Preacher’s Sketchbook: The Nativity of St John the Baptist

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Nativity of John the Baptist
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Each week, a Dominican member of the Provincial Preaching Advisory board prepares this Preacher’s Sketchbook in anticipation of the upcoming Sunday Mass. The idea of the Preacher’s Sketchbook is to take quotations from the authority of the Church–the Pope, the Fathers of the Church, documents of the Councils, the saints–that can help spark ideas for the Sunday homily. Just as an artist’s sketchbook preserves ideas for later elaboration, so we hope the Preacher’s Sketchbook will provide some ideas for homiletical elaboration.

Sketchbook

Catechism of the Catholic Church, 717-720

“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.” John was “filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb” by Christ himself, whom the Virgin Mary had just conceived by the Holy Spirit. Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth thus became a visit from God to his people.

John is “Elijah (who) must come.” The fire of the Spirit dwells in him and makes him the forerunner of the coming Lord. In John, the precursor, the Holy Spirit completes the work of “[making] ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

John the Baptist is “more than a prophet.” In him, the Holy Spirit concludes his speaking through the prophets. John completes the cycle of prophets begun by Elijah. He proclaims the imminence of the consolation of Israel; he is the “voice” of the Consoler who is coming. As the Spirit of truth will also do, John “came to bear witness to the light.” In John’s sight, the Spirit thus brings to completion the careful search of the prophets and fulfills the longing of the angels. “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. and I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God…. Behold, the Lamb of God.”

Finally, with John the Baptist, the Holy Spirit begins the restoration to man of “the divine likeness,” prefiguring what he would achieve with and in Christ. John’s baptism was for repentance; baptism in water and the Spirit will be a new birth.

Bl. Pope John Paul II, Homily from Kiev, June 24, 2001

Look today to John the Baptist, an enduring model of fidelity to God and his Law. John prepared the way for Christ by the testimony of his word and his life. Imitate him with docile and trusting generosity.  Saint John the Baptist is above all a model of faith. Following the example of the great Prophet Elijah, in order to listen more attentively to the word of the one Lord of his life, he leaves everything and withdraws to the desert, from which he would issue the resounding call to prepare the way of the Lord (cf. Mt Mt 3,3 and parallels).

He is a model of humility, because to those who saw in him not only a Prophet, but the Messiah himself, he replied: “Who do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but after me one is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie” (Ac 13,25).

He is a model of uprightness and courage in defending the truth, for which he was prepared to pay in his person, even to the point of imprisonment and death.

Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus, Dec. 5, 2010

St. John the Baptist, who, according to a celebrated prophecy of Isaiah (cf. 40:3), went out into the desert of Judea and, with his preaching, called the people to convert and prepare for the imminent coming of the Messiah. St. Gregory the Great comments that the Baptist “preaches the right faith and good works … so that the power of grace penetrate, the light of the truth shine, the roads to God be made straight and that the words that are born in the soul after hearing the Word guide to the good” (Hom. in Evangelia, XX, 3, CCL 141, 155). The precursor of Jesus, situated between the Old and the New Covenants, is like a star that shines before the rising of the Sun, of Christ, of him, that is, upon whom — according to Isaiah’s prophecy — “the Spirit of the Lord will come to rest, the a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, A spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord” (Isaiah 11:2).

Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus, June 25, 2006

Yesterday, the liturgy enabled us to celebrate the Birth of St John the Baptist, the only saint whose birth is commemorated because it marked the beginning of the fulfillment of the divine promises:  John is that “prophet”, identified with Elijah, who was destined to be the immediate precursor of the Messiah, to prepare the people of Israel for his coming (cf. Mt 11: 14; 17: 10-13). His Feast reminds us that our life is entirely and always “relative” to Christ and is fulfilled by accepting him, the Word, the Light and the Bridegroom, whose voices, lamps and friends we are (cf. Jn 1: 1, 23; 1: 7-8; 3: 29). “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn 3: 30):  the Baptist’s words are a program for every Christian.

Fr Pius Pietrzyk, OP