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Archbishop Follo: The Birth that Prepares the Birth

With the invitation to imitate Saint John Baptiste and to be the voice of Christ today.

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Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist
XII Sunday Ordinary Time – Year B – June 24, 2018
Roman Rite
Is 49.1-6; Ps 139; Acts 13.22-26; Lk 1,57-66.80
Ambrosian Rite
V Sunday after Pentecost
Jan. 17b-16; Ps 105; Rm 4,3-12; Jn 12.35-50
V Sunday after Pentecost
1) The birth of John: the precursor, the prophet, the martyr, the baptizer.
Today, June 24, just a few days away from the summer solstice, the Church solemnly celebrates the birth of St. John the Baptist. Within six months, a few days before the winter solstice, the Liturgy will make us celebrate the birth of the Savior with even more solemnity. On December 25 the hours of daylight begin to lengthen, on June 24 they begin to shorten.
Referring to Jesus, John says: «He must increase and I must decrease» (Jn 3:30). The logic is that when the sun shines the lamps are turned off because they are no longer necessary to see people and things. In any case, St. John, even if he is not the light, is «the lamp that burns and shines» (Jn 5:35) to witness the light.
Even in the astronomical data there is an evident parallelism between the Christmas of Christ and the feast of the birth of Saint John, the precursor, whose father Zacharias at his birth, proclaims: «And you, who are now little, you will be called the prophet of the Most High, you will walk before the Lord «(Lk 1:76). In this way, came to the world «the one who is the greatest among those born of women … more than a prophet» (Lk 7,26.28).
Therefore, St. John is not only the precursor, he is also a special prophet. The prophets before him spoke of Christ, announcing his coming, John indicated him, present among us, saying «Behold the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world». He is the last (in order of time) of the prophets but the greatest and closest to the Savior. He was also the first witness of Christ that gave his life for him, so he can and must be called a martyr.
This prophet and martyr was given the name «John», which indicates his task: «God gives mercy». In fact, in Hebrew, John means «God is merciful». Already in the name, it is expressed the fact that one day this newborn will announce God’s plan of salvation.
The noun Baptist is almost always linked to this name of «John», because this Saint, who has shown to the world the incarnated mercy, has preached and given «the baptism of conversion» in the Jordan where he baptized Christ himself. In doing so, he allowed the Redeemer to unveil two aspects of His mystery: humility and charity the humble God of mercy and the Son, the Beloved, the anointed by the Lord.
2) God of mercy.
As I mentioned above, the Gospel passage also speaks of the name given to the newborn: John. It is also important what we read in the first reading and in the responsorial psalm of today’s feast.
The first reading, taken from the book of Isaiah, says: «The Lord has called me from the womb, from the mother’s womb he has pronounced my name. He made my mouth like a sharp sword, he hid me in the shadow of his hand, he made me a sharp arrow, he put me in his quiver. » The responsorial psalm returns to the concept that God knows us from our mother’s womb: «You created my entrails and you have woven me in the womb of my mother … Your eyes saw me unformed » (Ps 139).
Commonly, we have a very reductive and legal idea of a person that generates a lot of confusion in the debate on abortion. It seems that a child acquires the dignity of a person from the moment he is recognized as so by the human authorities. For the Bible, a person is the one who is known by God, the one whom God calls by name; and God knows us from the womb, his eyes saw us when we were «still unformed» in our mother’s womb. Science tells us that in the embryo there is, in becoming, the future man designed in every particular detail; faith adds that it is not just an unconscious project of nature, but a project of love by the Creator.
The figure of John is really a special figure and the name he receives indicates an action of the God of mercy, the «bending over» of God, and the radiating of God over his people.
He is the man whom the Provident Mercy has chosen to prepare the entrance in history of the Eternal One.
