There are only three persons whose birthdays are celebrated liturgically by the Church: the Lord himself, Mother Mary and John the Baptist. This latter whom the Lord regards as the greatest among those born from a woman is also the first figure we meet in the season of Advent. He is the prophet not only of the coming of the Lord but of His presence. “There is among you one whom you don’t recognize, the one who is coming after me…” (Jn. 26-27). John the Baptist lived as one who points to the Lord both coming and hidden. In Advent we look in expectation to the Lord; in Ordinary Time (the numbered weeks of the liturgical year) we look to the Lord hidden in history (as the Word of God), in the neighbor (as the one who identifies Himself with the least) and in the Eucharist (His Real Presence among us).
John the Baptist lived to point to Him, the One Greater. The Church takes upon this prophetic identity of the Baptist when she herself points to Him from whom she owes her very being. Even the Apostle Paul adapted for himself the image of the Bridegroom’s friend (see 2 Cor. 11:2) that the evangelist John records the Baptist as saying: “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom; the best man who stands and listens for him rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made complete. He must increase; I must decrease.” (Jn. 3:29-30).
The Church takes on this prophetic role especially when she evangelizes, first, in witnessing to her faith, second, in explaining and defending “the ground of (her) hope” (1 Pet. 3:15) and thirdly, when she forms her children to become authentic witnesses in a life lived generously, in the defense of the faith and in helping one another grow in that faith.
Fr. Cantalamessa, in reflecting on the significance of the birth of the Baptist points to an aspect of the liturgy which tells a lot to a world where abortion has become a life-style:
We have a very reductive and juridical idea of the person that causes a lot of confusion in the debate over abortion. It seems that a child acquires the dignity of a person only when this is recognized by human authorities.
For the Bible the person is he who is known by God, he who God calls by name; and God, we are assured, knows us from our mother’s womb, his eyes saw us when we were still being fashioned in the womb.
Science tells us that in the embryo the whole human being who will be is becoming, projected in each tiny detail; to this our faith adds that what we have is not some unknown project of nature but a project of the creator’s love. St. John the Baptist’s mission is entirely traced out before his birth: “And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways.”
Related to the fate of babies is the recent pronouncement by the Theological Commission on the question of Limbo. It shouldn’t be a problem for Catholics that the theory of Limbo is now being discarded. After all, it was always regarded as a theologoumenon, a construct that allowed us to answer questions about the fate of babies who died unbaptized, and not a “doctrine” properly speaking. But this is an aside to which Cantalamessa provides some thoughts here.
Interesting is also the Bishop of Arlington’s reflections on the person of the Baptist. Heoutlines three ways by which the faithful can be counter-cultural: in life-style, in the values they hold and in the recognition of their own identity.
My thoughts go a bit more closer to one of the concerns in our parish, that of defending the faith from the encroachments of a do-it-yourself Christianity that pretends to be bible-based. There are many of these in the Philippines, bearing different names, always saying their faith is based on the bible, but who are divided among themselves and are united only by their animosity towards the Catholic faith. Many of our flock are misled by these groups who vie for the privilege of receiving their tithes. The fault is not theirs alone though; we must admit that even the shepherds have not been doing their share in defending the faith or in doing something that would make such a defense unnecessary. It is fortunate that there are groups like the Defensores Fidei who are willing to help parishes initiate programs that can enable the faithful to defend their faith just as Peter wants us to (cf. 1 Pet. 3:15)
More is needed, however… John Paul II once told visiting Filipino bishops that the creation of Basic Ecclesial Communities is a help against the encroachments of fundamentalists. In fact, this advise is becoming clearer to me every time I meet with our cell group to meditate on the Sunday Scriptures. In the past, I kept wondering why inspite of my appeals for relevant discussions on a gospel reading, some people still come up with questions that — to me, at least — sounded irrelevant to a given gospel theme. Now I realize that the “irrelevance” is due to concerns and questions that derive from my cell group members’ daily contacts with bible-only-Kristiyano-kuno fundamentalists.
The birth of St. John is a reminder that evangelization should enable one to recognize the voice and presence of the Hidden Lord. May John the Baptist guide our efforts in pointing our contemporaries to Christ speaking and acting in His Catholic Church.
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