Friday, June 23, 2017

"HE MUST INCREASE, I MUST DECREASE."


Homily for June 24th, 2017. Isaiah 49:1-6; Luke 1:57-66, 80.
The saints are normally celebrated on the day of their death, called by the Church their “heavenly birthday.” The Church celebrates John the Baptist=s death on the 29th of August. He is the only saint, other than Our Lady, whose biological birthday is also celebrated. The name given him  was a surprise. Today=s gospel tells us how it came about
Nine months before the child=s birth, God had sent the angel Gabriel to tell the baby=s father, the Jewish priest, Zechariah: AYour prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth shall bear a son whom you shall name John. Joy and gladness will be yours, and many will rejoice at his birth@ (Lk 1:13f). Zechariah found the news incredible: he and his wife were too old to have a child.
Zechariah=s disbelief meant that from that day he was mute, unable to speak. Clearly he was deaf as well. For at his son=s birth, today=s gospel reading says, they have to ask the old man by signs what name he wishes to give his son. His inability to speak meant that he had never been able to tell his wife that the angel had named their son John nine months before. 
Those gathered for the baby=s naming assume that he will have his father=s name. Great is their astonishment when the child=s mother Elizabeth insists on a name not borne hitherto by anyone in their family. ANo,@ she says, Ahe will be called John.@ The astonishment becomes amazement when Zechariah confirms his wife=s choice.
Immediately, Luke tells us, Zechariah=s Amouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God.@ His words are omitted in today=s gospel reading. They are a hymn of praise, starting with the words: ABlessed be the Lord God of Israel; he has come to his people and set them free.@ The Church has made these words part of her daily public prayer every morning. 
St. Augustine says that Zechariah=s power of speech was restored because at his son=s birth a voice was born. If John had proclaimed himself, Augustine says, he could not have restored his father=s speech. John=s role, determined by God from his conception in his mother=s womb, was to proclaim another: the One who would not be, like John, simply a voice, but himself God=s Word: his personal utterance and communication to us.

The words of the prophet Isaiah in our first reading apply equally to John: AThe Lord called me from birth, from my mother=s womb he gave me my name. ... You are my servant, he said to me, Israel through whom I show my glory.@ The name John means, AGod is gracious,@ or AGod has given grace.@ The name was singularly appropriate for the man commissioned even before his birth to proclaim the One who would give God a human face, and a human voice.

God called each of us in our mother=s womb. He fashioned us in his own image, as creatures made for love: to praise, worship, and praise God here on earth, and to be happy with him forever in heaven. Fulfilling that destiny, given to us not just at birth but at our conception, means heeding the words which today=s saint, John the Baptist, spoke about Jesus: AHe must increase, I must decrease@ (John 3:3).

Those are the most important words which St. John the Baptist ever spoke. In just six words they sum up the whole life of Christian discipleship. Imprint those words on your mind, your heart, your soul. Resolve today to try to make them a reality in daily life. Those who do that find that they have discovered the key to happiness, to fulfillment, and to peace. AHe must increase, I must decrease.@