Today is the Solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist. It would be obvious that this would be an important day, but maybe not so obvious why. John the Baptist we realize is the one who announced the coming of the Lord. However, he was more than that. He was the last prophet of the Old Testament. So when we are looking at John the Baptist, we are looking at someone who is calling the people to repent and to come back to the Lord. He is also the one who announces that the one who comes will be like a two edged sword, those who get back to the Lord will be brought into the fold and those who reject the call to repentance will be turned away from the fold. He is calling the people to make their choice.
If we want to see a better understanding of his role, we need to look no further than the first reading. Notice what it says. This is Isaiah the prophet speaking. Jeremiah the prophet and all of them had a similar message: The Lord formed him to be the prophet to call Jacob, which is the Hebrew people back to holiness.
John is the agent sent to prepare the people for the imminent coming of the Messiah, to call the people back to holiness. So God formed Him in the womb, instructed Him and led Him to go out into the world and preach for people to return to the Lord.
One of the key things that is happening there is that John knows what the people do not. That the world will change and they must be prepared.
In forty years their world will change radically and those who do not heed the warning of John and are not prepared to hear the word of God will come to find themselves on the wrong side of the changing world.
What is going to change? I often remind you that from the minute you see St. John the Baptist arrive on the scene, imagine a big clock in the background counting down from forty years to zero. When zero arrives, the Romans will come and wipe the Hebrew nations off the face of the map until 1948 a.d. The temple which is so key to the Jewish community will be destroyed, never to this day to be rebuilt and the chosen people will be sent to the four corners of the world.
There is more, because many of the Jews reject the Apostles’ preaching of Jesus, St. Paul then goes out to preach to the gentiles, this is the first time in history a Jewish message is preached to the Goyim (the non-Jews) and the world changes further.
All this was prophesied from the time of Isaiah and continues to today. However, there is more. Everything that you can see in the mission of John the Baptist, everything that you can see written about being formed in the womb to be agents of God’s message can also be said about you as a member of the Church.
This is the Church’s message today and you have been called to be part of it. For you and I have a mission to prepare ourselves and others for the second coming of Christ. There are two ways that comes, when we die or at the end of the world. As I like to put it: When we go there, or He comes here. That is our mission: to prepare ourselves and our neighbors for that moment.
There is a saying that “There is nothing new under the sun” what is funny is that saying is not new either. It is actually attributed to Solomon and is about three thousand years old. You can find it in the Book of Ecclesiastes. (1:9) So the message of John the Baptist is just as relevant now as it was then.
Remember no one had any expectation that the Jewish state was going to be wiped off the map. In fact, ironically, under the Romans who were occupying Judah, the state still existed albeit under Roman rule. Eventually, because they angered the Romans imperial soldiers eliminated the state and the temple. You can rest that John the Baptist had an inkling of what was coming and was warning the people.
Now let’s look at it this way. You are suddenly sent back in time to St. Michael parish in 1888. The Church is new and your ancestors are excited as the Bishop is blessing the altar. It is a new era for the Catholics of the Centralville neighborhood here in Lowell, MA and everyone is excited. Lowell is bustling as the mill town although on the down slide and the United States is almost at the end of reconstruction. Trains are now connecting not only Boston and New York, but New York and Chicago and then Los Angeles and that was twenty years ago.
There is a great future coming to the world and all are excited. But you see the future and know that indeed great things are in store, but so are horrible things. There is a World War coming with fierce fighting machines and horrid chemicals. There is a new philosophy that will overtake the world that will change economies and enslave who nations. There is another World War coming, an atomic bomb, and so much more and you realize that this Church which is called St. Michaels will have a powerful place to play in the lives of those who attend right up to today and more. Messages will be preached to lead people away from sin and closer to Christ, missions and prayers said for soldiers overseas.
Governments will change and the United States will be on one side of a great war between capitalism and communism. Nations will be incorporated into the Communist bloc of nations which will be opposing the western world and the US. Finally, the United States will enter a period of turmoil, where speech is policed and offended people will silence debate in order to create a morality based on emotion and passion as opposed to reason and faith.
People all along will have to decide whether they will embrace Christ or embrace the political ways of the world.
The thing is, you will be aware of all the changes coming and know what St. Michael’s and Lowell will look like in 150 years. They will not. You will be aware of how urgent the message of the Gospel is, they will not.
This would give you an idea of the mission of St. John the Baptist. He knew something, and acted on what he knew.
You have been called to live in a world that is probably more similar to the time of St. John the Baptist, Isaiah the Prophet and Jeremiah and Ezekiel than you may realized, technology aside. You have seen the pattern, you know the only stable factor is Christ.
Now I ask you: Do you realize the urgency of living your message? Do you realize the call you have to be prophet in the way you live your life.
If so, you have a better understanding of the mission of St. John the Baptist and yours.