Sermon for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost – June 24, 2012 by Fr. Paul Sretenovic
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
When we look at the birth of St. John the Baptist, among other things that could be considered, one in particular is the fact of God’s preferential love. One way to put it is, God loves all perfectly, but he does not love all equally. Now, as against the egalitarian spirit of the day, the spirit that tries to make everybody equal, whereas, it is true we are all called ultimately to the same end of heaven, but the degree of glory we will have is different. And if the degree of glory in heaven is different, then the degree of dignity we have in this life is also different. So, just as is the case in heaven, we have the nine choirs of angels and you have the different saints paying respect to each other, some of the lower ones bowing before the higher ones without any jealousy, and those who are above the lesser ones, not having any snobbishness or any way of looking down at them, there is a general mutual respect there, but each in their own place, knowing where they belong, so it is meant to be in this life.
So, this is the case with John the Baptist, and in a sense even more for Our Lady, just as an example. Her origin, if you look at her Immaculate Conception, it was singular in its’ nature because of its’ purpose, to prepare a worthy dwelling place for God to become incarnate. In virtue, therefore, of Our Lady’s vocation to be God’s own Mother, she was favored far above every other man that enters the world, even though she was otherwise conceived and born like anyone else, same origin but not the same end.
St. John the Baptist, while not conceived without original sin, was sanctified, we know, in the womb of his mother, much like which was the case for Jeremiah — we can call him St. Jeremiah, even. Now, Christ, while He, Himself was being formed in Our Lady, gave the blessing to St. John the Baptist and this, no doubt, because of John the Baptist’s special mission to prepare the hearts and minds of the people for the coming of the Messiah.
Incidentally, one fact, if you have the St. Andrew’s Missal, maybe you have read this already — if you have your missals, make sure not to just make use of them during Mass, but also before the Mass, to read — there are a lot of good tidbits of information and this is no exception, that it says that when St. John the Baptist was born, at that point, the sun was basically at its’ highest point, and the days were the longest. And that from that day forward the days became shorter, just as is the case every year when we celebrate his birthday.
Whereas, when Christ came, when He was born, was at the sun’s lowest point, the time when the days are the shortest. And that from that point forward the days would get longer and longer. We have a physical representation there, natural representation of what St. John the Baptist himself would say one day to his disciples, “He must increase, I must decrease”. Often times it is, then, that we have natural examples that go hand and hand with spiritual truths. And this is no exception to that.
In terms of vocations, nowadays, even among otherwise good Catholics, there is a situation that maybe because of a failure to grasp the greatness of what it would be like to be called by God to be a priest or to be a religious — you know, a lot of times the cost is seen, the sacrifices are seen, maybe especially by the parents, and in a sense, looking out for the child in their own way, maybe certain ignorance but, yet, good will, not recognizing just how much it is to be desired that their child have this great gift. We can look at St. John the Baptist, who would want to live like that? In one sense, who would want to live simply on locusts, honey, and wear basically this cloth that must have been like a hair shirt all the time during this penance around the clock. And, yet, look, for instance, at John the Baptist, who is representative of a vocation, what would his experience every day have been like? He had nothing and yet he had everything. He didn’t have many possessions at all. Did he even have a Bible. Probably not. He memorized the Bible, more than likely, already. He probably was given that special gift to know all the verses of scripture, the pertinent verses that refer to the Messiah, just like Our Lady did. And he would have been praying for the coming of the Messiah, with longing, a great longing. And this desire that finally, it’s just like as was the case for Simeon. Simeon — “Now you can let your servant go in peace”. Well, imagine St. John the Baptist when finally his eyes beheld Christ when he said, “Behold the Lamb of God”. Imagine how powerful an experience it must have been for him. He knew he was going to die, and now he could go in peace because his eyes had beheld the Savior. Not only did he just behold Him, he was given a greater gift than Simeon. Simeon was able to hold the Christ child, but it was St. John the Baptist who was able to baptize Him.
So, that dignity is one of the reasons why Our Lord would say, “No man is greater than John the Baptist”. And, to a certain degree, even though lesser, if your child is called to be a priest or called to be a nun, there is an intimate connection with their lives with passion very much like John the Baptist. And, even though there will be more suffering for such, there will be more sacrifices, remember what Our Lord says in the gospel. Not today, but, “Blessed are those who have given up all for my sake. They will receive thirty, sixty, a hundred times more in this life and in the next.”
So, a vocation is something for the children, any children here. Long for it. It is the greater gift. It is the greater portion. And God will give you all the graces necessary for your state in life, much, again, like he did for St. John the Baptist.
Nowadays, so much works against that. I was thinking about this earlier. You have where the youth especially, rather than preparing them for a vocation — this is especially the case in the Novus Ordo, where — not only that, but also in society where people tend to look at the youth and see them for what they can contribute now, rather than trying to form them. So much is focused upon. Even Pope Paul VI had many different speeches like this as is quoted in Iota Unum, for any of you who have that book — this is about the paradigm shift in the church. And, among other things, we see how the youth are extolled basically to be made like demigods as if they have so much to offer, we have so much to learn from them. And it is as if the roles have been reversed. There is an inversion in reality that’s being imposed upon the minds and hearts of many of the faithful, especially the young ones. And, this is a time of imperfection, it is a time in which there are, we could say, moral imperfections, where they are growing through much ignorance and trying to clothe themselves with Christ. But they are not in an adult state yet. They are still very young. They need to be protected from many of the influences in the world, and, also, at the same time, to be fostered very much in virtue at home.
So, it is very important that the children, especially as they get older, into their teens, they recognize that even though it is not a bad thing to go out, at times, with friends, it is far better to spend more of your time alone with Christ, to reflect upon your vocation. Because even if you are called simply not to the religious life, but maybe to be married, there are so many responsibilities with that, that you need to learn in silence of your room, in the silence of your soul, what God wants of you. He speaks to those who open themselves to Him.
A lot of time we focus so much on what we’re saying, what we’re saying, what we’re saying in prayer, but prayer is more of what God communicates to us rather than what we communicate to Him. So, it is very important that children learn this and not be active about doing a million and one things, like in church today so many — the youth ministry and all that — and they lose themselves in that. It’s all about activity and not about prayer and virtue. They never have a chance to grow. They become like dwarfs in the spiritual life. They may reach manhood, but they are still very small. And that is one of the images that was used by Thomas for the 20th century.
So it is very important, we have a grave responsibility for our youth that we help them to grow in virtue and to grow in discipline, self-discipline, and not be afraid — I mean, it is possible, certainly we don’t want to be too hard, we don’t want to be callous, we don’t want to drive them away by being too imposing upon them. But, at the same time, with a little bit of prayer and reflection we can see the balance, we can see the difference. It just takes a little bit of time and perseverance.
So, ultimately, again, just going back full circle to the beginning here, we need to pray to recognize the difference in dignity of each individual, to give them the respect that they are due, not more, not less. Nowadays, sometimes we tend to give less respect to those who are worthy of it because of their position, not maybe because of their virtue but because of where they are in the church or in society. And we tend to give too much respect to those who don’t deserve it or are not in a position to receive it.
We have to recognize that in our day and age we really have to pray especially hard for this perspective that puts everyone and everything where it should be, and to recognize that this is God’s design as a part of beauty of His creation to make us different, to make us each in our own spot and by not going after things beyond me, as St. Thomas says.
So, we need to accept from God where He has placed us and, at the same time, to recognize where He has placed others and to act accordingly, and that will give such freedom of mind and soul that will help us really to grow in God’s grace, and to overcome the ignorance of soul that plagues us in our times.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.