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  • Writer's pictureFr. Scott Haynes

The Nativity of St. John the Baptist

Fr. Scott Haynes

 


Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen once said that One of the most beautiful moments in history was that when pregnancy met pregnancy when child bearers became the first heralds of the King of Kings. All pagan religions begin with the teachings of adults, but Christianity begins with the birth of a Child.

 

From that day to this, Christians have ever been the defenders of the family and the love of generation. If we ever sat down to write out what we would expect the Infinite God to do, certainly the last thing we would expect would be to see Him imprisoned in a carnal ciborium for nine months; and the next to last thing we would expect is that the "greatest man ever born of woman" while yet in his mother's womb, would salute the yet imprisoned God-man. But this is precisely what took place in the Visitation.


The birth of Christ is without regard to man; the birth of John the Baptist is without regard to age! For "nothing is impossible with God."


When Mary found out Elizabeth, in her old age, had finally become pregnant, Mary "went to Elizabeth with all haste"; For our Mother Mary is always in a hurry to do good. "She gave Elizabeth greeting"; Mary, in her springtime served Elizabeth in her autumn.

 

On hearing Mary’s greeting, the child whom Elizabeth bore within her "leaped in her womb." The Old Testament is here meeting the New Testament; all the longings and expectations of thousands of years as to Him Who would be the Saviour are now fulfilled in this one ecstatic moment when John the Baptist greets Christ, the Son of the Living God and is sanctified in his womb.


Notice in Scripture that Mary is present at three births: at the birth of John the Baptist, at the birth of her own Divine Son, and at the "birth" of John, the Evangelist, at the foot of the Cross, as the Lord saluted him: "Behold thy mother!"

 

Mary, the Woman, was present at the three great moments of life: at the birth of the last prophet of the Old Testament, the pre-cursor of Christ when she visited Elizabeth; Mary was there with Jesus at the Marriage Feast of Cana as He performed His first public miracle, and she was present at the Cross when He surrendered His Life

 

When St John the Baptist leaped in her womb, Elizabeth herself was filled with the Holy Ghost." This little precursor of Pentecost came before the Feast of Pentecost. At the Visitation the physical body of Christ within Mary now fills John the Baptist with the Spirit of Christ; thirty-three years later the Mystical Body of Christ, His Church, will be filled with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, as Mary, too, will be in the midst of the Apostles abiding in prayer.

 

The second part of the second most beautiful prayer in the world, the Hail Mary, is now about to be written; the first part was spoken by an angel on the day of the Annunciation: "Hail (Mary) full of grace; the Lord is with Thee; blessed art thou amongst women." (Luke 1:28)


Now Elizabeth adds the second part in a "loud voice"; "Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb" Old age is here not jealous of youth or privilege, for Elizabeth makes the first public proclamation that Mary is the Mother of God: "How have I deserved to be thus visited by the mother of my Lord?"

 

She learned it less from Mary's lips than from the Spirit of God nestling over her. Mary received the Spirit of God through an angel; Elizabeth was the first to receive it through Mary.


Mary was a cousin-nurse at birth, and she was a Mother-nurse at death. There is nothing Mary has that is for herself alone - not even her Son. Before He is born, her Son belongs to others. No sooner does she have the Divine Host within herself than she rises from the Communion rail of Nazareth to visit the aged and to make her young.

 

Elizabeth would never live to see her son lose his head to Salome, the dancing stepdaughter of Herod, but Mary would live and die seeing her Son taste death, that death might be no more.

 

Today, as we have seen St John the Baptist dance for joy in Elizabeth’s womb when he encountered the baby Jesus in Mary’s womb, so too must we consider how St. John the Baptist was beheaded on Herod’s birthday when he condemned the depravity of Herod’s house, a house of sensuality, a house of intermarriage, adultery and incest.  

 

But even though Herod and his whole house was rotten to the core, God gave them all time, in his mercy, to repent, for God waits for our conversion.  But because Herod was so obstinate in his sin and never repented of the evil he did to St. John the Baptist, God punished Herod terribly.  Firstly, Herod’s kingdom was invaded by the Arab Prince Aretas, who was all too keen to avenge his daughter Salome’s honour, for having been taken into an incestuous marriage.

 

Then Herod was exiled with all his family by the Roman army to Lerida in Spain. While in  Spain, on one terrible winter night, the dancing girl Salome fell through a hole in the ice while crossing a frozen river. As she sank into the river, the ice froze around her neck. Struggling to free herself, she moved her legs, as though dancing. But this was Salome’s last dance.

 

At that moment, however, jagged edges of ice cut through Salome’s neck and she was beheaded. Her body disappeared forever beneath the ice. Eyewitnesses saw her decapitated head on the ice, picked it up and took it to Herod – on a platter.   During an earthquake in Lerida, Spain, Herod and Herodias also fell into a crevasse and swallowed by the earth.

 

After the example of St. John the Baptist, we as Christians, must heed the call to conversion. Like John the Baptist we must boldly confess our faith, even if we should lose our heads.

 

God is truly kind and merciful; He gives us time to repent. He even gives us the prophetic message through men like St. John the Baptist. But Holy Scripture also tells us that God will not be mocked. Therefore let us imitate the fidelity of St. John the Baptist and live lives of conversion and repentance. Holy Forerunner, Prophet and Baptist John, pray to God for us!

 

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