“His Name is John”
In the liturgical year we celebrate just three births – Our Lord at Christmas, Our Lady on 8th September, and today we celebrate the birth of St John the Baptist. All three were born without Original Sin. Obviously, Our Lord, being God was sinless and perfect. Our Lady was immaculately conceived – that is without the stain of Original Sin, and you might be surprised to hear it is a tradition that St John the Baptist was conceived with Original Sin, but yet he was born without it. Three months before John’s birth at the Visitation, when Our Lady, pregnant with Our Lord visited her cousin Elizabeth who was carrying John in her womb, we read that “the infant [John] leaped in her [Elizabeth’s] womb” (Luke 1:41). This “leap” was John acknowledging the presence of Christ, who was then filled with the Holy Spirit which represents a type of Baptism. Therefore since Baptism removes the stain of Original Sin, John was born without Original Sin and was thus in the same position we find ourselves in after Baptism. Unlike Our Lady, this does not mean John remained sinless throughout his life. Although freed from Original Sin, he remained subject to its effects.
John was “the voice in the wilderness preparing the way of the Lord” (John 1:23) by calling on people to repent of their sins. He proclaimed the Kingdom of God and a coming judgement, and invited people to accept Baptism as a sign of their repentance.
John feared nobody and we see him disturbing people’s consciences by calling out sin for what it is. One of the great errors of our day is to deny sin. John showed great courage in condemning the marriage of Herod to Herod’s brother’s wife, which eventually cost him his head. This is a reminder to us today that not everything permitted by the law is morally right. One thinks of the recent vote in Ireland regarding abortion. John’s courage in upholding the truth about marriage challenges us when it is not popular to speak the truth or live by it.
John the Baptist once said when pointing out Our Lord, “He must increase, I must decrease” (John 3:30). John himself was not the promised Messiah as many thought he was – but John’s mission was to point out Christ as the promised Redeemer who would free us from sin and death. On this great Solemnity, let us ask St John the Baptist to pray for us.
Fr Paul Gillham IC