21st / 22nd July 2018

posted 27 Jul 2018, 05:07 by Parish Office

Homily for the Solemnity of the Birth of St John the Baptist

(23 & 24/6/18)


Last Thursday was the 21st of June, which means that from now on the days begin to grow shorter and the nights draw in.  I read on Friday that this is actually relevant to today’s solemnity, because the celebrations of the birth of St John the Baptist and the birth of Christ are strategically placed – we celebrate John’s birth as the days begin to grow shorter and Our Lord’s birth as the days begin to grow longer again. “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).  It’s a pattern that applies to all of us.


In the first reading we heard about the calling of the prophet Isaiah:  “The Lord called me before I was born”.  We all have a calling, which goes right the way back to when we came into existence at our conception.  The task is to find out what our calling is, and to be faithful to it.


The thing is, that as well as the call to grow in grace and holiness, we also have to fight against the competing trend of selfishness within our lives.  It can be a bit like weeds growing in the garden.  They need to be uprooted straight away, before they get too big and strong and difficult to eradicate, and grow faster than all the other plants and block out their light.  When John the Baptist was born, there was already the temptation, in embryo, as it were, for his parents to do their own thing instead, now that they had a child, and to go back on their faithfulness to God.  It’s symbolised at the point of John’s circumcision, where the parents have to name the child:  “they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother spoke up.  ‘No,’ she said ‘he is to be called John.’”  They are not going to live according to expected conventions and the pressure of the people around them; instead they choose to go along with God’s plan.


We may think it would be wonderful if God could give us such a clear plan of where He wants us to go and what He wants us to do.  We could ask, though, whether we would be willing to follow it.  There was a time in my late teens, when people were suggesting the idea of the priesthood to me, when the idea filled me with dread and horror.  You may have seen the film Pinocchio, where all the naughty boys are shipped off to a place where they can do whatever they like, but the price is that it’s all a trick and they turn into donkeys.  For me, the thought of becoming a priest was a bit like the dread shown by one of Pinocchio’s companions as he turned into a donkey.  It took a bit more maturing on my part and a vocation discernment retreat in Portugal combined with a pilgrimage to Fatima to get me to accept the call to the priesthood when it began to become clear to me.  So perhaps there is wisdom in God not revealing to each child what his or her vocation is.  I also remember hearing a Dominican sister saying that when she was younger, another sister suggested to her the idea of the religious life.  I can’t remember her exact response, but it was along the lines of her being embarrassed, annoyed and angered by the suggestion.  Still, God got His way in the end, and she was happy for it.


Sometimes, we can have delusions of grandeur about ourselves.  People tell us we can be anything we want to be, and we think that we’ll go out and change the world.  You hear of people who want to go and do all sorts of humanitarian work in far-flung countries, but won’t even help out at home.  A bit of an irony there.  Imagine what people could have said to John.  Don’t bother with this idea of being a prophet.  What sort of a life is that – living out in the desert of all places, wearing camel skins and living of locusts and wild honey?  I’m sure the novelty will wear off after a while.  And besides, what use is it just preaching to the people in Palestine, a small country the size of Wales?  You need to have bigger ambitions.  The whole Roman Empire could be your oyster!  But instead, of course, John was faithful to God and became St John the Baptist, and now has a world-wide fame, down through the centuries.  In the film Jesus of Nazareth, there is the scene where John is preaching and he sees that King Herod is passing by.  Using more courage than many men have today, he confronts him with the message that it is immoral for him to be living with his brother Philip’s wife.  For that he is imprisoned and later beheaded.  It’s a bit like the courage shown by St John Fisher and St Thomas More in standing up to King Henry VIII making himself head of the Church of England and then divorcing his wife so he can marry Anne Boleyn.  To be great means that we have to master ourselves and overcome selfish tendencies, to be willing to listen to the voice of God and to do His will, not ours.  “He must increase, but I must decrease.”


Some might say that following God is not for wimps.  But, in a sense, we are all wimps.  Thankfully, the grace of God can transform us.  “He must increase, but I must decrease.”