Fr. Bryan Howard
The Nativity of St. John the Baptist – 24 June 2018
This is only the second time in my priesthood that this feast day has fallen on a Sunday; the last time was in 2012. The Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist celebrates the birth of the man who was called to help prepare the way for the public ministry of Jesus. What we want to look at today is how we can prepare the way for Jesus in our own lives. Do we take the time to listen to God?
St. John’s father, Zechariah, was a Jewish priest. The priests would take turns serving at the Temple and when their rotation was done they’d go back home. During his groups rotation, Zechariah was in the Holy Place putting incense into the incense bowl when an angel appeared to him, the Archangel Gabriel. St. Gabriel told him that his wife, Elizabeth, would become pregnant, even though she was past her childbearing years, and that the child would be filled with the Spirit of the Lord.
It was clear that John was special, even before he was born. When Gabriel the Archangel came to Mary to tell her that she would be the mother of the Messiah, he also told her that Elizabeth, her cousin, was pregnant. So Mary went to visit Elizabeth. When she went in, John leaped in Elizabeth’s womb, because he recognized that Jesus was there, even though He was still in Mary’s womb.
If we want to prepare ourselves and the people around us to receive the Lord, the first thing we have to do is recognize that He is with us. We know that Jesus is present in the Eucharist, in the words of the Bible, and in the Church, but do we see that Jesus is present in our own souls? At Baptism we receive the indwelling of the Trinity, which means that God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, comes to live in us, and God is even present in non-Christians, because He created them. It’s so easy to forget that God is right here, with us, all the time, but we can learn how to be more aware of God from St. John the Baptist.
John needed to prepare that people of Israel for the Messiah, but how did he do it? Did he go to the Temple, where all of the Jewish people go at least twice a year? No. Did he go around to all of the cities and towns, like Jesus Himself did? No. He went out into the desert. He wore animal skins for clothes and eat locusts and wild honey. If we could ask John one thing, it would probably be, “Why?” Sometimes you need to get away from all of the distractions of daily life in order to be able to hear what God is trying to tell you. The people went out to see John because they knew that he spoke the word of God, and out there, in the desert, it might have been just a little bit easier to listen.
Between tv, radio, the internet, cell phones and smart phones, and social media. Think about this. There’s nowhere that you’re out of reach. Before the telephone became common, once you left work, if you’re boss needed you back before your next shift, he would actually have to send a person to get you. But it’s not just that we’re never out of touch, it’s that we’re constantly being bombarded with information, with advertisements, and with entertainment. Sometimes we find it difficult to just sit and be silent, without talking or thinking or doing anything. I’ve blamed this on technology, but that’s not really true. Over 150 years ago a philosopher named Kierkegaard said, “If I were a physician, and if I were allowed to prescribe just one remedy for all the ills of the modern world, I would prescribe silence. For even if the Word of God were proclaimed in the modern world, how could one hear it with so much noise? Therefore, create silence.”
The world has gotten a lot noisier since the 1800s, and it’s gotten that much more difficult to hear the people around us, but we’re also very good at ignoring the things we don’t want to hear. We have to be good at it or we’d probably go craze. The problem is when we ignore the really important things. Have you ever been driving somewhere and realize that you don’t really remember the last few minutes? You were just driving by memory and not fully paying attention to the road. That’s a scary feeling. Sometimes, we do that with life. We just do things by memory, not really paying attention, but just doing what we’ve always done. We need to shake ourselves out of our routine to really appreciate what’s going on in our lives.
I want to invite all of you this week to silence. Go sit on the front porch with a glass of ice tea, or go for a walk, or visit the adoration chapel at Prompt Succor, push everything out of your head, work, school, family and friends, your to-do list, give all of that to God to take care of for 15 minutes, and just sit with God in the silence. Ask God what He wants to tell you, and just listen. God is always talking to us, but usually we’re too busy to listen. If we just stop every once in a while it might help us to hear what He’s saying the rest of the time.
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Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.