Saint John the Baptist
Born: Late 1st century B.C. in Herodian, Kingdom of Judea, the Levant
Died: 31 - 32 A.D. in Machaerus, Perea, the Levant
Feast Days: June 24 (Nativity)
August 29 (Beheading)
January 7 (Synaxis, Eastern Orthodox)
2 Thout (Coptic Orthodox Church)
Patronage: see "Commemoration"
Birth of Saint John the Baptist (June 24)
The feast of the Nativity, or birthday, of Saint John the Baptist, the precursor of the Messiah and born six months before Him, is observed on June 24, and is one of the oldest feasts in the liturgy of the Church. He was the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, a cousin of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Tradition places the home and birthplace of the Baptist near the village of Ain-Karim, six miles west of Jerusalem, where a Franciscan church marks the site. The church is called "Saint John in the Mountains."
What we know of this Saint, than whom a greater prophet had not arisen, from his sanctification before his birth to his martyrdom under King Herod, is set down in Holy Scripture. He has always had a chief place in the veneration given by Holy Church to the heroic servants of God. While the feast of other Saints is celebrated on the day of their death, when their final victor is won, the birthday of Saint John the Baptist is his feast day, as he was born free from original sin. We have also the feast of the Birth of Mary Immaculate.
Thirty years after the birth of Jesus, John began his mission on the banks of the Jordan. He was the last of the prophets of the Old Covenant. His work was to prepare the way and announce the coming of the long-expected Messiah, the Redeemer, in Whom all flesh would see "the salvation of God."
Before Saint John was born, an angel announced that "many would rejoice in his birth," and so June 24 is ranked among the joyous feasts of the year. In former times, and in other lands, it was observed with greater holiday rejoicing and greater outward display than in our age. on the eve of Saint John's day "Saint John's fires" were lighted on the hills and mountains in many countries, as they are still lighted in some places. "Scarce had the last rays of the setting sun died away, when all the world over, immense columns of flame arose from every mountain top, and in an instant every town and village of hamlet was lighted up." (Dom. P.L.P. Gueranger)
Prayer: God, You raised up Saint John the Baptist to prepare a perfect people for Christ. Fill Your people with the joy of possessing Your grace and direct the minds of all the faithful in the way of peace and salvation. Amen.
Beheading of Saint John the Baptist (August 29)
Saint John, faithful to the inspiration of Divine grace, spent most of his life in the wilderness and became a model of the many anchorites who later served God in the same manner. When 30 years old, he appeared before the world on the banks of the Jordan, as a preacher of penance, the precursor of Jesus Christ and "the voice of one crying in the wilderness." He had the honor of baptizing his Divine Master and pointing Him out as the Lamb of God.
The occasion of dying a martyr for his duty soon presented itself. Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, the slayer of the Innocents, was then ruler, or tetrarch, of Galilee. He is the same one whom our Lord called a "fox." and by whom the Savior was sent to Pilate. On a visit to Rome, he had made the acquaintance of Herodias, the wife of his brother, Philip, and he took her as his wife. His own spouse, the daughter of Aretas, an Arabian King, fled to her father, and a war in which the army of Herod was defeated resulted. Saint John boldly denounced this adulterous and incestuous marriage, and as a result was thrown into prison. But Herodias wanted greater revenge: nothing but the head of her enemy, John the Baptist, could satisfy her.
On the occasion of the anniversary of Herod's birth, a feast was given in which Salome, the daughter of Herodias, pleased him exceedingly by a graceful dance. He swore that he would grant whatever she asked. The girl consulted her mother, who advised her to request the head of Saint John. Herod was grieved by this request, for he esteemed the Baptist; yet he had the weakness to yield and to abide by the impious oath. An officer was dispatched to the prison and Saint John was beheaded to satisfy the revenge of a voluptuous woman. The death of Saint John occurred about a year before that of our Lord.
Prayer: God, You chose Saint John the Baptist to be the forerunner of Your Son Who was born and died for us. Grant that, as Saint John was martyred for truth and justice, so we may energetically profess our Faith in You. Amen.
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