Today is Saint John’s Day – June 24 – as the Church celebrates the Birth of St. John the Baptist. Called the Forerunner, John is the last Jewish prophet. This is a big holiday in many countries, especially in Quebec in Canada.
My home parish is St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church in Kenmore, NY. It was founded by German farmers in the early 1830s, and its first pastor was Saint John N. Neumann, the Bohemian priest who became America’s first male saint. Not too many American churches can claim that their first resident priest was a Saint!
Here is what I wrote for our parish bulletin on the Nativity of St. John:
John’s birth took place six months – less one day, hence the 24th – before that of Jesus, and according to the Gospel account was expected by prophecy (Matthew . 3:3; Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 3:1) and foretold by an angel. Zacharias lost his power of speech because of his unbelief over the possibility of the miraculous conception of his son, and had it restored on the occasion of John’s circumcision (Luke 1:64).
After John grew up, he left Ain Karim, his hometown, and went out into the rough desert. There he led the life of an Old Testament prophet, wearing camel hair clothing with a leather belt, the garb of a prophet of the Most High, and eating “locusts and wild honey” (Matt. 3:4). The prophets traditionally came from the wilderness, and were seen as living closer to God by doing so. This Jewish example would be followed by Christian monks.
As an adult John started to preach in public, and people from “every quarter” were attracted to his message. The essence of his preaching was the necessity of repentance and preparing the way for the Messiah. He denounced the Sadducees and Pharisees as a “generation of vipers,” and warned them not to assume their heritage gave them special privilege (Luke 3:8). He warned tax collectors and soldiers against extortion and plunder. His doctrine and manner of life stirred interest, bringing people from all parts to see him on the banks of theJordan River.
There he baptized thousands with the rebirth of repentance – and prepared them for the Messiah. The big icon of John the Baptist on our iconostas depicts him pointing into the chalice and the Infant Jesus in the consecrated wine, while his scroll proclaims “Behold the Lamb of God” , the title he gave to Jesus in their lifetimes.
This feast once was on Midsummer Day, the longest day of the year. After the calendar reform of Pope Gregory XIII, that is now on June 21. But, it is still traditional in many places to build St. John’s Fires on hilltops and so lengthen the brightness, especially in Quebec,Scandinavia, and the Baltic States.
Here is my home parish church:
The statue of John baptizing Jesus stands in a little traffic island in front of the church, and Msgr. Charles Klauder, the longest-serving pastor, is buried there. He was a widower who came to serve in St. John Neumann’s first American parish and ended up presiding over its growth into several new parishes as suburbia expanded into the former farmlands north of Buffalo.
St. John Neumann traveling the Niagara Frontier to preach the Faith.