June 24, 2018 – Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist – Vigil

Reading 1 IS 49:1-6

Hear me, O coastlands,
listen, O distant peoples.
The LORD called me from birth,
from my mother’s womb he gave me my name.
He made of me a sharp-edged sword
and concealed me in the shadow of his arm.
He made me a polished arrow,
in his quiver he hid me.
You are my servant, he said to me,
Israel, through whom I show my glory.

Though I thought I had toiled in vain,
and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength,
yet my reward is with the LORD,
my recompense is with my God.
For now the LORD has spoken
who formed me as his servant from the womb,
that Jacob may be brought back to him
and Israel gathered to him;
and I am made glorious in the sight of the LORD,
and my God is now my strength!
It is too little, he says, for you to be my servant,
to raise up the tribes of Jacob,
and restore the survivors of Israel;
I will make you a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.

Responsorial Psalm PS 139:1B-3, 13-14AB, 14C-15

R. (14) I praise you, for I am wonderfully made.

O LORD, you have probed me, you know me:
you know when I sit and when I stand;
you understand my thoughts from afar.
My journeys and my rest you scrutinize,
with all my ways you are familiar.

R. I praise you for I am wonderfully made.

Truly you have formed my inmost being;
you knit me in my mother’s womb.
I give you thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made;
wonderful are your works.

R. I praise you, for I am wonderfully made.

My soul also you knew full well;
nor was my frame unknown to you
When I was made in secret,
when I was fashioned in the depths of the earth.

R. I praise you, for I am wonderfully made.

Reading 2 ACTS 13:22-26

In those days, Paul said:
“God raised up David as king;
of him God testified,
I have found David, son of Jesse, a man after my own heart;
he will carry out my every wish.
From this man’s descendants God, according to his promise,
has brought to Israel a savior, Jesus.
John heralded his coming by proclaiming a baptism of repentance
to all the people of Israel;
and as John was completing his course, he would say,
‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he.
Behold, one is coming after me;
I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of his feet.’

“My brothers, sons of the family of Abraham,
and those others among you who are God-fearing,
to us this word of salvation has been sent.”

Alleluia SEE LK 1:76

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
You, child, will be called prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel LK 1:57-66, 80

When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child
she gave birth to a son.
Her neighbors and relatives heard
that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her,
and they rejoiced with her.
When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child,
they were going to call him Zechariah after his father,
but his mother said in reply,
“No. He will be called John.”
But they answered her,
“There is no one among your relatives who has this name.”
So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called.
He asked for a tablet and wrote, “John is his name,”
and all were amazed.
Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed,
and he spoke blessing God.
Then fear came upon all their neighbors,
and all these matters were discussed
throughout the hill country of Judea.
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 child grew and became strong in spirit,
and he was in the desert until the day
of his manifestation to Israel.

Reflections

A Child as a Gift

Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist
June 24, 2018
Luke 1:57-66, 80

“The Lord had shown his great mercy toward her, and they rejoiced with her.” (Lk. 1:58)

Today we are celebrating the birth of John the Baptist. Two figures emerge as the protagonists of our today’s Gospel, Elizabeth, and Zachariah. Luke describes the couple as “righteous in the eyes of God, observing all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly. (Luk 1:6)”. But, they have no child. The possibility to have a child is close to zero as Elizabeth is perceived to be barren and Zachariah is already old. In ancient Jewish society, children are considered to be a blessing of the Lord and a source of honor, and barrenness is a curse and shame.

However, the archangel Gabriel appears to Zachariah and tells him that his wife will get pregnant despite her barrenness and his advanced age. Paying close attention to their names, we may discover even richer meaning. Zachariah, from the Hebrew word “Zakar” means to remember, and Elizabeth, a compound Hebrew words, “Eli,” and “Sabath” means God’s oath or promise. Thus, both names may mean God remembers His promise. In the Bible, when God remembers, it does simply mean God recalls something from memory, but it means God fulfills what He has promised. As God has fulfilled His promise to Zachariah’s ancestors, so God also remembers His promise to Elizabeth. The story of Elizabeth reverberate the stories of great women in the Old Testament: Sarah (Gen 15:3; 16:1), Rebekah (Gen 25:21), Rachel (Gen 29:31; 30:1), the mother of Samson and wife of Manoah (Jdg 13:2-3), and Hannah (1Sa 1:2).

What is God’s promise to Elizabeth and Zachariah, and eventually to all of us? St. Luke the evangelist points to us that God’s promise is to show His great mercy to Elisabeth and Zachariah (see Luk 1:58). The birth of John the Baptist is a sign of God’s mercy towards the righteous couple. Thus, the birth of every child is a sign of God’s promise fulfilled, a sign of God’s mercy to every parent. We recall that mercy is not something we deserve. Mercy is the embodiment of gratuitous love, the gift of love. Mercy is an utter gift. Through every child, God shows His great mercy to us, and together with Elizabeth and Zachariah, we shall rejoice because of this gift.

We are living in the world that is increasingly uncomfortable with the presence of the little children around us. There is this new fundamentalist mentality creeping into millennial generation. It is a mentality that promotes individual success as the prime and absolute value of happiness. Thus, anything that stands in its way has to be eradicated. This includes marriage, family life and finally children. They are no longer seen as a gift to be received with gratitude, but liabilities to be avoided. When I visited South Korea last year, my Dominican Korean friend told me that young generation of Korea is working very hard to the point that they longer consider marriage and having children as their priorities. Indeed, unlike in the Philippines or Indonesia, it was not easy to spot little children playing freely. I guess the decline in population growth is a problem in many progressive countries.

We deny neither the fact that it is a backbreaking responsibility to raise children nor the reality that not all of us are called to become parents. However, it is also true that children are a gift not only to the particular family, but to the entire humanity, and thus, every one of us has the sacred call to protect and take care of the wellbeing of our children. We shall protect our children from any form of child abuse, from the debilitating effects of poverty, from the egocentric and contraceptive mentality and from evil of abortion. To honor a gift is to honor the giver, and thus, to honor every child is to honor the God who gives them to us.

Br. Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP

Photo with Xenon Oble and Harry Setianto Sunaryo SJ.

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