Spirituality Commission Report
On June 24 we will celebrate the Nativity of St John the Baptist. Well, we celebrate it each year, so what makes it special this year? When June 24 falls on a weekday, only those who attend Daily Mass recognize that it is a Solemnity, with two Readings instead of one and we include the Gloria and the Creed in the Mass. A week from Sunday the priest will wear a gold or white vestment in place of the Ordinary green. I only know all this because the colors in our parish bulletin correspond to the liturgical colors. It doesn’t happen often – I remember recently the Transfiguration of the Lord or the Conversion of St Paul.
Besides Jesus and Mary, John the Baptist is the only person whose birth we celebrate – normally a feast day occurs on the day a saint died, beginning his or her new life in heaven – and John is one of few saints who has two feast days. His birth has great prominence in the Gospel of Luke and like Jesus, his conception was announced by an angel.
John was a relative of Jesus – their mothers were cousins and their earliest relationship is described in the visitation of Mary to Elizabeth. Bishop Bill talked about this meeting and Mary’s magnificat in his talk on “Mary’s Joy” at our DCCW Convention. He recalled how John leapt in his mother’s womb when he heard Mary’s greeting and he brought it to life for us. He said, I was reflecting on this meeting and imagining how Mary ran up and with joy called out, Elizabeth, Elizabeth! and John heard that.
John the Baptist holds a unique place in salvation history. The last of the Old Testament prophets, his story is told in the New Testament. Jesus said of John the Baptist, Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist. That is high praise, indeed. John played an extremely important role in preparing the way for Jesus, announcing the entry of the messiah in the world, and directing people to him. He was definitely a humble man. Imagine your cousin – your younger cousin – being the messiah and you know you are important but you have to always take a back seat to him. John understood his role perfectly and pointed again and again to Jesus. He repeatedly told those who followed him and would raise him up that he was not the messiah, that one greater was coming, and that he was not even worthy to untie the strap of his sandal. Do you wonder what their relationship was as boys when they played together? When did they each come to realize their true identity and relationship in God’s plan? John was the first to proclaim Jesus; besides Mary he was probably the only one who truly knew that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah prior to his resurrection.
Other than once every 7 years or so when the solemnity falls on a Sunday, Americans don’t really notice the Nativity of St John the Baptist. But some countries celebrate it big time. I was on a pilgrimage in Poland in 2016 and we were in Krakow for the celebration; which was moved to the nearest weekend so all the people could attend. The old city had stages set up and musicians and light shows; there were vendors selling food and light sticks and other things you find at festivals. The young girls wore wreaths on their heads. The tradition was to throw the wreath in the river and it would be found by a young man who would become her husband. (I didn’t try it)
The Catholic Church has always been very good at inculturation. Rather than going into a new pagan country and trying to eliminate cultural traditions, she has embraced them and explained them from a Christian perspective. June 24 occurs a couple days after the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, after which the days begin to shorten. Why do we celebrate the Nativity of the Lord on Dec 25, just a couple days after the winter solstice? The Church explained that Jesus is the light of the world; his birth brings light and the lengthening of days. And didn’t John the Baptist say, He must increase and I must decrease? OK, we still throw wreaths in the river and decorate a tree into our homes, but we celebrate Jesus Christ and other Christian holidays in place of pagan rituals.
When it was very dark on that wonderful night in Krakow fireworks were launched from seven long barges on the Vistula River, programmed to explode in unison, to alternate, and crisscross, and make beautiful patterns in the night sky, all choreographed to classical music. The display lasted over half an hour. I have never seen such fireworks in my life and I’m sure I never will again – all this to celebrate the birth of John the Baptist! The next day we celebrated Mass in the famous Salt Mine (that I can’t pronounce) in the Chapel of St John the Baptist.
Poland was under communist domination for 40 years after World War II, until 1989. Will our country, with all our freedoms, ever celebrate Christian feasts and holy days again, as a nation, in grand style? Or do we have to lose all those freedoms first and fight to win them again before we truly appreciate God’s presence in our lives?
Respectfully submitted by
FCCW Spirituality Commission Chair