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St. John of God—March 8

St. John the Baptist
St. John the Baptist

We first hear of St. John the Baptist in St. Luke’s Gospel. Zechariah and Elizabeth have been married for many years but have remained childless. One day, while praying in the temple, Zechariah experiences a vision. The archangel Gabriel appears to the old priest and informs him that his wife, believed to be barren, will give him a son. Zechariah questions how this could happen. The archangel Gabriel, unhappy about Zechariah’s disbelief, tells him that he will be struck dumb “until the day when these things will be performed.” Consequently, after leaving the temple, Zechariah is unable to give the blessing to the crowd waiting outside.

Six months later, Gabriel appears to Mary and informs her that she will be the mother of Jesus. When Mary visits her cousin, Elizabeth, to tell her the good news, the unborn baby “leaps for joy” in his mother’s womb.

Three months later, Elizabeth gives birth to a son. On the day of the baby’s circumcision, relatives and friends assume he will be named after his father. Elizabeth surprises everyone by insisting the baby will be called John. A tablet is presented to Zechariah, who writes down that the baby’s name will be John. Zechariah’s speech is restored.

We hear no more about John until he is an adult. The young man becomes zealous for God by preaching and baptizing near the Jordan River. Even Jesus is baptized by His cousin to begin His public life.

John runs into trouble when he condemns King Herod for marrying Herodias, his brother’s wife. Since the brother is still living, John states the marriage to be immoral. Herod has John arrested and thrown in prison. Herodias’ daughter, Salome, dances for her uncle-stepfather at his birthday celebration. Herod is pleased and tells Salome that he will grant her whatever she desires. Herodias convinces her daughter to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Salome follows her mother’s instructions. John is executed, and his head is presented to Salome. John’s followers bury his body.

John should be an example for all of us. He persistently witnessed to the truth, even when it was dangerous to do so. He is also a symbol of hope. His parents were rewarded long after they had given up on ever having a child. John the Baptist recognized and worshipped Jesus as the Messiah even before he or Jesus were born.

The Church recognizes the Nativity of John the Baptist on June 24th, six months before Christmas Eve. The Feast of his Beheading is celebrated on August 29th.