The Church observes the birth of John as a hallowed event. We have no such commemoration for any other fathers; but it is significant that we clebrate the birthdays of John and Jesus. This day cannot be passed by. And even if my explanation does not match the dignity of the feast, you may still meditate on it with great depth and profit.” – St. Augustine of Hippo
The Feast of St. John the Baptist, Forerunner of Jesus
June 24 is the feast day of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. He was the last and greatest of the Old Testament prophets sent to “prepare the way of the Lord.” Jesus called him the greatest of all the prophets because of his direct involvement in the earthly life and ministry of the Messiah.
In St. John the Baptist, the Old Testament meets the New Testament: Before his time, the Law and the Prophets were proclaimed; from his life and to the end of time, the Gospel of Christ is proclaimed.
We remember Saint John the Baptist each time we pray the Holy Rosary, our prayerful meditations on the life of Christ. In the Second Joyful Mystery, the Visitation, the Virgin Mary went in haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth following the Annunciation. John the Baptist leaped in the womb of his mother, Saint Elizabeth, as soon as they were greeted by the Virgin Mary, who then was pregnant with the Child Jesus. We also remember St. John the Baptist in the First Luminous Mystery, as he was the one who baptized Jesus in Jordan river.
St. John the Baptist was from the womb until his death a witness to Jesus Christ as the Messiah and Son of God. In fact, the Church teaches that St. John the Baptist was born without Original Sin because of Jesus; at the greeting of the pregnant Mother of God to his mother Elizabeth, he was filled with the Holy Spirit (i.e. baptized in the womb) which caused him to be born without Original Sin.
As the divinely appointed “Precursor” of Jesus Christ, his life was closely intertwined with the earthly life of Jesus. On this feast day of St. John the Baptist we can reflect on how much like Jesus he truly was.
10 Things St. John the Baptist Has in Common with Jesus
1) They were both the same age (born six months apart).
2) They were both from the same extended family (Mary and Elizabeth were cousins).
3) They both had righteous, godly parents (Zechariah and Elizabeth; Joseph and Mary)
4) Their births fulfilled Old Testament prophecy.
5) Their births were announced to their parents by the Archangel Gabriel.
6) Their names were divinely given by God.
7) They began their public ministry near the age of 30.
8) They both had a band of disciples.
9) They both preached of a coming Messianic kingdom and a baptism of repentance.
10) They were both righteous men who testified to God’s Truth, and were condemned to death by Roman rulers.
St. John the Baptist was truly the forerunner of the Messiah, always a step ahead of Jesus’ ministry. John was born first, began his ministry first, and died a martyr’s death first. And it was clear that Jesus loved him, being deeply grieved when he heard the news of his beheading at the hand King Herod.
Jesus praised John the Baptist highly by saying, “Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist.” Because of this he was one of the most highly venerated saints in the ancient and medieval Church, and he has two feast days: his Nativity on June 24th and his Passion on August 29th.
Here is one more thing that St. John the Baptist and Jesus had in common: John died because of his defense of the sanctity and integrity of marriage, and marriage was the scene of Jesus’ first miracle and the launching of his public ministry, the wedding feast at Cana, thus sanctifying marriage and confirming it as a Sacrament.
There are also many ways that St. John the Baptist and the circumstances surrounding his birth and life serve as a contrast to that of Christ. From a sermon of St. Augustine from the Liturgy of the Hours on this feast day:
“John was born of a woman too old for childbirth; Christ was born of a youthful virgin.”
“The news of John’s birth was met with incredulity, and his father was struck dumb. Christ’s birth was believed, and he was conceived through faith.”
“John was a voice that lasted only for a time; Christ, the Word in the beginning, is eternal.”
As St. Augustine says, “This day cannot be passed by. And even if my explanation does not match the dignity of the feast, you may still meditate on it with great depth and profit.” Hopefully this post gives you some food for thought on the wonderful mysteries surrounding the birth, life, and death of this great Christ-like saint.
Prayer to St. John the Baptist
O God, You raised up St. John the Baptist to prepare a perfect people for Christ. Fill Your people with the joy of possessing His grace, and direct the minds of all the faithful in the way of peace and salvation. Grant that as St. John was martyred for truth and justice, so we may energetically profess our Faith in You, and lead others to the Way, the Truth, and Eternal Life. Amen.
This article has been updated and was originally published in June 2012. © The Catholic Company