If it should also be remembered that John is not only the baptizer, the martyr, the prophet and the precursor of Jesus only with regard to birth, mission, and death. He is also the friend of the groom who, after having introduced the bride to the groom and organized the wedding party, disappears from the scene of this world. It should not be forgotten that John the Baptist says of himself: «I am the voice of one crying in the desert: Make the way of the Lord straight, as the prophet Isaiah said» (Jn 1: 23).
If I had to give a definition of John the Baptist, I would have to do nothing but repeat what I have just written. If I should give a broader sense to the question: «Who is the Baptist?», I would write that the baptizer is each of us. Having become children of God through Baptism, unwanted by us but wanted by the Above, we are called to keep the words of our parents, pledging ourselves to truly live as children of God, resurrected, and  obedient to the will of the Father that will not ask us for things superior to our strength, but who is on our right to defend us.
We are like the Baptist when we obey the will of God, when we meet one another, when we make ourselves little so that Christ may grow great in the heart of everyone we meet.
The life of every human being is the fulfillment of a design of God. As the Baptist was pre-announced, every birth is a pre-announcement. God has a design about us like he says: «I have drawn you on the palm of my hand» (Is 49, 16).
From the womb of my mother, you said my name, even before I was born you knew me (Id) and Psalm 139 says: «You have woven me in my mother’s womb, that is, you are more mother than my mother. In your eyes, I am a prodigy because God sees me with a mother’s eye”.
To understand that our birth is the fulfillment of a plan of love means a very precise thing. It means that our life comes from love that is its source and its source is also what it contains. If our source is poison, death, nothingness or hate, our life will be either one or the other. If, on the other hand, at its beginning there is the design of love that has thought of me, has cured me, has woven me: «All my days were counted even before there was one; they are written in your book and not only the days but also all my tears pour, Lord, into your wineskin «.
Nothing is lost of the human being; everything is seen, foreseen, loved and welcomed or forgiven by God.
Seeing birth means seeing the person in a different way. Every birth is an aspect of this tenderness of God that expands over all of creation and it is a source of joy. This joy is there not only when there is a natural birth, but also, and above all, when there is a spiritual birth. The consecrated Virgins are special witnesses of this spiritual fruitfulness.
Pope Francis teaches: «Even today, the Church receives a great benefit from the exercise of the spiritual motherhood of many consecrated women … who nourish the thought for God in souls, strengthen the faith of the people and orient the Christian life towards ever higher peaks».
And St. John Paul II wrote: » Virginity according to the Gospel means renouncing marriage and thus physical motherhood. Nevertheless, the renunciation of this kind of motherhood, a renunciation that can involve great sacrifice for a woman, makes possible a different kind of motherhood: motherhood «according to the Spirit» (cf. Rom 8:4). For virginity does not deprive a woman of her prerogatives. Spiritual motherhood takes on many different forms. In the life of consecrated women, for example, who live according to the charism and the rules of the various apostolic Institutes, it can express itself as concern for people, especially the most needy: the sick, the handicapped, the abandoned, orphans, the elderly, children, young people, the imprisoned and, in general, people on the edges of society. In this way, a consecrated woman finds her Spouse, different and the same in each and every person, according to his very words: «As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me» (Mt 25:40). Spousal love always involves a special readiness to be poured out for the sake of those who come within one’s range of activity. In marriage this readiness, even though open to all, consists mainly in the love that parents give to their children. In virginity, this readiness is open to all people, who are embraced by the love of Christ the Spouse. «(Mulieris dignitatis, 21).
Finally, the consecrated Virgins bear witness to the fact that virginity, as a woman’s vocation, is always the vocation of a person, of a concrete and unrepeatable person. Therefore, spiritual motherhood is also profoundly personal, a maternity of grace that makes itself felt in their vocation. With their yes (fiat) docile, generous and faithful to Christ, these women «allow» God to keep his promise of fruitful and sanctifying love.
Patristic reading
Saint Augustin of Hippo (354 -430)


