Today the Church raises up for us the Nativity, the Birth of John the Baptist. Most often saints are raised up for our reflection on the day they died or when some suggest they were born into eternal life. Thus this focus on the birth of John the Baptist is unusual and therefore noteworthy. The only other births raised up are the birth of the Blessed Mother and of course that of Jesus. John’s birth is seen as so significant that it supersedes the reading of the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time today.
The Nativity of John the Baptist on comes three months after the celebration on of the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel told Mary that her cousin Elizabeth was in her sixth month of pregnancy, and six months before the Christmas celebration of the birth of Jesus.
In the Gospel reading John the Baptist, whose conception itself was miraculous given the age of his parents, leaped in the womb of his mother Elizabeth when Our Lord entered their home in the womb of Mary. In a way it is an inauguration of the Gospel, the good news itself, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it. (523) St Augustine is a boundary between the old and the new, the Old Testament and the New one. “As a representative of the past he is born of aged parents, as a herald of the new era, he is declared a prophet in his mother’s womb,” the saint wrote.
John the Baptist had the consequential role of pointing the way to the presence of Jesus whose sandal John said he was unworthy to strap. His message was repent for the kingdom of God is at hand. It is the message Jesus preaches also: repent and believe in the Gospel. It is a clarion call for each of us to prepare for our own death which is inevitable and with God’s mercy our birth into eternal life. Repentance is more than noting and regretting our sins and mistakes; it means also turning ourselves and behaviors toward Christ, conversion from self-focus to Him.
We are encouraged to prepare in many aspects of our lives, to prepare for retirement by saving for it, to prepare for spring during the winter months, to prepare for work or vocation by training and education.
How many of us however truly prepare for what is to come when our earthly presence will end? In our day, if there is a belief in the afterlife at all, there seems to be an assumption that everyone will enter heaven regardless of how one lived his or her life and that there is no other destination than heaven. At least that seems to be the message preached at many funerals. It is a consoling thought and we pray that will be true for those we have loved and miss, but that is not what Jesus and his church taught and teaches. Jesus however said that the gate is narrow. So, we need to prepare by getting our spiritual house in order, by losing the weight of sin and own up to and pray for forgiveness, and to trust in God’s mercy and witness it to others by our thoughts and actions.
One commentator recalled one of the ancient Aesop’s Tales about an ant and a grasshopper. The story goes that: “In a field one summer’s day, a grasshopper was hopping about, chirping and singing to its heart’s content. An ant passed by, bearing along with great toil a kernel of corn it was taking to its nest. ‘Why not come and chat with me,’ said the grasshopper, ‘instead of toiling and moiling in that way.’ ‘I am helping to lay up food for the winter’, said the ant, ‘and recommend that you do the same.’ ‘Why bother about winter; we have got plenty of food at the present,’ responded the grasshopper. The ant went on its way and continued its toil. When the winter came, the grasshopper had no food and found itself dying of hunger while it saw ants distributing corn and grain from the stores it had collected in the summer. Then the grasshopper knew: ‘It is best to prepare for the days of necessity.’”
While a little fanciful way of expressing it, this tale makes the point, we are in the summer of our lives, yet winter is on the horizon, judgment day will come. We still have the time and opportunity to prepare for our day of necessity. However how easy it is and how the evil one encourages us to live and think about today only.
Music often portrays the challenge and its consequences well. Some will remember the old and probing song is ‘The Cat’s in the Cradle.’ It describes a father totally absorbed in his work and his world. His son as he grows from infant to teenager to young adult longingly asks, ‘when’re you coming home dad?’ when’re coming home.’ The response always is, ‘I don’t know when, son; but we’ll get together then son, we’ll get together then.’ As time goes on the father in retirement yearns to spend time with his now grown son. He asks, ‘when’re coming home son, when’re you coming home.” Having learned from the example of his father, the son responds, “I don’t know when, dad, but we’ll get together then, dad, we’ll get together then.’
There are things we ought not to put off including gratefulness for all those who have sacrificed for us that we may make choices about how we will live in the summer of our lives. We ought also not to put off living with spiritual integrity and purpose worthy of the sacrifice of Our Lord on the cross for our redemption. And we ought to prepare for what is to come not only because we fear the loss of heaven and fear the pains of hell, but because are God’s children and He want us to come home. If or when we do is up to us. Our day of necessity will surely come.
Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel.