ALTHOUGH YOU HAVE NOT SEEN JESUS CHRIST YOU LOVE HIM. These words of Saint Peter remind us of the experience of John the Baptist at the time when the Blessed Virgin visited his mother while he was still in the womb, a six month fetus. Like all persons still in the womb, his eyes were not functioning, being deprived of light. Jesus himself, at the time, was but in the earliest stages of development as an embryo, though not conscious yet his person was wholly present there. Saint Luke tells us that John was so sensitive to the presence of Christ in the womb of Mary that he leapt for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice as she carried the Lord into the home of his parents. He could not see but he could sense through the sound of the mother’s voice, the personal presence of his Savior and Creator in her womb. In this reaction already in the womb John exercises his prophetic role as forerunner.
Later Jesus was to pronounce John the greatest of Old Testament personalities. In some sense John represented the whole people of God prior to the Incarnation. What Jacques Maudel said of Claudel would seem to apply even more aptly to John the Baptist:
God apparently so arranges things that each great period of human history is closed out by a poet whose basic orientation is in the direction of the past, who gathers up the spirit of the epoch which is about to disappear, immortalizes it, and gives it last expression in a masterpiece. And yet this poet is of all times, and the future will clearly recognize itself in that work of his which sums up an entire past.”
The work of John the Baptist was not a written text but
rather his whole life and preaching. He fulfills his ministry, not as a poet,
but as the greatest of the prophets, by his spoken words and his way of life.
In the words of
In the reading from Saint Peter’s first epistle that we just heard a few minutes ago, we are associated with John the Baptist still in the womb in that we too have not seen Jesus, yet we believe and love him. As Peter goes on to say, we rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as [we] attain the goal of [our] faith, the salvation of our souls.” These are pregnant words, filled with implications for our spiritual life still today as they have been for Christians through the centuries. The earliest Gospel opens by declaring that John the Baptist fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah by preparing the way of God. In Jesus it is God himself who comes among us so that the greatest figure of the Old Testament faithfully acknowledges that he is but the herald of One greater than he. Fr. Jean Danielou maintained that John continues this same ministry today in that his intercession continues to prepare the way of the Lord in the hearts of those who come to believe in Christ. Saint Benedict had a deeply personal devotion to John and dedicated a chapel to the Baptist at his monastery of Monte Cassino. Later Saint Peter Canisius summed up John’s role, observing that “as the Law and Prophets are established in John, so is the Gospel in Christ.” In John’s encounter with Jesus, As Spophronius put it” the Law spoke well to Grace.”
Other holy figures in earlier times had keep hope alive by their witness to God’s plan of redemption and his promise of a redeemer. John it was who pointed him our when he came in the flesh, in the form of man among others. He understood that only those whose hearts were prepared by turning in humble prayer and penance could recognize the Christ when he did appear. As we honor his memory at this liturgy, let us ask his continuing service of preparing the way of the Lord in our hearts by his intercession on our behalf so that we too might become friends of the bridegroom and be admitted with John to the eternal banquet of life. & *
*Patristic citations from Andre Retif, “John the Baptist”, Newman Press, 1953, 8ff.
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