During the course of the liturgical year we celebrate three birthdays: Jesus’ birthday, December 25th; the Blessed Virgin Mary’s birthday, September 8th and John the Baptist’s birthday, today, June 24th. Although we do not know the precise dates when Jesus or John the Baptist were actually born, the Church Fathers did have a rationale for selecting the dates we observe. The Summer Solstice occurs around June 21st each year. It is the longest day of the year. The Winter Solstice occurs around December 22nd each year. It is the shortest day of the year. John the Baptist prophesied that Jesus “must increase; I must decrease" (John 3:30). The church fathers placed John’s birthday after the summer solstice when each day gets progressively shorter and placed Jesus’ birthday after the winter solstice when each day gets progressively longer. So, John’s prophecy is fulfilled symbolically; John decreases and Jesus increases.
This is interesting information but it is not the reason we commemorate the Birth of John the Baptist. John the Baptist was extraordinary. His birth was announced by the Angel Gabriel; the same angel who announced Jesus’ birth. His conception was a miracle. He grew up to be a prophet and he baptized Jesus. Jesus said of John, “among those born of women, no one is greater than John” (Luke 7:28). John’s entire life was devoted to preparing the way for the fulfillment of Jesus’ ministry. John the Baptist is our model for witnessing to the redeeming power and glory of Jesus the Christ.
There is something else in today’s readings that we should consider. In the first reading The Prophet Isaiah tells us, “the LORD called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name” (Is 49:1). And the writer of Psalm 139 says “truly you have formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I give you thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made; wonderful are your works.” Just as John the Baptist’s life was a gift from God; all human life is a gift from God. Each one of us is a work of God. Our lives are touched by God before we are born. On this Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist we give thanks for the life of John and we remember that all life is sacred in the eye of God.
Prayer for Respect for all Human Life
your cosmic gaze focused on dust
and you fashioned in your image and likeness
every man and women:
give us, we beg you, a keen eye to recognize that image
so that respect for all human life becomes our way of life.
Grant this through Christ our Lord.
Committee for Pro-Life Activities
National Conference of Catholic Bishops.