June 24th is unique on the calendar of Christian saints. Typically we venerate and observe the life of a saint on the day on which they, as Hamlet remarked, “shuffled off this mortal coil” and went to their eternal reward. June 24th is one of only two Christian holidays which celebrate someone’s birth. The first is, hopefully quite obviously, the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, which everyone simplifies as Christmas. The second, which precedes Christmas by six months, is the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. This dating reflects the message of the Archangel Gabriel when he gave the Blessed Virgin Mary this proof of his own message saying, “Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren.” (St. Luke 1:36) If St. Elizabeth were six months further along than the Blessed Virgin Mary, then it stands to reason that St. John the Baptist would be born six months ahead of Our Lord. (Hey, kids! It’s six months until Christmas!)
So why is this day unique among all Christian feasts? We know that Our Lord declared, “Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist,” but He went on to say, “but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (St. Matthew 11:11) So why is St. John the Baptist unique? According to St. Luke’s Gospel was anointed by the Holy Spirit while still in his mother’s womb. Nowhere else in Holy Scripture do we see that miracle taking place.
When the Blessed Virgin Mary travels to the hill country of Judea to visit her kinswoman Elizabeth, St. Luke informs us that:
“…when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.” (St. Luke 1:41-45)
St. Elizabeth is anointed with the Holy Spirit and prophetically interprets her unborn child’s action as rightful discernment that the coming Messiah and His blessed mother had come within earshot.
The life and ministry of St. John the Baptist practically speak for themselves, but this one passage, before the saint ever breathed his first breath on his own, reminds us of something we rarely see so clearly in Scripture. It reminds us that the Lord’s hand is on the unborn children or, in some circles, the pre-born in their mothers’ womb. There are dozens of passages that have been taken up as evidence of the sanctity of life in utero. In Psalm 139, David proclaims,
For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.
I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them. (vv 13-16)
Three times the Prophet Isaiah refers to the Lord as “He who formed you in the womb” (44:2, 24; 49:5) and the Lord Himself declares to the Prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I set you apart.” (1:5)
We also know from both Deuteronomy and the Acts of the Apostles that “God shows no partiality.” (Deuteronomy 10:17 and Acts 10:34) Thus, if He could anoint one child to prophesy he could anoint all of them. In our reflections on this day, we ought to walk away with a sense of compulsion to pray for those we know who are pregnant. We ought not just pray for the safety and health of the mother and child, but also that the Holy Spirit might be upon those children from before they were born. In our parish, we pray that our children might never know a moment outside of God’s love and the love the His Church. From the moment we hear the joyful news of a pregnancy, we ought never stop praying that child be filled with the Holy Spirit from inside the womb. We ought to speak over the pre-born children around us and declare, using the words of St. Zechariah,
“You, my child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, with which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (St. Luke 1:76-79)
Furthermore, we must thoroughly, passionately, and articulately reject the deceit-filled lie foisted upon society which asserts that which is growing within a woman’s body is nothing but a mass of cells. We must completely dismiss the notion that a woman may dispose of the child growing within her body at any time and for any reason. That which the Almighty has created is not a lump of cells; it is not that which may be disposed of for the sake of someone’s convenience or comfort. That which grows within a woman’s body is an agent of the Lord God Most High who may be filled with the Holy Spirit even from before birth. It may be one day that a great many people will have to answer to over fifty million of those agents of God who never drew their first breath. What a dread reckoning that will be. May God have mercy on us all. May God give us that same grace which He gave St. John the Baptist to stand up to the Herods of our day.
Almighty God, by whose providence your servant John the Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of your Son our Savior by preaching repentance: Make us so to follow his teaching and holy life, that we may truly repent according to his preaching; and, following his example, constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth’s sake; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.