The Church celebrates the birth of only three people: Our Lord Jesus Christ on December 25, the Birth of the Virgin Mary on September 8, and today, the Birth of John the Baptist on June 24. He is in very good company.
Two weeks ago, our Holy Cross community in Easton, MA received a gift, a fire pit. Since we learned how to start this gas fire, it has become a gathering place for conversation and story-telling in the late summer evenings. It reminds me of the Saint John’s fire that are popular in Quebec on the Feast of the Patron Saint of Quebec.
Here’s what Father Tony Kadavil says about this Solemnity:
“This is one of the oldest feasts on the Church calendar. In the early Church, as in medieval times, this was one of the biggest feasts of the year. As was done on Christmas, three masses were offered, one at midnight, and two in the morning. All over Europe, fires were lighted on mountains and hilltops on the eve of this feast. The people had parties and lit bonfires in honor of John because our Lord called him a “burning and shining lamp” (John 5:35). These fires, sometimes called St. John’s fires, were lit on St. John’s Eve and burned until at least midnight. These fires were also a sign of Christ the Light, and a reminder that we, too, are called to be a light for the world. In Catholic sections of Europe, people prayed together to Saint John for his intercession that the summer might be blessed in homes, fields, and country. Finally, they performed some of the traditional folk dances, usually accompanied by singing and music. In addition to celebrating around outdoor fires, other customs included decorating one’s home with flowers, making floral wreaths (which were sometimes sent down a river as a symbol of Jesus’ baptism), placing sprigs of St. Johnswort around the house much as we do Palm Sunday palms, and eating strawberries. This feast placed three months after the feast of the Annunciation, and six months before Christmas, also served the useful purpose of supplanting the immoral pagan feasts of the Summer solstice. St. John the Baptist was highly honored throughout the whole Church from the beginning. Proof of this is, among other things, the fact that fifteen churches were dedicated to him in the ancient imperial city of Constantinople.”
When Mary came to visit her cousin Elizabeth in the first months after the Annunciation and the conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb through the power of the Holy Spirit, the child in Elizabeth’s womb leapt for joy at the approach of the Word of God in Mary’s womb. Imagine this incredible scene: for the first time ever, someone rejoices at the Good News of the Word of God and it is John the Baptist. He is dancing in the womb just as David danced at the Ark of the Covenant.
When you gather around the fire pit or your vacation campfire this summer, remember John the Baptist and his leaping for joy that the Word of God is among us, in Scripture, in the Holy Eucharist, in our families and friends, and even in our own hearts.
Happy Solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist.
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Copyright 2018 Fr. Willy Raymond, C.S.C.