THE BIRTH OF SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST
This feast day is one of the oldest in the liturgy of the church. While many other saints' feast days are celebrated on the date of their death - the date on which they received their eternal reward, Saint John the Baptist's feast day is celebrated on his birthday, since he was born free from the stain of Original Sin. (The Blessed Virgin Mary, by contrast, was CONCEIVED free from the stain of Original sin).
Zechariah and Elizabeth, his parents, had no children, Elizabeth being barren, and both of them were of advanced age. Elizabeth was a cousin of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
One day an Angel appeared to Zechariah whilst he was carrying out his priestly duties in the Temple. Zechariah was gripped with fear, but the Angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah your prayer has been heard, your wife will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John."
Zechariah asked the Angel, "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well on in years."
The Angel answered, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to give you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words,which will come true at the proper time."
And so it was, that Zechariah was struck dumb, while his wife Elizabeth became pregnant.
In the sixth month, God sent the Angel Gabriel to Nazareth, to a virgin named Mary, who was pledged to be married to a man named Joseph. The Angel Gabriel gave her the message that God wanted her to become the Mother of His only-begotten Son, and at the same time told her "Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren, is now in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God."
At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, Ain-Karem, six miles west of Jerusalem,where she entered Zechariah's house and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leapt in her womb. At that instant God removed from John the Baptist's soul the stain of Original Sin, so that when he was born three months later he was born free from Original Sin.
Mary stayed with Elizabeth for the three months up to the birth of John the Baptist.
When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby she gave birth to a son.
Her neighbours and relatives had heard that God had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.
On the eighth day they came to circumsize the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, as was the usual custom in those days. But his mother spoke up and said, "No, he is to be called John."
They said to her, "There is no one among your relatives who has that name."
Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child.
He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone's astonishment he wrote "His name is John".
Immediately his mouth was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God
John the Baptist was the precursor of Jesus, telling evertbody that the Messiah was coming. It was he who actually baptised Jesus in the River Jordan, at the commencement of Jesus's public ministry. And he received high praise from Jesus, who one day In a vision to Saint Brigid of Sweden, said to her, "Three saints have been more pleasing to me than all the others: Mary, my mother, St John the Baptist, and Mary Magdalene."
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