Monday June 24, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Birth of Saint John the Baptist
Reading I (Isaiah 49:1-6) Reading II (Acts 13:22-26)
Gospel (St. Luke 1:57-66, 80)
As we celebrate today the birth of Saint John the Baptist, we need to consider that question: What is this child to be? What this child is to be and who he is had already been revealed to Zechariah by Gabriel. It says, "He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother's womb, and he will turn the hearts of many of the children of Israel to their Lord. He will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn their hearts toward their children and the disobedient to the understanding of righteousness, to prepare a people fit for the Lord." That was the purpose for which John the Baptist was sent. He came in the power of the prophet Elijah and he came to turn the hearts of the people toward their God.
Now we were told in the Old Testament times that Elijah was to come before the Lord. When Jesus Himself was asked, "How is it that you are the Messiah, isn't Elijah supposed to come first?" Jesus said, "Elijah has already come. They did with him what they would and they put him to death." The spirit of Elijah is one which is still in the world and it is one that is still to come because the spirit of Elijah will be here again before the Second Coming of the Lord to be able, once again, to prepare the hearts of the people, to be able to turn the people toward their God, and to prepare an obedient people fit for the Lord. That spirit is a spirit that does not have to reside in one single person. The spirit of Elijah was in Elisha in a twofold manner; it was in John the Baptist; and that spirit of Elijah is passed down through the various prophets and continues to our day. And so, it is for each of us to be able to listen to that prophet, to be able to listen to the voice spoken through the prophets, to turn our hearts to our heavenly Father. If we think of the day in which we are living, the voice of Elijah is very clear. It is calling people once again to repentance.
John, whom Our Lord Himself said is the greatest man born of woman, was consecrated to the Lord from the womb. He was born without Original Sin because, at the moment of the Visitation, Original Sin was removed from his soul - so from the very first moments of his life he was consecrated entirely to God. We look at the kind of life that he lived, a life that most of us would think would be thoroughly insane: a man living out in the desert eating grasshoppers and wild honey and wearing camel's skin. Today's psychiatrists would lock him up. Jesus said he was the greatest man born of woman and [there was] no one greater. We need to see things from God's perspective. In Scripture, there is not one single miracle ever attributed to Saint John the Baptist; yet he is the one that God sent to turn the hearts of the children back to their heavenly Father.
So too, in our day, we need to make sure that our hearts are turned toward God, and we need to look at the life of this man. It was a life of penance. It was a life that was spent in solitude. It was a life which most people would not be able to understand, and certainly most are not called to do. But all of us are priests, prophets, and kings through Baptism. And each one of us, then, needs to enter into that prophetic state - not meaning some sort of frenzied state where we are proclaiming future events; but rather, to be able, with Saint John the Baptist, to prepare the hearts of the people to meet their God, to be able to have an obedient people for the Lord, to fast and to pray and to do penance. Saint John the Baptist went out in the desert to pray and to suffer and to offer all that to the Lord so the lost sheep of the house of Israel could repent and could turn their hearts back to God. It is still the same. The only way there are going to be conversions is if the people of God are willing to pray, to fast, and to offer their sufferings to the Lord in the spirit of Elijah, in the spirit of Saint John the Baptist. That is what each one of us is called to do. When we see what this man did - we are not called to live it that radically, perhaps - but all of us are called to share in the same work to be able to prepare a people for the Lord, to prepare an obedient people for the Lord, and to help in the task of turning the hearts of the children back to our heavenly Father.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.