  1. At that time: The time was fulfilled for Elizabeth to give birth, and she brought forth a son(Lc 1,57). In this Gospel two things are noted: the birth of the Forerunner, and his naming.


  1. The birth of the Forerunner: The time was fulfilled for Elizabeth. Mary remained three months in the house of Zacharias, ministering to her kinswoman until she should give birth; and «It is read in the book of the Just that the Blessed Virgin was the first to pick up the new-born John.»1 The time was fulfilled: the word ‘fulfil’ is frequently used in Holy Scripture in connection with the birth, death or activity of good men, signifying that their life has the fullness of perfection. Thus:It came to pass that Mary’s days were fulfilled that she should be delivered. (Lc 2,6Abraham died, being full of days. (Gn 25,8)
    On the contrary, the days of the wicked are empty and vacant. So, The time was fulfilled for Elizabeth to give birth. Zacharias, as Luke tells, went into the Lord’s temple to offer incense, when Gabriel appeared to him and said, ‘Elizabeth your wife will bear you a son’ (cf. Lc 1 . What was told him in the month of September, when the solemn feast was celebrated which is called the ‘Day of Expiation, or Propitiation’, was fulfilled today. Let us see the moral significance of Zacharias (‘remembrance of the Lord’ or ‘remembering the Lord’) and Elizabeth (‘the seventh of my God’).
    3. Elizabeth is the faithful soul, who is well-named ‘seventh of my God’ on account of three ‘sevens’ which belong to her especially: of gifts, petitions, and blessings. The first ‘seven’ justifies the second moves on from good to better, the third perfects. Alternatively, ‘seven’ refers to the Sabbath (or ‘rest’), in which God rested (cf. Ex 31,15 Ex 31,17); since she rested from all servile work. «The soul of the just is the seat of wisdom.»2 His place is in peace (cf. Ps 75,3), that is, in the peaceful soul. Of this sabbath Isaiah 58 says:
    Thou shalt call the sabbath delightful, and the holy of the Lord glorious. (Is 58,13)
    ‘Delightful’ suggests pleasurable experience; the ‘delights’ are those three ‘sevens’ mentioned above, with which the soul is fed, so as to make a delightful Sabbath, fed with holiness of life and glory of conscience.
    This Elizabeth conceives by Zacharias; so that the Psalm says:
    I remembered God, and was delighted,
    and was exercised, and my spirit swooned away. (Ps 76,4)
    A woman conceives with pleasure, and the soul conceives in great delight, from the remembrance of the Lord. So the Psalm says:
    I have been delighted in the way of thy testimonies, as in all riches, (Ps 118,14)
    that is, ‘in the way of your martyrdoms’, your sufferings. The crown of thorns, the Cross, the nails, the lance and the other instruments of Christ’s Passion, are the delight of the just man, in which he takes more pleasure than in all the riches of this world, saying, I remembered God, and was delighted. Two things come from this delight, the exercise of works of charity, and a failure of self-confidence in spirit; or else the two things the Psalm mentions:
    My flesh (my carnality) and my heart (the pride of my heart) hath fainted away: thou art the God of my heart, and God is my portion for ever., (Ps 72,26) from whom I may conceive and bear the child of eternal life.
    Note that Elizabeth conceived in the seventh month, September, and gave birth in June. Even so, the soul conceives in the ‘seventh’ (the Sabbath), that is, in stillness, by devotion of mind; and she bears her son, good work, in June, called ‘Siban’ in Hebrew, meaning ‘rightness of gift’. The gift of grace which she conceives in her mind, she brings forth in rightness of action.
    4. Now Elizabeth’s full time of being delivered was come, and she brought forth a son. And her neighbors and kinsfolk heard that the Lord had shewed his great mercy towards her, and the congratulated her.(Lc 1,57-58)
    The Gloss says, «The coming forth or birth of saints brings joy to many because it is a common good. Saints are born for the common benefit. Justice is a common virtue, that is, for the common profit of all, and so in the birth of a just man signs of his future life are given beforehand, and the grace of the virtue which is to follow is shown in the prefiguring joy of the neighbors.»
    Morally. The ‘neighbours’ are the angels, the ‘kinsfolk’ are just men, who congratulate the soul on the birth of good works. So Gabriel said:
    And many shall rejoice in his nativity; for he shall be great before the Lord and shall drink no wine nor strong drink. (Lc 1,14)
    Truly, many rejoice: Christ, angel, and neighbor. Christ, because as Luke 15 says,
    When he hath found the sheep, he lays it on his shoulders rejoicing. (Lc 15,5)
    The Gloss says, » The ‘shoulders’ of Christ are the arms of the Cross. There he carried my sins, on that neck of a noble gibbet he rested.» The angel, because:
    I say to you, there shall be joy before the angels of God upon one sinner doing penance. (Lc 15,10)
    The Gloss says, «The angels, being rational, rejoice that man is reconciled to them; which should motivate us to goodness of life, to do what is pleasing to them whose patronage we should desire, and to offend whom we should fear. The neighbor, as the Apostle says in II Corinthians 7:
    I rejoice because you were made sorrowful unto penance. (2Co 7,9)
    He will be great. Note that ‘great’ is used in reference to mind, ‘largeness’ to the body. If your work be small in your own eyes, it will be great before God. I must decrease, he must increase (cf. Jn 3,30), he says. When you lessen yourself by humility, grace grows in you by virtue of soul. Before the Lord, not before men, who deceive and are deceived, who call evil good, and good evil. What a man is before God, that he is, and no more.3 If you want to consecrate your good work to God, beware, lest you drink the wine of vainglory and the strong drink of unsuitable mirth. So the Lord says to Aaron, in Leviticus 10:
    You shall not drink wine nor anything that may make drunk, thou nor thy sons, when you enter into the tabernacle of the testimony, lest you die. (Lv 10,9)
    And Numbers 6:
    When a man or woman shall make a vow to be sanctified, and will consecrate themselves to the Lord, they shall abstain from wine and everything that may make drunk. (Nb 6,2-3)
    Whoever wants to consecrate his work to the Lord, and be received into the tabernacle of the heavenly Jerusalem, should beware the drunkenness of vainglory and foolish mirth.


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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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