Thursday June 24, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Birth of Saint John the Baptist
Reading I (Isaiah 49:1-6) Reading II (Acts 13:22-26)
Gospel (St. Luke 1:57-66, 80)
We hear in the Gospel reading today about the birth of Saint John the Baptist. As we celebrate this great solemnity of the precursor of the Lord, we see the signs and wonders that accompanied his birth such that all of those who were related and all in the neighborhood would marvel at what was going on. They would ask the question, “What is this child to be?” Now as we look at this child, as he grew up he would not have been like other people. Never once did he commit any serious sin. He was completely healed of sin in the womb, so he was born without Original Sin, and he was then free of any serious sin throughout his life. Because he was free of sin, he did not live his life the way other people did. Therefore, he would have been someone who was misunderstood, someone who was rejected, just like Our Lord and Our Lady. They would not have been accepted because the way that they lived was not the way other people lived, because their hearts were focused solely on God.
Saint John the Baptist is then called out into the desert; and there, fasting and praying, he simply seeks to do the Will of God. His task is singular, and that is to point out the Messiah when He is to come. He is the last of the Old Testament prophets, and he is the first of the New Testament prophets. He is the person upon whom all of that hinges. Yet we see in him no miracles; we see in him absolutely nothing that would attract anybody – someone out in the desert, in the lowest spot in the world out by the Dead Sea where it is very hot and very humid, wearing camel skin and eating grasshoppers and wild honey. If he were alive today, they would probably lock up the greatest man born of woman and say that he is crazy. Yet we recognize that there is no one greater than he because Our Lord Himself has spoken these words.
So when we look at Saint John the Baptist, it helps us to be able to understand what our own lives are all about. He recognized who he was, but, more importantly, he recognized who he was not. He was not the Messiah, he was not the one who was appointed, but rather he was the one who was called to be the prophet of the Messiah. He lived a life that was different from the norm, and if anyone is truly going to live their faith it is going to be the same thing. You may not be out in the desert in camel skin and eating grasshoppers, but if you are going to live a truly Catholic life your life is not going to be like the average American. You are going to be rejected; you are going to be thought to be strange – or even worse, perhaps. Yet, at the same time, if you are truly living the life there is only one thing that is truly important, and that is doing God’s Will. It is seeking the Will of God in prayer, in fasting, and it is about carrying out the Will of God.
We also need to learn from Saint John the Baptist a very important lesson: He lived a hidden life for most of his entire life just like Our Lord did. It is not about necessarily going out and doing great things. If that is what God is asking then that is what needs to happen, but Saint John the Baptist lived out in the desert and it was not until very close to the end of his life that he was finally made manifest to Israel and then very quickly put to death. We see that he fulfilled every single thing that God had asked of him. Nothing was left unfulfilled in what his vocation was, and most of that was to be hidden, to pray, and to do penance.
For ourselves too, the same is true. We will not know God’s Will unless we are deeply rooted in prayer. In our society filled with chaos and noise, there is only one way that we are going to know His Will, and that is only if we are spending substantial amounts of time in prayer and fasting so that we can seek the Will of God. Only when God says to do something are we to do it. And it does not matter how small it may seem to us or how big it might seem to us; all that matters is that we are doing what God wants us to do and that we recognize who we are – but, most importantly, that we recognize who we are not. We are nothing great; we are nothing impressive; we are little; we are small; we are insignificant; we are sinners. We are unworthy of the gifts that God has given, and yet in His mercy He has given those gifts. He is simply asking now that we would cooperate, that we would use those gifts for His glory. That is what is most important.
Saint John the Baptist did not seek his own glory, but rather only the glory of Christ. That is precisely what our lives are to be as well. While God has given us many wonderful things, and many of us get caught up in them to our own glory, it is only through prayer that we are going to recognize how God wants us to use these gifts, what it is that He is asking of us in our own lives, and how we are going to give Him the most glory. That is what we can learn from this great saint who, on a worldly level, would have been a flash in the pan. They wrote him off and they put him to death because he was a censure to their thoughts. Yet his voice continues to cry out, and it will until the end of time: Behold, the Lamb of God; behold Him Who takes away the sins of the world.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.