By Denise Trull
So much of beautiful mystery surrounds the whole life of John the Baptist, from his very conception up until his tragic but triumphant death.
When Mary greeted Elizabeth at the Visitation, John leaped in his mother’s womb. This was John's first prophecy. He declared to his mother with a kick to her ribs that Mary was holding within her the King of the Universe. Elizabeth understood the meaning of this ecstatic leap because she was so connected to her son in the womb as all mothers are. With his leap, she was filled with the Holy Spirit and declared her beautiful words out loud to Mary, “Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me!”
Not even born yet, and John’s work had begun. This is the power and sanctity of the human person even in the womb: that even from the womb a small fetus somehow knew the LORD and mysteriously informed his mother. A small fetus, "of whom no man was to be greater" was an integral part of God's unfolding plan -- the Good News. What a wonder.
On this solemnity, this holy fetus is born into the light of day -- into the waiting world. The readings at Mass are filled with mystery and fire and wondrous anticipation. I am always struck by the words, this time of John's father, Zechariah, who writes his name for the first time and suddenly is able to speak that name aloud for all to hear. John. God is gracious.
"Then fear came upon all their neighbors, and all these matters were discussed throughout the hill country of Judea. All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, "What, then, will this child be?”
It brings a bit of a smile to me to imagine the word spreading from one excited neighbor to another down through that hill county in thrilling whispers...what will this child be...what will this child be?
And they watched him grow, waiting for the answer.
There is no doubt that Jesus loved and openly admired John (what a thought to be admired by God) "as a man after His own heart." For elsewhere in the gospels He says,
"Truly I say to you, among those born of woman, there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet even the least in the kingdom of Heaven is greater than he!”
This least Jesus is talking about is us, each member of His Church. And just as John the Baptist's neighbors asked that question about him, we as parents should ask that question about each of our own children with that same thrill, as the water is poured over their tiny heads, and chrism anoints them into the Heavenly Kingdom. "What will this child be?" Our job is to watch and pray and let them grow in the safety and peace of home, until they reveal their very particular purpose for being sent to us from God. It brings a thrill of mystery throughout their life, even from conception: why was this child sent to us?
In Confirmation we all receive that character which makes us priests, prophets, and kings. Priests because we can unite our prayers up at Mass for those we love and for the whole Church, kings because we are rulers over our own actions and responsibilities before God, and prophets because by our actions and words we reveal to others the wonderful truths of the one whom we serve.
We are all prophets sent to each other and to the Church. The one great question posed by the Church when we are baptized should be at the front of our mind each day: "What will this child be?” And our earnest reply as we live out our life must be, "Have I answered this question, yet?”
St. John the Baptist, help us live our answer by your prayers.