St. John the Baptist: Prayer, Repentance and Humility

Luke 1: 57 – 66, 80

Now the time came for Elizabeth to be delivered, and she gave birth to a son. And her neighbors and kinsfolk heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; and they would have named him Zechari’ah after his father, but his mother said, “Not so; he shall be called John.” And they said to her, “None of your kindred is called by this name.” And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he would have him called. And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all marveled. And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea; and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him. And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness till the day of his manifestation to Israel.

By Fr. Aldo, sx

This solemnity of the birth of John the Baptist reminds us firstly of the role of prayer in our lives. His birth took place perhaps within strange circumstances, but it certainly was not an accident. It was the answer to long and persevering prayer. We know that when Gabriel appeared to Zechariah, John’s father to announce the birth of a son, his words was: “Your prayer has been heard.” (Lk 1:13). Here we see not only the efficacy of prayer, but a prayer that brought about a miracle: a woman very advanced in age becomes pregnant. Such is indeed the result of genuine prayer: where there is sterility, it produces life; where there is despair, it produces hope; where there is sadness, it produces joy…

Secondly, we are invited to realize the timeless validity of the call for repentance. The content of what John the Baptist preached is not something which was only true once, long ago in the past. It is always true, because the repentance which he preached always remains the way into the kingdom which he talked about. He is not a figure that we can forget now that Jesus, the true light, has appeared. John is always relevant because he calls for a preparation which everyone needs to make. That is precisely why every year there are four weeks in the life of the Church in which we all listen to the voice of the Baptist: the weeks of Advent.

Thirdly, John the Baptist teaches us a great lesson on humility. He who is the greatest among men “born of a woman” teaches us how to be humble and lowly and his teaching is persuasive because he himself really practiced it. But, let us make a note on the distinction between genuine humility and fake humility. People can easily fake humility by claiming to lack the necessary qualities and abilities with the intention of escaping their responsibilities and duties. Often people make pretenses of being humble so as to attract compassion and praise. When John stated he was unworthy to untie the sandal-straps of the Messiah, he really felt so, and he truly showed it.

Finally, proud people are always worried with self, seeing all others ascompetitors. The proud continuously exalt themselves over others in hopes that this will provide a sense of worth and inner peace. Of course, it doesn’t. Human history has proven that time and time again. Humility is what brings freedom from this heavy burden. Trying all the time to affirm, exalt, and protect oneself is an exhausting task. Receiving one’s and others’ dignity and self-worth as a gift from God relieves us from this stressful load. Repentance is all about humility and humility is all about freedom. And freedom leads to inner peace and joy, joy in the presence of God, the Joy John experienced and leapt with even before birth.

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