Happy birthday, John! Print E-mail
Sunday scripture column

Jem Sullivan

Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist

Is 49:1-6

Psalm 139:1-3, 13-15

Acts 13:22-26

Lk 1:57-66, 80

Among the saints, John the Baptist is one of the great ones. On the Catholic calendar, only three people have a birthday celebration: Jesus, Mary and John the Baptist. In the icon tradition of Eastern Christianity, Jesus is often shown seated on his heavenly throne, with Mary on one side and John on the other, appealing to him on behalf of the needs of the world.

Yet John accomplished little. "He was in the desert" is about all we know of most of his life (Lk 1:80). He spent years being quiet and waiting. When God directed him to preach, large crowds gathered and his call to repentance had an impact on some people. But after a while, the crowds melted away.

In the end, he got a local ruler angry for rebuking him for sexual immorality; after some time in prison, he was executed. The words of today's first reading, "I thought I had toiled in vain," may have crossed his mind at the end.

But there was one tremendous thing John did. It can be summed up in a single word: "Look!"

One day as he was baptizing people in the Jordan River, John noticed Jesus in the crowd. To everyone gathered around him, John solemnly pointed to Jesus and said that he was the one God had sent as savior.

For centuries, prophets had spoken of the plans God had for the world. It was given to John to say that here is the one who will carry out the plans. It was for this that John was conceived and born, for this he was named and blessed at birth, for this he prepared his entire life.

John's role in salvation history is unique. But the celebration of his birthday reminds us that each of us has a unique calling. The words the liturgy applies to John apply to each of us too.

"The Lord has spoken who formed me as his servant from the womb" -- that's you and me. "Truly you formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother's womb" -- that's you and me. "John heralded his coming" -- that's Emily and Jason and Gina and Kateri and Karol and me, for pointing others to Jesus, each in our own way, is why we too were conceived and born.



Father, you have created me for your good purposes. Guide me in living in a way that reflects your Son.

Kevin Perrotta is the editor and an author of the Six Weeks With the Bible series, teaches part time at Siena Heights University, and leads Holy Land pilgrimages. He lives in Ann Arbor, Mich.


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Holy Days of Obligation Description
Monday, Jan. 1
Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God
Sunday, May 13
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Wednesday, Aug. 15
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Thursday, Nov. 1
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photo of Pilgrim Icon of St. Raphael

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