St. John the Baptist

The Nativity of St. John the Baptist

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The Benedictus: Hymn of Thanksgiving of Zechariah, the father of St. John the Baptist

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; because He hath visited and wrought the redemption of His people:  and hath raised up an Horn of Salvation to us, in the house of David His servant:  As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets, who are from the beginning:  Salvation from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us: To perform mercy to our fathers, and to remember His Holy Testament,  the oath, which He swore to Abraham our father, that He would grant to us, that being delivered from the hand of our enemies, we may serve Him without fear, in holiness and justice before Him, all our days. And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways:  To give knowledge of salvation to His people, unto the remission of their sins: Through the bowels of the mercy of our God, in which the Orient from on high hath visited us:  To enlighten them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death: to direct our feet into the way of peace. – Luke 1:68-79

My Dear Parishioners: Today is the birthday of Saint John the Baptist. In the Roman calendar, only three birthdays are recognized: Our Blessed Lord, December 25th; the Blessed Virgin Mary, September 8th, and today, June 24th, Saint John the Baptist. This day always marked for us as children the beginning of summer. Growing up in inner-city Philadelphia, we were not allowed to go to the public pool until today, when our Pastor would stand in front of the public pool and we all prayed and he blessed the water. I remember the absolute quiet of 200+ kids, as he prayed.Then the sign was given and the fun and splashing began! We were told that the Baptist’s birthday somehow signified the blessing of the waters. So as kids, we all looked forward to Saint John’s Day, when we could finally go swimming. What I like about that memory is that the summer began with a blessing, a sacred observance that somehow permeated the entire summer. I recall a steamy hot church with only the hum of two big fans on the Altar to keep us cool, and they were turned off during the sermon. All the neighborhood kids had a turn or two of going to the cemetery with their parents to wash the headstones, plant flowers and, most importantly, to say a prayer. Like most city kids, we lived our lives by the Church bells: the Angelus at noon, home for lunch; the Angelus at 6 p.m., home for dinner. Like so many my age and older, we lived in a community that simply breathed the Christian faith. I can remember all the kids picking up a piece of litter as a penance, being told that littering was – and still is today – a sin and offensive to God. (We were green before it was fashionable!) Today, sadly, that Christian air is no longer present in society. A new, poisonous air hangs over us, the air of indifference to God and the things of God. This indifference is manifest in rudeness, vulgarity, and disregard for others and their property. Saint John came to prepare the way of the Lord. He came as a witness. Today the world needs witnesses to the truth of our faith, to the true faith of Jesus Christ, and the truth that no one can get to Heaven except through Him. We witness first by example. Summertime is a laid-back time, yet we affirm our faith each Sunday by getting up, getting dressed, and coming to Mass (and let us recall that our dress should befit our presence in the Temple of God). For us as Catholics, there are no “free Sundays.” When we go on vacation, we seek out the Catholic Church and the time for Mass. We witness by our speech. I am shocked by the obscenities that I hear, even by young children, as they walk by the Rectory and the Church. I can only conclude that this is how their mothers and father talk in the house. Pray for these poor, wretched children doomed by their own parents to such poverty of soul! Saint John would have us speak a word of truth to our children and grandchildren about how offensive this type of vocabulary is before God. The secular press predicts an increase of violent crime by teenagers who come from homes where there is little moral or spiritual foundation. Saint John reminds us that we need God. Encourage your adult children who are trying to raise their family to come to Mass, not dismiss it as “a nice thing to do,” but because without God and a good moral and spiritual foundation, family life will be destroyed by drugs, gangs (yes, we have them here), and a host of other evils. Catholic family life must include daily family prayer (e.g., Grace before Meals, etc.) both at home and in public.  Let others see your faith in action! By living this faith like John the Baptist, “the rough places will be made plain and the crooked, straight.” By God’s grace, we can begin to build in our community a truly Christian environment. Happy Summer! God bless you all. Your friend and pastor, Father Dan Hesko.

Rogier van der Weyden (1400-1464)
St John the Baptist Altarpiece, Left Panel c. 1454
(oil and tempera on wood,  30¼” x 18¾”)
Staatliche Museen, Berlin, Germany