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Our Lord and His Holy Apostles at the Last Supper


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Philippians 4:1

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Blessed John the Baptist

Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts. (Malachi 3:1)

Saint John the Baptist was the last of the Old Testament prophets and was sanctified to God from before his birth. (Luke 1:15, Luke 1:41). Jesus said of him that "there hath not risen among them that are born of women a greater than John the Baptist" (Matthew 11:11), and that he was "a burning and a shining light" (John 5:35). St. John was an ascetic, earnest and fearless in preaching the need for people to repent of their sins. The selfless integrity of his personal life and the power of his preaching was such that he attracted crowds, and some wondered if he himself was the messiah for whom they waited.

John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’ So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. (Luke 3:16-18)

When St. John rebuked Herod the tetrarch for his sins, Herod cast him into prison and later beheaded him at the urging of Herodias, whom he had illicitly married, and her daughter.

Before St. John was conceived, his parents were already old and had little hope of having a child. But God heard their prayers and gave them a son. The angel Gabriel announced that his name would be John, which means "God is merciful". St. John prepared Israel to receive God's mercy by "preaching the baptism of penance for the remission of sins" (Luke 3:3).

If his baptism was a sign of repentance, then why did our Lord, who was not guilty of any sin, came to the Jordan river to be baptized by John? Some have pointed out that the Kings of the house of David were anointed by Levite priests. John the Baptist was a Levite of the priestly line of Aaron. In baptizing Jesus, he was anointing Him at the start of His public ministry. (The word "Messiah" means "Anointed One"). St. Thomas, in his Catena Aurea (Matthew, Mark) and Summa Theologica offers other explanations, including that Jesus was providing a model of humility for us, leading us to baptism, and asking no more of us than He did himself, and that in His baptism, He purified the waters, rather than being purified by them, in preparation for the greater baptism that was to follow. As our Lord came out of the waters, the whole Holy Trinity was manifested together, the Son in the flesh, and the Father in a voice from Heaven, and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove.

Baptism of Christ

Venerable Bede said that this event was a sign of the grace given to us in Baptism. In Baptism, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and by adoption are made sons of God.

John is the third saint addressed in the confiteor and first martyr mentioned in the Nobis quoque peccatoribus.

Both the birth and the death of the Forerunner are remembered by the Roman Catholic Church by two separate feast days:
  • June 24 – Nativity of St. John the Baptist
  • August 29 – Beheading of St. John the Baptist
Nearly all other saints are remembered only on the day that they fell asleep in the Lord. But St. John was holy all his life, so his birth is celebrated, too. Also, poetry links his birth, six months before our Lord's, to the shortening of days that begins in mid-summer and St. John's own words: "He must increase, I must decrease".

(Offered on the commemoration of the apparition of the Immaculate Virgin Mary at Lourdes. Blessed be God in His angels and His saints).

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