June 24, 2018

If Sunday was not June 24th, our Gospel reading from Mark would have been the account of Jesus rebuking the wind and calming the storm that seemed on the verge of overturning the boat in which He and the disciples were traveling. In the U.S., there is a storm around the latest administration policy on immigration. Would Jesus calm that storm? I don’t know. Apparently His commandment to love has led people to different conclusions about immigrants, especially those labeled as “illegal.”

But since June 24th falls on a Sunday this year, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist, and our Gospel reading comes from Luke instead of Mark. Our Gospel reading does not include all the remarkable things about the Baptist’s birth: How his mother, Elizabeth, was deemed incapable of giving birth, how the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah her husband, and when Zechariah had trouble believing the news that he would be a father, the angel struck him mute until the baby was born. And while Elizabeth was pregnant, Gabriel appeared to Mary, told her she was to be the mother of the Messiah, and the news about Elizabeth. Mary then went to visit Elizabeth, and when they greeted each other, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaped for joy.

Our Gospel passage takes up when the baby is born, and about to be named. Against all convention, Elizabeth informs her relatives that the baby is to be named John. In disbelief, they ask Zechariah. Still mute, Zechariah, in writing, confirms what Elizabeth says, and his mouth is opened, and he is singing praises to God!

So the people there have known about Elizabeth and Zechariah. They witness all these remarkable things, and say to one another, “What, then, will this child be?” And then Luke writes, “For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.”

In the light of recent events, the question, “What, then, will this child be?” jumped out at me. What, then, are these children at the border to the rest of us? Or the children who are underserved by the educational system? Or the children in poverty, or the young people abused, or exploited in human trafficking, or the victims and survivors of school shootings? Are they just statistics, or perhaps we see them as unfortunates whose parents should be blamed for being poor or for being desperate enough to cross the border illegally or for just not being enough like us?

As unlikely as it seems, just as the Lord was with John the Baptist, the Lord is with them. How can you say that, Fr. Phil? These kids have been through too much. I can say that because of the Cross. God is with those who are suffering. God is with those who are considered by the world to be of no account. The question is not whether God is with them, but whether we are with them.

Is there a way to get beyond the politics of this moment? It would be another abuse to use the children as political pawns in the debates of the day. The best and only answer that I have is to follow Jesus. The One for whom John prepared the way keeps teaching us to love, even to the renunciation of violence and the love of enemies. The One who blessed the children He encountered challenges us to look beyond our divisions to reach out to those most vulnerable in our society, both children and adults. Can we find a solution? Nothing we human beings can do will be perfect, but if we are to aspire to real greatness, we will seek to serve with the humility of the Baptist whose birthday we celebrate.

In Christ,

       Fr. Phil, CP