Today I want to talk a little about liturgy and the liturgical calendar. When I was growing up as a Baptist, we didn’t have any calendar, readings, or feast days. Sometimes I Think we Catholics take for granted the liturgical design of our worship and the genius behind it.
Today is the feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. This feast has been celebrated in the Catholic since the 4th century. It’s exactly six months before Christmas. In the Gospel of Luke, when he writes about the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to her cousin Elizabeth, it says Elizabeth is in her 6th month of pregnancy. So if we celebrate Jesus’s birthday in December and count back six months, we find ourselves in June. That’s simple and logical, but there’s more to it.
It’s also very near the summer solstice. That is the longest day of the year. From the solstice in summer until the solstice in winter (which falls around Christmas), the days get shorter and shorter. It’s as if the “light” is fading from the world. Then on Christmas, when Jesus is born, light begins to grow. The days grow longer and longer.
This simple liturgical design reminds us that our lives should always point to Jesus. The rhythms of the church and the readings all keep our lives oriented towards the Eucharist, towards Salvation. I think this morning’s readings remind us of the conception, life, and birth of John the Baptist for that same reason. John was the first person to recognize Jesus while still a 6-month infant in the womb. He was called from the womb and spent his life preparing the path for the Messiah. In the end, he gave his life for his faith, being beheaded by Herod for refusing to bless an invalid marriage. All the while indicating that Jesus was the important one. John said that he was unfit even to untie Jesus’ sandals. John also said, “He must increase, I must decrease.” Amazing how through the liturgy even the length of the day reminds us of that Scriptural truth.
There is an amazing piece of art, which you can find on my Facebook if you want to see it, by Matthias Grünewald that is painted on the altar in Isenheim. In it, you see the scene at the foot of the cross, with Jesus hanging above. Our Blessed Mother is falling into John the Evangelists’ arms and Mary Magdalene on her knees. Then off to the right, you see John the Baptist, holding the scriptures and pointing his hand at Jesus on the cross. It’s a touching scene with a ton of imagery.
I think it applies to our message today, in that you see that finger pointing to Jesus. You and I are to be like the finger of John the Baptist. Our lives should point to Him. We should live our faith in a way that points to the Eucharist, towards the Church and its Sacraments. The liturgy helps us do that by leading us on a journey through the Scriptures, from the story’s beginning to the end. Something to meditate on today: do I, with every action, thought, word, and deed, point to Jesus Christ and His Church? Because that’s what being a disciple means.
A reflection on the readings for Thursday of the 12th Week in Ordinary Time: June 24th, 2021