sabato 23 giugno 2018

«Ioannes cecinit affuturum et adesse monstravit»

The Second Vatican Council says about Sunday, “The Lord’s day is the original feast day … Other celebrations, unless they be truly of greatest importance, shall not have precedence over the Sunday, which is the foundation and kernel of the whole liturgical year” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 106). As you have seen, on Sundays we never celebrate Saints; today is an exception, because it is a celebration of greatest importance. Is Saint John the Baptist more important than others Saints? Yes, it was Jesus himself to say so, “Among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist” (Mt 11:11). He is, among the Saints, the only one of whom we celebrate the birth. Usually, we celebrate the Saints on their dies natalis, that is, on the day of their death, which is also the day of their “birth” into eternal life. We cannot celebrate their earthly birth, because, when they were born, they still had the original sin. On the contrary, we celebrate the nativity of Jesus and Mary, because, when they were born, they were in the state of grace, as the former was the Son of God and the latter had been conceived without sin. Why do we also celebrate the nativity of John the Baptist? He neither was the Son of God nor had been conceived sinless. But he had been sanctified before being born. We believe that, when Mary, pregnant with Jesus, visited Elizabeth, expecting John, this one was sanctified by the presence of the Savior. We find a hint to this event in the first reading, “The Lord called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name.” And then the angel said so to Zechariah, “He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb” (Lk 1:15).

How many things could be said about John the Baptist! I think we can find an outline of his life in the preface of this Mass. We will say in few minutes’ time, “His birth brought great rejoicing; even in the womb he leapt for joy at the coming of human salvation. He alone of all the prophets pointed out the Lamb of redemption. And to make holy the flowing waters, he baptized the very author of Baptism and was privileged to bear him supreme witness by the shedding of his blood.” Five events are mentioned: John’s exultation at Mary’s visitation, his birth, his preaching, the baptism of Jesus at the Jordan and his death as a martyr. The first two events are connected with joy, even though today’s gospel, besides joy, mentions amazement and fear; but these feelings are not mutually exclusive in Christian life; indeed, there is need of all of them. The baptism of Jesus was certainly important in John’s life, so much so that we call him the Baptist par excellence. Worthy of admiration is undoubtedly his death: John spent all his life for truth and justice, and remained faithful until the end. Usually, John is admired for his austerity and his consistency, and rightly so. But it is not here his greatness. The greatest merit of John is that of showing people the Messiah, “He alone of all the prophets pointed out the Lamb of redemption.” The prophets had predicted the coming of the Messiah; John himself, still in the womb of his mother, had foretold with his leaping the imminent arrival of the Savior; but it was on the occasion of the baptism at the Jordan that John recognized in Jesus the Messiah and announced him to the people and to his disciples, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29.36); “I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God” (Jn 1:34). Another preface—the second of Advent—poetically describes this role of the Precursor, “John the Baptist sang of his coming and proclaimed his presence when he came” (Ioannes cecinit affuturum et adesse monstravit). John is the forerunner, the one who, with his preaching and his baptism, prepares the way of the Lord and, once the Lord has arrived, points out his presence. 

It is what we also should do as Christians. We, too, should pave the way for the Lord: with our word and, above all, with our witness, we should help others to be in the condition of welcoming Christ in their lives. But, at the same time, we should be able to recognize Jesus, who is already present in the world, and point out this presence to others. And then, like John, we should retire in good order, so that Christ may do his own work. “He must increase; I must decrease” (Jn 3:30).