Homily for the Solemnity of St. John the Baptist (B), Sunday, June 24, 2018:
By Father Scott Karnik, Associate Pastor @ St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church.
Holy Mother Church celebrates three births as solemnities. The first is the birth of Jesus Christ, with the Solemnity of Christmas. The second is the Solemnity of the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The third is this one, the Solemnity of the birth of St. John the Baptist. Perhaps one of the biggest reasons is in today’s gospel: “For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.” John the Baptist went about preaching a baptism of repentance. John was the voice of one crying out in the desert, make straight the way of the Lord. He was the precursor of Jesus Christ and the last of the prophets.
St. Luke’s Gospel sets the scene at John’s circumcision. The baby is circumcised and Elizabeth says he will be named John, not Zechariah. Zechariah confirms this and then his speech is restored. “Then fear came upon all their neighbors,…” Fear means an awesome reverence for God’s wonderful deeds. Elizabeth’s neighbors rejoiced with her because “the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her.” The Jews are aware of a deeper meaning in this. They don’t know what but they understand God is doing something special. “All who heard these things took them to heart saying, ‘What, then, will this child be?’ For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.” The Jews celebrated a boy’s circumcision with great religious joy. Circumcision admitted the boy to spiritual communion with Israel and gives him a share in the promises of the patriarchs. It was a deed of contract between the boy and God.
The parallel in the Christian church is what John did, he baptized. So this is a good opportunity to discuss baptism in the Roman Catholic Church. Baptism is called a “gateway sacrament.” It is the first sacrament Holy Mother Church administers to a person. Baptism is necessary for salvation. It must be actually received or there must be a sincere desire for it. Jesus tells Nicodemus in John 3:5 "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." A priest administers baptism by a washing of water with the proper form of words. It is through baptism that men and women are: freed from sin, reborn as children of God, and, configured to Christ by an indelible character, are incorporated into the Church, this Church, Jesus’s Church, the one He established on the rock of St. Peter. Our souls are dead in original sin. Baptism gives the new life of sanctifying grace. Baptism frees us from Satan’s power. By baptism we enter into Jesus. We unite with Him in His Mystical Body and live with His life. Baptism is the door to other sacraments. One must first be baptized before receiving any other sacrament. Baptism washes away original sin and actual sins, and all the punishment due to them. A valid baptism requires a Trinitarian form. The priest prays, “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”, while pouring water on the person’s head. The person administering baptism must have the deliberate intention of doing so.
What is impressive and stunning about baptism is this: Every other sacrament we receive returns us to the state of grace and life we were in when we first were baptized. That is huge. Baptism is the first sacrament in which we receive God’s Holy Spirit into our souls.
Returning to the gospel, John the Baptist was Zechariah’s and Elizabeth’s first child, a son. John should’ve been a priest, like Zechariah his father. But he wasn’t. He gave that up and went into the desert to be prepared for his mission. The passing of the Temple and the Law are foreshadowed in John the Baptist. Baptism and Jesus Christ replace them. In the Roman Catholic Church we baptize infants. In Acts, Chapter Two, Peter tells the Jews at Pentecost that they must “repent and be baptized, each one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, that your sins may be forgiven; then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. It was to you and your children that the promise was made, and to all those still far off whom the Lord our God calls” (Acts 2:38-39). There is no verse anywhere in the Bible that restricts baptism to adults only.
It is breath-taking how important baptism is. It is breath-taking how much God graciously loves us, to restore His Life in us through this gateway sacrament. By the way, it is at baptism that we give a child his or her name, just like at circumcision. The name “John” means “Yahweh is gracious.” He is and baptism proves it.
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