June 22, 2012

Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionA very noticeable difference occurs in the Church’s liturgy between the custom in 1900 and now. Then, quite often, the Mass celebrated on Sunday would be that for the feast day of a given saint.

For instance, if the feast of St. Irenaeus, celebrated on June 28, happened to fall on Sunday, the Mass for Sunday would be in memory of St. Irenaeus.

Gradually, and by papal direction, this practice was changed. The liturgy for a Sunday, such as the Fifth Sunday of Easter or the Second Sunday of Advent, began to take priority over feast days—or most feast days.

As a result, today if a Sunday liturgy celebrates the feast of a saint, the Church is very interested in teaching the faithful about this saint.

Such is the case this weekend. Instead of celebrating the Twelfth Sunday of Ordinary Time, the Church turns its attention and directs our prayers to the feast of the Nativity, or birth, of St. John the Baptist.

Christians always have seen John the Baptist, a cousin of the Lord, as particularly important in the unfolding of salvation in Christ.

In the first reading, the Book of Isaiah fairly soars in its expectation and joy, calling the weary, beleaguered remnant of God’s people to be of strong heart.

God will rescue them, it emphasizes.

For the second reading, the Church presents a lesson from the Acts of the Apostles.

St. Paul tells his audience that God always has intended that humans possess eternal life, that Jesus made this life available, and that John the Baptist boldly gave the criteria by which eternal life could be realized. John called for the rejection of sin.

St. Luke’s Gospel—the source for so much detail about the conception, birth and childhood of the Lord—supplies the final reading.

It is about the birth of John the Baptist, the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth.

A noteworthy moment is when Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, loses his ability to speak. It is not a cruel act of a harsh god. Instead, it reveals that John the Baptist has been created by God, as he will be sent by God, for in that time and place salvation will come in the person of Jesus.

This special role of John the Baptist, and of its origin even in his conception and birth, is emphasized in the fact that God names him.

Naming of persons, as of things, for the ancient Jews had a proprietary quality. Parents observe this custom when they name their children, one of the most cherished privileges of parenthood.

John the Baptist belonged to God.

In turn, this aspect of John the Baptist’s life and mission reflects the fact that God wills that people be saved. He wills that they have eternal life. God sent John to preach to the people as his disciple.

Of course, we may circumvent, or negate altogether, God’s will for us.


The Church offers John the Baptist as the great model of discipleship, as a figure, human in every respect as are we, who fully understood the purpose of life—namely to be with God—and who devoted everything in his life, and finally his life itself, to this purpose.

Nothing is more important than to be with God and to be true to God. The eloquent verses from Isaiah stress this fact for us.

The readings also remind us that God wills that we experience eternal life. He never impedes us in our way to salvation. The exact opposite is true. He even gave us Jesus, the Son of God, as our Savior.

The choice remains with us, Paul would insist. We must accept the fact that eternal life is everything. We must want to be with God. †

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