On the Birth of St. John the Baptist

«Let us heed his voice today, and make room for the Lord in our hearts»

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VATICAN CITY, JUNE 25, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave Sunday before and after praying the midday Angelus with those gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

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Dear brothers and sisters!

Today, June 24, we celebrate the solemnity of the Birth of St. John the Baptist. Apart from the Virgin Mary, the Baptist is the only saint whose birth is celebrated by the liturgy and it does so because this birth is closely connected with the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God. From his mother’s womb, in fact, John is the precursor of Jesus: his miraculous conception, which is announced to Mary by the angel as sign that “nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37), occurred six months before the great miracle that gives us salvation, the union of God with man by the work of the Holy Spirit.

The four Gospels give great prominence to the figure of John the Baptist, who, as the prophet who concludes the Old Testament and inaugurates the New one, points to Jesus as the Messiah, the Anointed One of the Lord. In effect, it will be the same Jesus to speak of John in these terms: “He is the one of whom it is written: Behold, I send my messenger before you, before you to prepare the way. In truth I say to you: among the men born of women there is none greater than John the Baptist; but the smallest in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:10-11).

John’s father, Zachariah – the husband of Elizabeth, Mary’s relative – was a priest of the Old Testament worship. He did not immediately believe in the announcement of a paternity that, by now, he could not hope for, and so remained mute until the day of the child’s circumcision. He and his wife gave the child the name indicated by God, John, which means “the Lord makes grace.” Animated by the Holy Spirit, Zachariah spoke thus of his son’s mission: “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High before you will go before the Lord and prepare his way, to give his people the knowledge of salvation in the remission of their sins” (Luke 1:76-77). All this was manifested 30 years later, when John began baptizing in the Jordan River, calling the people to prepare themselves, with this gesture of penance, for the imminent coming of the Messiah, whom God had revealed to him during his sojourn in the desert of Judea. This was why he was called the “Baptist,” that is, the “Baptizer” (cf. Matthew 3:1-6).

When one day, Jesus came from Nazareth to be baptized himself, John refused at first but then agreed and saw the Holy Spirit descend upon Jesus and heard the voice of the heavenly Father that proclaimed him his Son (cf. Matthew 3:13-17). But the Baptist’s mission was not yet complete: shortly afterward, he was also asked to precede Jesus in violent death: John was decapitated in King Herod’s prison, and in this way bore full witness to the Lamb of God, whom he was the first to recognize and publicly point to.

Dear friends, the Virgin Mary helped her elderly relative Elizabeth to bring her pregnancy with John to term. May she help all to follow Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, whom the Baptist announced with great prophetic humility and ardor.

[After reciting the Angelus the Holy Father greeted those present in St. Peter’s Square in various languages. In Italian he said:]

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today in Italy is the Pope’s Charity Day. I thank all of the parish communities, families and individual faithful for their constant and generous support, which helps many of our brothers in difficulty. In this regard, I remind you that the day after tomorrow, if it please God, I will make a brief visit to the areas struck by the recent earthquake in northern Italy. I wish it to be a sign of the solidarity of the whole Church [with them] and so I invite everyone to accompany me with prayer.

[In English he said:]

I greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present for today’s Angelus. This Sunday, we celebrate the birth of John the Baptist, the great saint who prepared the way for our Lord. John was a voice, crying in the wilderness, calling God’s people to repentance. Let us heed his voice today, and make room for the Lord in our hearts. May God bless all of you.

[Concluding in Italian he said:]

I wish everyone a good feast day, a good Sunday, a good week. Thank you!

[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]
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