gracious

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Solemnity of the Birthday of St. John the Baptist 

Luke 1:57-66, 80

When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her, and they rejoiced with her. When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child, they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother said in reply, “No. He will be called John.” But they answered her, “There is no one among your relatives who has this name.” So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called. He asked for a tablet and wrote, “John is his name,” and all were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God. Then fear came upon all their neighbors, and all these matters were discussed throughout the hill country of Judea. All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, “What, then, will this child be?” For surely the hand of the Lord was with him. The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel. 

Opening Prayer: I come to you today wanting to hear your voice, but knowing that at times other voices seem to drown you out. I come to you wanting to follow where you lead me, but knowing that I am easily tempted to go down other paths. I come to you seeking true wisdom and courage, knowing full well that I often do foolish things and turn away from golden spiritual opportunities. I am a bundle of contradictions. I place myself in your presence and humbly ask you, Lord, to teach me and heal me. You promised that everyone who searches will find; I am searching, Lord, please help me to find in you all that I am looking for. 

Encountering Christ:

  1. The Precursor: St. John the Baptist was the precursor to Jesus, the one sent to prepare the way for Jesus. He bridges the Old Testament and the New Testament. He is in a sense the fulfillment of the long tradition of patriarchs and prophets, and in another sense the first evangelist. His conception was announced miraculously to Zechariah in the Temple, and signs and wonders accompanied his birth in today’s Gospel. Zechariah was struck dumb when he doubted the angel’s message nine months earlier, but now he shows his repentance and renewed faith by freely choosing the prophesied name for his son–John–contrary to all custom and propriety. Why so much attention on the precursor, the one who would prepare the way for Jesus? It’s because God really wants us to recognize and accept Jesus Christ in our lives. At the time of the incarnation, he sent John the Baptist to open the hearts and minds of the Jewish people so that they would have a better chance of accepting Jesus. God still does this in our lives. He prepares us to receive the graces he wants us to experience. He is still the Lord of history, and that means he is the Lord of our own personal histories. Everything he does or permits in our lives has one goal: to bring us closer to Christ, and thus closer to the fullness of life that we yearn for. Who or what are the John the Baptists in my life? What are they saying to me? How am I responding?
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  3. The Fruits of Courage: Elizabeth and Zechariah had to go against custom, risking the misunderstanding of their relatives and neighbors, in order to be faithful to what God was asking of them. The angel had told Zechariah that the promised child should be named John— which means “God is gracious.” But Jewish custom and tradition required parents to name their children according to names already present in the family tree (naming them after the father or mother, the grandfather or grandmother, or some other worthy relative). At the time of Christ, Jewish social customs and traditions were especially important, because their country was being occupied by a foreign invader, the Romans. Preserving their cultural identity depended upon preserving their customs. Contradicting this custom, therefore, meant taking a major social risk for Zechariah and Elizabeth; it meant exposing themselves to possible isolation, stigma, and rejection. But in this case they knew for certain what God was asking them. Together, they acted courageously and obeyed the Lord’s will. And the result was magnificent: healing for Zechariah and spiritual enlightenment for the people of Israel. We are often faced with the same predicament. God often invites us, through his commandments, through Church teaching, or simply through insistent inspirations given to us in the quiet of our hearts and prudently confirmed by good advice, to go against other people’s expectations. When we are faced with those challenges, we can ask St. Elizabeth and St. Zechariah to pray for us to find the courage they found, so as to enjoy in our lives the magnificent fruits of courageous obedience they experienced in theirs.
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  5. John the Baptist and Me: The history of Christian spirituality sees in St. John the Baptist, whose birthday is commemorated in today’s liturgy, a model for each one of us. He announced Christ’s coming, pointed out Christ to those who didn’t know or recognize him, and explained the meaning of Christ’s identity and mission to those who didn’t understand. In art, he is most often depicted pointing away from himself toward Jesus. This is, in a sense, every Christian’s mission. Each one of us was, like John the Baptist, created directly by God and given a unique personality and genius. Then, when we were baptized, we were made partners with Christ in making his Kingdom present in this world, in spreading the Gospel to our little corner of the globe. We do this with our words, but also with the example of our lives and the deeds and works we perform. All that we are and all that we do can be, in a sense, a pointing toward Christ, a unique revelation of God’s goodness and love, an invitation to follow Jesus’s path to a more abundant life (cf. John 10:10). And the amazing thing is, the more we live our lives aware of and faithful to this calling, the more we ourselves will experience that very abundance of life. 

 

Conversing with Christ: Thank you, Lord, for gently but surely guiding the history of humanity according to your plan of salvation. Thank you for sending John the Baptist and involving him in the work of redemption. Thank you for choosing me to carry the torch of the Christian faith and pass it on to others. You know my name—in fact, you gave me my deepest identity, just as you did with John the Baptist. Please help me to live each day keenly aware of who I am in your eyes, and eager to carry out my unique life-mission through you, with you, and in you. 

Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will reach out to someone who needs encouragement and somehow remind them that they are not alone and that you have a wonderful dream for their lives. 

For Further Reflection: Spiritual Smoothie: You Are Called to Be an Apostle. 

Written by Fr. John Bartunek, LC.

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