St John the Baptist‘s prophetic way
Homily for the Solemnity of the Birth of St John the Baptist
About two weeks ago, I received a phone call from a certain oncologist from Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne. She was looking for a priest to baptize a dying baby. Before ringing our parish, she had apparently rang two other presbyteries in Melbourne, looking for priests, only to be turned down, only to be told to do the baptism herself for it is allowable in the case of emergency and urgent situation. But according to her the family really wanted a priest to do the baptism, so she tried to get hold of any priest that Monday (usually this day is priests’ day off). Anyhow she rang here and asked me if I know of any priest in Melbourne that she can contact to come and baptise. I gave her the phone number of the seminary and assuring her that one of the Seminary formators would really not hesitate to come since the Hospital is located just few blocks away from the Seminary.
I haven’t heard of her since then. I don’t know if she really did find a priest at last. I don’t know if the baby was baptised. All I can say for now is that this Oncologist is acting out her prophetic role very well.
She served as the mediator for the family and the need of the baby to be baptised. She tried all possible ways she can so as to find a priest to attend to that urgent need of the family. In a way, she did her best to bring God’s love, care and compassion to those people who are in need of Him. In her own way, she was proclaiming God’s love and caring hands for the needy, in this case the dying baby. What she has done was to show us all that whoever we are, whatever we are doing, God can always and quite surprisingly or unexpectedly at times, make use of us as instruments of his love and of his message of salvation. No matter how insignificant we might think we are, God can always draw out the prophets in us – that prophetic role that we have shared with Christ when we were baptized.
I’m telling you this wonderful story because today the Universal Church is celebrating the solemnity of the birth of the greatest and the last of the prophets. Today we celebrate with joy the nativity of St John the Baptist. We celebrate his birth as a solemnity (as one of the three birthdays we celebrate in the Universal Church (Our Lord’s [Christmas]; Our Lady’s [September 8] and today’s) because of the great role that John the Baptist played for our salvation.
He prepared the way of our Lord. He served as the herald of the coming of the Messiah. He served as the pre-cursor of Jesus Christ, who even still in the womb of his mother, showed such joy and excitement when Mary, the mother of Jesus ) called in to visit his mother Elizabeth (Lk 1:41). He served as the greatest prophet of all time.
As a prophet, John was faithful in proclaiming the message he is called to do. His mission is to proclaim the message of repentance and to be baptized so as to prepare all for the coming of the Saviour (Lk 3:1-20). He lived out his name which means ‘God is gracious’ or ‘God has shown favour’, by being a concrete witness to Christ the messiah. He could have easily persuaded his followers to believe he is the messiah, if he chose to, since in his time, the messianic expectation was still very high and was the hope of many. Yet, he didn’t give in to the temptation. ‘I am not the one you imagine me to be’, he said, as recalled by St Paul in our Second Reading today. Then he continued: ‘That one (Jesus Christ) is coming after me and I am not fit to undo his sandal.’ In his preaching as a prophet, John had no pretensions. He points Jesus to others. ‘Look here is the lamb of God’ (Jn 1:36) he said to his own disciples who immediately left him and followed Jesus. As a prophet he makes others realize the real presence of God among them. Such was his great role as the prophet.
By virtue of our baptism we are also called to be sharers of the prophetic role of Christ as John the Baptist did. And we can learn many things from John as to how he faithfully carried out his unique mission from God. I would label this 3 H’s.
The first H stands for holiness. John lived out a holy life, by living simply and quite contented with what he had and what he can do.
The second H stands for humility. He knows who he really is and he accepts it. When he was mistaken to be the messiah, he didn’t play along with the people’s wrong perception. ‘I am not he as you imagine me to be.’
The third H stands for his heartfelt dedication to carry out his mission. One commentator said that in his proclamation, John was ‘fearless in denouncing evil and a thorn in the flesh of those who did not want to face the truth in their lives. For those in search of God, John’s greatest desire was to point them towards Jesus. He was very clear in fulfilling his role of being a voice crying in the wilderness preparing a way for the Lord, and making straight his paths. His whole life was absorbed in being a fearless speaker for God and a supporting character to Jesus.’ [D. Knowles].
So as we continue our celebration and reflection on the great role of John the Baptist for the coming of our Saviour and for our salvation, let’s review our baptismal character as a prophet. Are we doing our prophetic role by striving to live a holy life (as God is Holy), by living out our lives in humility and by carrying out our mission of bringing people to Jesus heartily?
Let this be our prayer and our reflection for today.