homily – June 24

Solemnity of the Birth of St. John the Baptist

Today has been called “little Christmas’ as opposed to ‘big Christmas on December 25th. In about the 4th century the church decided to celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25th, right after the winter solstice – the shortest day of the year. The Romans had celebrated the feast of the unconquerable sun to celebrate the fact that after the shortest day of the year the days began to get longer. The church decided to baptize this pagan feast to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the unconquerable Son of God.

To counter balance this decision they made June 24th the celebration of the feast of the birth of John the Baptist.

On one occasion as Jesus began His own public ministry John the Baptist, who didn’t want to be mistaken for the Messiah said of Jesus, “He must increase, I must decrease,” in other words my task of preparing the people for Jesus is over, I have to get out of His way. On this past Thursday we celebrate the summer solstice the longest day of the year. I hate to say this but from now on the days will be getting shorter. The church decided to celebrate the birth of John the Baptist on this day in recognition of John’s own conviction – He must increase, I must decrease. Their two birthdays are linked around the winter and summer solstices.

Maybe we can apply John’s words to ourselves. “He must increase, I must decrease.” Anything in my life that is not of Christ – that does not image Christ – that does not proclaim Christ – must decrease – so that Christ’s life in me may increase – so that I may image the love, the mercy, the healing of Christ to others. I love quoting those power words of Paul, a man determined to put on Christ when Paul says of himself, “I live now not I but Christ lives in me and the life I live, I live trusting in the Son of God who loved me and gave His life for me. Paul spent his life putting on Christ, trying to be as Christ like a person as he could be, he would say, ‘for me to live is Christ.’ It wasn’t easy. For all his efforts Paul still admitted, “The good that I would that I do not and the evil I would not do that I do, who will deliver me? His answer was ‘the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ It is by God’s grace, God help and gift we can succeed in decreasing so that Christ may increase in our lives, that Christ may be manifested in our relationships with other people that we can be Christ-like in the way we treat and respect and support others, friends or strangers.

Whenever we pray the Our Father we say, ‘Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.’ Thy kingdom come to that part of me which is yet to be redeemed, that part of me that holds me back from putting on the mind and heart of Christ.

On the feast of this great and humble man, John the Baptist, we can pray for ourselves and for each other for the grace, the gift to decrease, put aside our egos, set aside our un-Christ ways of thinking and love – and let Christ increase, in a way, let Christ take us over, so that the Father may see and love in us what He sees and loves in Jesus – God’s unconquerable Son.