Friday June 24, 2005 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)
As we celebrate today the feast of the Birth of Saint John the Baptist, we hear all about the extraordinary things that took place at his birth and the question that the people were asking: “What is this child to be?” Our Lord Himself tells us that Saint John the Baptist is the greatest man born of woman, because of all human persons (other than Our Lady) he is the only one born without Original Sin. So, indeed, he is the greatest man born of woman in that way on the natural level. Yet Jesus tells us that the least born into the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
Now when we think about this idea that he is the greatest man born of woman, therefore, on the natural level again, next to Our Lady, he is the highest human person ever to be born. When we look at both of them together, Our Lady and Saint John the Baptist, the two most perfect human persons ever, ask yourself, “If these are the two greatest human persons ever, what did they do to show their greatness?” They both lived hidden lives. Saint John the Baptist, we are told, was out in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel. We know he sat out there eating grasshoppers and wild honey just to sustain himself. He prayed and he fasted. Our Lady lived a hidden life. She prayed and she fasted. There is not one miracle that is given to either one of them in Sacred Scripture. Certainly, one could say that the divine maternity is the greatest miracle ever, but that is not even really attributable to Our Lady – she merely cooperated. And neither one of them worked extraordinary signs or wonders in the midst of the people.
Now if that is the case with the greatest of the human persons ever made, what does it say about the rest of us? Sometimes we think that greatness implies doing extraordinary things. Neither of these people was living in that kind of a manner. Both lived ordinary lives initially. Saint John the Baptist obviously lived a rather extraordinary life out in the desert, but not extraordinary in the sense that he was doing extraordinary things, working signs and wonders and miracles for the people. He was not. So, for us, we need to realize that as Saint John the Baptist (as we were told in the first reading) was called by God from the womb and given a name from the womb, so were we. God has called each one of us to greatness. Not worldly greatness, not necessarily to be noticed or to be known, but rather to be saints, to live ordinary human lives with extraordinary love. That is all it requires.
That is what we see in Saint John the Baptist. That is what we see in Our Lady. They did not go out working extraordinary miracles. They were not doing anything so that anyone would notice them, in fact, just the opposite. They both lived extraordinarily hidden lives, but they could not escape notice because they were so extraordinary even in their ordinariness. If we are living holy lives, it will be evident to anyone who looks, but it does not matter because we are not doing it to impress anyone. We are called to holiness for God, and we are called to holiness for our own sake. If God wants us to go out to do extraordinary things, like He has with some of the saints, then that is up to Him. And we need to leave that up to Him.
So none of us can compare ourselves to anyone else. None of us can try to size things up and wonder if we are greater than someone else. Can you imagine a thought like that ever crossing Our Lady’s mind? Or Saint John the Baptist’s? It would not. All they did was focus on God, and that is all we are called to do as well – to love God and to love those around us, to live ordinary hidden lives unless God calls us to something different. Do not worry about how great we might be or what position we might have; it does not matter. The only thing that matters is that we are doing the Will of God. That is the only thing that matters. If the two greatest human persons ever in history did the Will of God by living hidden lives, then why should we be surprised if we are called to something similar? If the greatest people ever lived reasonably ordinary lives, then why should we be surprised if we are called to something similar? All that God wants is for us to be holy. To be holy is to live an ordinary life with extraordinary love.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.