Summary: ask yourselves how you can help in our mission, learned from our patron: to restore all things in Christ.
Nativity of St. John the Baptist 2018
Our God has a marvelous sense of humor, and St. Luke is a master when he sees and shares it with us. Let’s recall the whole story of Zechariah. He’s a priest. He and his wife, Elizabeth, are of the priestly tribe; Elizabeth is a descendant of Aaron himself. Moreover, Luke says that they are “righteous before the face of God,” which means they were living to become saints. But although they kept the covenant God established, they had not experienced the promise of a family. That’s about to change. We’ll look at both yesterday’s and today’s Gospel, because this feast is so special, it is celebrated over two successive days.
“The scene is set in the temple in Jerusalem, where the hopes of the people of God were always centered.” Zechariah has won the priestly lottery, and is offering incense. The people wait outside expectantly. Suddenly Zechariah sees an angel. Now angels are pictured as gentle people with wings in our art, but here it’s more likely that Gabriel is huge and scary, because Luke uses the words for troubled and terrorized as Zechariah’s emotional state. Gabriel says, “Fear not,” and then gives the good news that the couple’s sterility will miraculously be healed, Elizabeth will bring forth a son, and he would be a prophet and Nazarite, just like Elijah. He finishes with a promise that echoes the prophet Malachi, the final words of OT prophecy: John will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.
And then Zechariah proves that he may be righteous, but he was also either clumsy or stupid. He demands a sign that Gabriel is telling the truth. Now if a two or three-story angel standing in the Temple tells you something, you really ought to believe it. “I AM GABRIEL, WHO STAND IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD.” So Zechariah is dumbstruck, and has to use an Etch-a-Sketch ® to tell the people, and his wife, and his extended family what happened. And you know what followed. Elizabeth became pregnant and Zechariah had to spend the next nine months overhearing his wife answering the neighbors’ question, “He did what?” In fact, they got so used to not hearing Zechariah that after a while they got to thinking that he was also deaf. The family was going to name the little boy “Zechariah,” after his hapless dad, and Elizabeth wouldn’t hear of it. So when they went to verify this breach of tradition–Luke is probably chuckling as he wrote it–they went (see signs) “boy” “name”?
What a humiliation! But Zechariah had enjoyed a nine month retreat along with the dose of humility. Lesson learned. Don’t doubt the Lord. He wrote large letters: JOHN IS HIS NAME. And his vocal drought was ended and he taught us the prayer we sing every morning at Lauds: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for He has visited and wrought redemption for His people.” Why that prayer? The Blessed Virgin Mary had assisted Elizabeth for the past three months, so she, and the Savior she carried, were in the room with him.
We are here today because the Lord, Jesus Christ, has visited us and is in our presence. We will receive Him, body, blood, soul, Divinity, in just moments. Why has He come? Why does He continue to be with us and in us? To change us, to make us over in the image of Jesus and Mary. That’s why we have the Holy Spirit indwelling. We must become better than we are.
What’s the benchmark for that improvement? We can find it in the Gospel for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost, which is celebrated every other day this week. Jesus said that unless our righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees and Scribes, we are not fit for the Kingdom of God. Now we know the Pharisees were very scrupulous about obeying Torah. Exodus and Deuteronomy said of the word of God, “Bind them at your wrist as a sign, and let them be a pendant on your forehead.” So many of them did that, and they had little dangling Torah scrolls up in front of their eyes all the time. Jesus wants us to be better than that. But He also insists that when we obey all of His commandments to love, we must consider ourselves pretty crummy servants, because all we’ve done is what we were required to do. Let’s not wait to do it until an angel or somebody has to do something dramatic to get our attention.
For an application today, let me ask you to examine your conscience this week. And the fundamental question for our minds and hearts is threefold: are we members of the Universal Church or not? Are we members of the Archdiocese of San Antonio or not? Are we parishioners of the St. Pius X community, a community named after the patron of the Extraordinary Form, or not? And if we are, what must we do, and what must we avoid? I’ll give you one short and easy one: participate in the second collection. The 1:30 congregation has the lowest participation of all our Masses. That’s easy to fix. Then take home a parish bulletin and ask yourselves how you can help in our mission, learned from our patron: to restore all things in Christ.