Wednesday, June 24, 2009

JUNE 24 (23) Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist - Vigil

“Holy Family with St Elizabeth,
the Young St John the Baptist
and an Angel”,
by Orazio Borgianni,1609
Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

- Vigil

Mass during the day

Readings for the Vigil of the Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist [1][2]

Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Readings and Commentary:

Reading 1:
Jeremiah 1:4-10

In the days of King Josiah, the word of the LORD came to me, saying:

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I dedicated you,
a prophet to the nations I appointed you.

"Ah, Lord GOD!" I said,
"I know not how to speak; I am too young."
But the LORD answered me,
Say not, "I am too young."
To whomever I send you, you shall go;
whatever I command you, you shall speak.
Have no fear before them,
because I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.

Then the LORD extended his hand and touched my mouth, saying,

See, I place my words in your mouth!
This day I set you
over nations and over kingdoms,
to root up and to tear down,
to destroy and to demolish,
to build and to plant.
Commentary on
Jer 1:4-10

This is the beginning of the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah. It is clear that the author sees the call of the prophet from before his birth (see Isaiah 49:1, 5Luke 1:15Galatians 1:1516. I knew you: I loved you and chose you. I dedicated you: I set you apart to be a prophet.)

In spite of protesting that he was not yet of age (he was less than thirty years old), God tells him that he (the Lord) will overcome all obstacles (“To whomever I send you, you shall go; whatever I command you, you shall speak. Have no fear before them, because I am with you to deliver you”). The passage culminates with a formal statement of his prophetic mission to tear down (those who follow false paths) and to build and plant (uphold the Kingdom of God).

CCC: Jer 1:5 2270; Jer 1:6 2584
Responsorial Psalm:
Psalm 71:1-2, 3-4a, 5-6ab, 15ab and 17

R. (6) Since my mother's womb, you have been my strength.

In you, O LORD, I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame.
In your justice rescue me, and deliver me;
incline your ear to me, and save me.
R. Since my mother's womb, you have been my strength.

Be my rock of refuge,
a stronghold to give me safety,
for you are my rock and my fortress.
O my God, rescue me from the hand of the wicked.
R. Since my mother's womb, you have been my strength.

For you are my hope, O Lord;
my trust, O LORD, from my youth.
On you I depend from birth;
from my mother's womb you are my strength.
R. Since my mother's womb, you have been my strength.

My mouth shall declare your justice,
day by day your salvation.
O God, you have taught me from my youth,
and till the present I proclaim your wondrous deeds.
R. Since my mother's womb, you have been my strength.
Commentary on
Ps 71:1-2, 3-4a, 5-6ab, 15ab and 17

Psalm 71 is an individual lament. In this section we hear a profession of faith in the saving power of God.  In the third strophe we also find a reference to the “Servant of the Lord” in Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19) and Isaiah (Isaiah 49:1). In both cases the servant is known by God and prepared for his service from the womb.

Reading II:
1 Peter 1:8-12

Although you have not seen Jesus Christ you love him;
even though you do not see him now yet believe in him,
you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy,
as you attain the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Concerning this salvation,
prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours
searched and investigated it,
investigating the time and circumstances
that the Spirit of Christ within them indicated
when he testified in advance
to the sufferings destined for Christ
and the glories to follow them.
It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you
with regard to the things that have now been announced to you
by those who preached the Good News to you
through the Holy Spirit sent from heaven,
things into which angels longed to look.
Commentary on
1 Pt 1:8-12

St. Peter writes to early churches (this letter is thought to have been composed while St. Peter was in Rome and published to them between 64 and 67 AD shortly before his martyrdom at the hands of Nero). This passage is the beginning of the first section of his letter dealing primarily with the gift and call of Christ in Baptism.

In this selection the idea is presented that the salvation of Christ was predicted by the prophets who came as forerunners to the Savior announcing that gift. This announcement was made for the benefit of the people they came to serve, not the prophets themselves.

