Gospel Luke 1:57-66,80
“His Name is John” John the Baptist is a startling figure. He sits in an odd place, between the Old and New Testaments. The last of the Old Testament Prophets, who is given the grace to testify in person to the One who was to come, Jesus.
From the beginning, his life is marked by a great sense of mystery, as is testified to in today’s Gospel reading. As tradition holds it, John was sanctified in the womb by the presence of Jesus at the visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to his Mother Elizabeth.
Statements like this are often dismissed by more ‘enlightened’ folks, who feel that such assertions are overly pious and consequently make John into something much more sanitised than he is.
Rather than debunk the tradition though, this approach betrays a misunderstanding of the nature of sanctity or holiness in those enlightened ones who propose it.
Pope Francis recently issued a document on the Call to Holiness, where he exhorted the faithful to move past a simplistic notion of holiness and to look for opportunities to rely on, seek out, and be the face of Christ in our everyday experiences and encounters. Holiness will look very different in the lives of different people. For some, it might look a lot like a saccharine pious contemplative, like St Therese of Lisieux (obviously a gross misrepresentation) but for others it will look rough and ready, abrasive and brash, like St John the Baptist. There is no cookie cutter look or feel to holiness.
When we contemplate the life of St John the Baptist, aware of his holiness from the moment of his birth, we should not be put off thinking, ‘that’s too holy for me’, but instead read the stories which recount those significant episodes in his life and see one other way in which holiness can be exhibited.
Point to Ponder
Before his astonished kinsmen, Zechariah confirms that this is the name of his son, writing it on a tablet. God himself, through his angel, had given that name, which in Hebrew means “God is benevolent”. God is benevolent to human beings: he wants them to live; he wants them to be saved. God is benevolent to his people: he wants to make of them a blessing for all the nations of the earth. God is benevolent to humanity: he guides its pilgrim way towards the land where peace and justice reign. All this is contained in that name: John!
– St Pope John Paul II, 24 June 2001