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MONDAY HOMILY: The Sanctification of the Baptist

By Fr. Stephen B. Reynolds
6/24/2013 (4 years ago)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Observing the Baptist's nativity unites us - through the communion of saints - with countless other believers over space and time, who marvel at the wonders God has done. 

P>SUGAR LAND, TX (Catholic Online) - In the old imperial city of Constantinople, there were no less than fifteen churches dedicated to St. John the Baptist.  This fact testifies to the intense devotion accorded to this saint from the earliest Christian centuries.  Significantly, St. John is one of the few saints who have more than one feast day on the liturgical calendar, a witness of the important role the Baptist occupies in Christian piety.

Most saints are honored with only one feast day, normally the date of their death.  While the martyrdom of John the Baptist is remembered on August 29, today we commemorate his birth.  There are many fitting reasons for this double observance.

To begin with, John's birth is a sign of the imminent coming of the Messiah.  When Mary, pregnant with Jesus, enters the house of her cousin, we are told that Elizabeth's unborn child "leaped in her womb" (Luke 1:41).   Even at this early stage of his existence, John announces the arrival of the Messiah.

Furthermore, St. Augustine testifies that the Fathers of the Church regarded John's embryonic "stirring" as a sign that he was sanctified in the womb of his mother, even before his birth.  Having been thus freed from original sin, John's nativity was a moment far holier than the typical human birth.  He was already "filled with the Holy Spirit" (Luke 1:15).  It is natural and fitting that the Church honor and celebrate that moment.

Finally, the celebration of John' birth fulfills the words of the Angel Gabriel, who prophesied: "many will rejoice at his birth" (Luke 1:14).  Observing the Baptist's nativity unites us - through the communion of saints - with countless other believers over space and time, who marvel at the wonders God has done. 

In many parts of Europe, it was the custom to lights special fires on this day. Torches would line city streets, and bonfires would be lit on mountaintops, and along rivers and the seashore, in honor of St. John the Baptist.  In pre-Christian times, similar rites may have been observed to mark the beginning of the summer, and Christians may have "baptized" these customs and reoriented them.

Today, the "St. John's Fire" points to the vocation of the Baptist: to be a light illuminating the path to Christ.  They also echo John's words about Christ: "he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire" (Matthew 3:11). 

Even though we may not light visible fires, we can ask the Holy Spirit to ignite one within our hearts.  Through Baptism, Christ has sanctified our lives, not unlike the way he cleansed John in the womb.  Let us pray that we will always live in holiness and continually seek out the way that leads to Christ.

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Fr. Stephen B. Reynolds is the Pastor of St. Theresa Catholic Church in Sugar Land, Texas. You are invited to visit them on the Web at: www.SugarLandCatholic.com.

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