CCC: 1 Pt 1:3-9 2627;1 Pt 1:10-12 719
Luke 1:5-17

In the days of Herod, King of Judea,
there was a priest named Zechariah
of the priestly division of Abijah;
his wife was from the daughters of Aaron,
and her name was Elizabeth.
Both were righteous in the eyes of God,
observing all the commandments
and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly.
But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren
and both were advanced in years.
Once when he was serving
as priest in his division's turn before God,
according to the practice of the priestly service,
he was chosen by lot
to enter the sanctuary of the Lord to burn incense.
Then, when the whole assembly of the people was praying outside
at the hour of the incense offering,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him,
standing at the right of the altar of incense.
Zechariah was troubled by what he saw, and fear came upon him.
But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah,
because your prayer has been heard.
Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son,
and you shall name him John.
And you will have joy and gladness,
and many will rejoice at his birth,
for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.
John will drink neither wine nor strong drink.
He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother's womb,
and he will turn many of the children of Israel
to the Lord their God.
He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah
to turn their hearts toward their children
and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous,
to prepare a people fit for the Lord."
Commentary on Lk 1:5-17

The Gospel from St. Luke today gives us the story of Zechariah receiving the news that he is to have a son with his wife Elizabeth. It is clear that this story bears much in common with the story we heard in Judges about the conception of Sampson. Elizabeth was also barren; both conceptions were announced by angels, although in the case of Zechariah, the angel was one of the three named archangels, Gabriel. Both children were dedicated to God from the womb but St. John the Baptist, whose tale this is, was given a specific task and labeled from the womb as a great prophet; “He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah.

CCC: Lk 1:11 332; Lk 1:15-19 724; Lk 1:15 717; Lk 1:17 523, 696, 716, 718, 2684

We wonder, out loud, as we prepare for his nativity, if John the Baptist understood his role in our salvation. He was, after all the pathfinder, the one who paved the way for the Lord. He was to be like Elijah, whose return was to announce the Messiah. His life so closely paralleled that of Jesus that it is remarkable more people did not mistake him for the Messiah.

From before his birth he knew Jesus. Although no scripture records it, we can easily speculate that these cousins knew each other growing up. I mean if Elizabeth and Mary were as close as scripture implies, they must have spent time together, and their sons must have been together from time to time as they grew. Although, given that Joseph took Jesus to Egypt right after he was born for a period of time, they were probably not best friends early on.

But did John know? Did he suspect that his cousin, Jesus, was the one before they met at the Jordan that day Jesus went into the water? We will never know for sure. We do know that, after Jesus began his public ministry, John sent his own disciples after Jesus. And that Jesus and John had parallel ministries, although John was focused on repentance, while Jesus went much further with forgiveness.

But John was the voice. He was the one who cried out in the wilderness, that the Kingdom of God was at hand. It was he who publicly announced the messiah. It was he who prefigured Christ, even in death. It is truly good that we celebrate his birth on this day.

And were does that birth take us? We recall the events leading up to John's birth, how his father, Zechariah, a priest, was caused to be mute by the angel Gabriel for not believing, until the day of St. John’s birth and naming. We hear the words of his profession each morning, as those who pray the Liturgy of the Hours unite with him in praising God. While his prayer is omitted in today’s Gospel, we feel Zechariah's faith as he names his son John. We remember the life his son was to follow, one of obedience that led to his outspoken proclamation of Christ’s coming.

His example shines for us. Perhaps we are not able to be so bold as he was. Perhaps we cannot go out and call to those who have turned their backs to “Repent” and return to the Lord. But we are given his example to guide us as well as that of Jesus to whom we aspire. Let us be strengthened by the same Holy Spirit that filled him and, by our words and actions, be another voice, today, crying out in the wilderness.


[1] S.S. Commemoratio
[2] The picture is “Holy Family with St Elizabeth, the Young St John the Baptist and an Angel”, by Orazio Borgianni,1609
[3] The readings are taken from the New American Bible with the exception of the Psalm and its response which were developed by the International Committee for English in Liturgy (ICEL).  This re-publication is not authorized by USCCB and is for private use only.

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