We all love birthdays! We instinctively know that the birth of a person into this world is something that should be celebrated. We celebrate because we are happy that this person is in the world with us. Our knowing them has somehow made our life better.
However, when the Church celebrates a birthday in our liturgical calendar, whether it is the Nativity of Jesus Christ, Our Lady, or St. John the Baptist, we are reflecting on the meaning of human life at a much deeper level.
We are often blind to this deeper meaning. As a culture we are far from consistent when it comes to assigning value to human life. I always cringe when I hear someone joke that one of their children was “an accident,” or an “oops baby.” How easily we forget that “spouses share in the creative power and fatherhood of God… cooperating with the love of God the Creator” (CCC 2367; cf. TOB 21:7). As we pray in today’s responsorial psalm, it is God who wonderfully forms our inmost being in our mother’s womb inspiring our praise (Ps 139:13). Every individual human life is a gift from God and is intended by God. Love is God’s motive for creation and it is this divine love that gives rise to the good and is will pleased with the good (TOB 13:3). God intimately knows us from the moment of our creation (Ps 139:1-4, 14-16, 23). Let us not pass over the fact that God’s improbable gift of John the Baptist also came through the conjugal union of Zachariah and Elizabeth knowing each other, “the act that… in union with the Creator, establishes a new human being in existence” (TOB 21:7). How tragic it is that some today suggest that it should be the prerogative of human beings to choose whether or not to permit this gift of human life to be born at all! Still others suffer under the burden of self-loathing and cannot see their own lives as a gift with a purpose.
Since all human life comes from the knowledge, will, and design of God, all human life has a purpose. Do we realize the purpose of our lives? Pope St. John Paul II identifies being created in the image and likeness of God as, itself, a vocation (TOB 23:1). By our very nature, through our masculinity and femininity (TOB 58:2), we are called to announce to others the truth that God is a life-giving communion of love.
The Church applies the words of Isaiah to John the Baptist: “The Lord called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name” (Is 49:1). Respecting God’s sovereignty as Creator, Zechariah obeyed the divine command and gave John the name that the Lord determined for him—“John is his name” (Lk 1:63). Ultimately, as is true of all of us, this child belonged to God. God creates, names, and gives the mission. The Lord formed John as a sharp-edged sword, specially designed to be his servant in whom He is made glorious (Is 49:2, 3, 5), to gather back His people and be a light to the nations to advance His salvation (Is 49:5, 7) through heralding the coming of Jesus (Acts 13:24).
We all have a lot in common with St. John the Baptist. We, too, have been called from birth. Created in the image and likeness of God we have this vocation to reflect His love. All parents should look at their newborn children with awe and echo the words of John the Baptist’s neighbors: “What, then, will this child be?” What is God’s plan and how will it unfold for the newly born babe?
Through baptism we are inserted into the life of Jesus Christ, God-made-man and the perfect image of the invisible God (Col 1:15). From that rebirth we proceed on the path of the Christian life, “a vocation flowing from the divine plan… from the mystery of Christ in the Church” (TOB 88:2). We put on the new man (Eph 24). We receive the universal call to holiness. We are set apart to be the light of the world (Mt 5:14). We live in Christ priest, prophet, and king. We are called to overcome vices and acquire virtues, preserve unity within the Christian community, and love our neighbor as ourselves.
As the Christian life continues to unfold we listen for our more particular vocation. Those called to marriage are called to mirror the reciprocal love that exists between Christ the Bridegroom and his Bride the Church (Eph 5:21-33; TOB 90:1). The gift of self in marriage fully images Trinitarian love when the gift of children is received and continue to be nurtured through education and spiritual formation within the family. Those called to the consecrated life and celibacy for the Kingdom have a different though complementary mission. The celibate is called to become a sincere gift for others (Gaudiem et Spes, 24; TOB 77:2] be renouncing the great good of married life (TOB 74:5) in order to embrace a charismatic orientation toward the eschatological state of direct union with God, of which marriage is a sign (TOB 73:4). For the celibate, the call to fatherhood and motherhood is exclusively a spiritual one (TOB 78:5). For the celibate and the married, however, the common mission is to image divine love as a gift of self that bears fruit.
All of us here have been created, all of us have been born. Most here have received baptism. Some might be wives and husbands, mothers and fathers, while others are consecrated. So often, though, we live our lives without reflecting on the deeper meaning of creation and vocation. Let us really celebrate the wonder of our lives and our vocations! Let us be intentional about how we live them! Then, we will really have something to celebrate!
To download a PDF version of this homily, click here: Homily for the Nativity of John the Baptist
Father Christopher DiTomo was ordained in 2011 for the Diocese of Rockford, Illinois. He is currently the Pastor of St. Gall Parish in the rural town of Elburn. He holds a S.T.B. from the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, IL. Fr. DiTomo has taken courses and served as a chaplain for the Theology of the Body Institute.