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St. John the Baptist: Called by the Father, filled with the Spirit, proclaiming the Son

On the Readings for June 24, 2023, The Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

Detail from “The Preaching of St John the Baptist” (c. 1690) by Giovanni Battista Gaulli (1639–1709) [Wikipedia Commons]

• Is 49:1-6
• Ps 139:1b-3, 13-14ab, 14c-15
• Acts 13:22-26
• Lk 1:57-66, 80

The birth of a child is a momentous occasion, filled with joy, hope, and, yes, some apprehension. It is also a time of transition; it breaks time into “before” and “after,” and brings all sorts of changes into the lives of parents, family, and friends.

The Church, in the course of the liturgical year, celebrates the birth of three people, related by blood, bound together by the work of the Holy Spirit, and united in bringing about the greatest “before” and “after” in the history of the world.

The greatest of these solemnities is, of course, the Nativity of our Lord, Jesus Christ. The second is the Nativity of the Mother of God, the blessed Virgin Mary, who was conceived, born, and lived without sin. The third is John the Baptist, whose role in the mystery of God’s plan of salvation is difficult to exaggerate and yet is often taken for granted.

While Mary was chosen to bear and mother the Son of God, John the Baptist was chosen to prepare the way for the Lamb of God and to announce Him to the world. “John surpasses all the prophets,” remarks the Catechism, “of whom he is the last. He inaugurates the Gospel, already from his mother’s womb welcomes the coming of Christ, and rejoices in being ‘the friend of the bridegroom’, whom he points out as ‘the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’” (CCC 523).

But, the Catechism also points out, John was more than a prophet (CCC 719). He was the culmination of a long and illustrious line of prophets who spoke and suffered for the Lord. Today’s reading from Isaiah, in which that Old Testament prophet described how God named him while yet in the womb, finds perfect fulfillment in John. His father, the priest Zechariah, had been told by an angel—as he offering incense in the temple—that he would have a son whose name would be John. “He will be great in the sight of the Lord,” the frightened priest was told, “He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb, and he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God” (Lk 1:13-17).

The birth, life, and martyrdom of John the Baptist are intimately connected with the work of the Holy Spirit. Even before birth he was filled with the Holy Spirit, and from the womb he leapt in recognition of his Lord’s presence (Lk 1:41). He was the “voice of the Consoler” who was yet to come, bearing witness to the light of Christ, just as the Holy Spirit has done since Pentecost (CCC 719).

When the Triune nature of God was revealed at Jesus’ baptism in the river Jordan, it was John who, reluctantly, performed the baptism. That revelatory event marked the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry and John’s declaration, as a self-described “best man” of the Bridegroom, “He must increase; I must decrease” (Jn 3:30).

This feast celebrating John the Baptist’s birth is also a celebration of the prophet’s role in paving the way for the new birth granted to all those baptized into Christ. “Finally, with John the Baptist, the Holy Spirit begins the restoration to man of ‘the divine likeness,’ prefiguring what he would achieve with and in Christ. John’s baptism was for repentance; baptism in water and the Spirit will be a new birth” (CCC 720).

Called by God, John knew who he was because he always saw himself in relation to Jesus. Filled with the Holy Spirit, John poured out his life for the Kingdom, his own death foreshadowing the crucifixion of the King of Kings. Born in the midst of the greatest events of human history, John the Baptist continues to declare, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”

(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the June 24, 2007, issue of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)

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About Carl E. Olson 1217 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.


  1. Many ask why did Jesus the Author of Life and the sacraments present himself to be baptized. John recoiled a bit Jesus responded That justice be fulfilled. The desert contemplative knew from the womb the reality of the Person Jesus. Though not completely. Revelation of a mystery is a beautiful thing precisely because of its elusive depth. Jesus true Man true God was known from the beginning but not entirely. Not until Ephesus not until Cyril of Alexandria demonstrates at the Council the absolute necessity that Man be justified by a man. Who is also God.

  2. “Many ask why did Jesus the Author of Life and the sacraments present himself to be baptized. John recoiled a bit Jesus responded That justice be fulfilled.”

    Indeed,our Lord fulfilled the Law by being baptized.

    • Wonderful, interesting and intelligent article. I really would like to know when did Christ become a Catholic. He was circumcised by a Rabbi. He was presented as a Jew in the temple. He was baptized by a Jew. He taught in their synagogues. He cleansed the Jewish Temple, and Pilate had a placard placed above the crucified Christ that read: “Jesus of Nazareth. King of the JEWS” Please explain. Thank you!

      • Jesus did not become Catholic. He is Catholic. He is also Jewish, and because he was born a Jew (that is, in the Old Covenant) and because he is the Incarnate Word (that is, God), his person, reign, power, etc. is catholic: universal, complete, entire, whole. Here is an excerpt from Fr. Hans Urs von Balthasar’s book In the Fullness of Faith that might be helpful:

        Jesus must be Catholic, otherwise his Church, which follows him and is promised his fullness, could not be called Catholic. Being Catholic means embracing everything, leaving nothing out. How can an individual human being do this, even if he is the only begotten Son of God? We shall not explain this by theological speculation. It is something that can reveal itself to us only if, in the openness of faith, we let our eyes rest on his self-manifestation. He is the revelation of someone else, of the Father, who is “greater” than he, and yet with whom he is “one”. This is the message of his words and his life.

        He can reveal the Father in this way only through a twofold movement: he steps forward (with divine authority) in order to make the Father visible, and simultaneously he steps back (as the Suffering Servant) in order to reveal the Father, not himself. We must not fail to discern him in his mode of stepping back, for he is the only way to the Father. In other words, the Father reveals himself by revealing the Son; he gives himself by giving his Son: dando revelat, et revelando dat (Bernard). Nor must we cling to him in his stepping forth, for, in all the density of his flesh, his whole aim is to be transparent, revealing the heart of God. In the same breath he can say, “My flesh is food indeed” and “It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail.” We must not hedge him round with a pietistic Jesus-spirituality on the grounds that “only the Son knows the Father”; he is the Door, and a door is not for clinging to: it is for going through. He is “the way”: we are not meant to stand still on it but walk along it, toward “my Father’s house”, which has “many rooms”. And at the same time we do not leave these rooms and this path behind us, for Jesus is also the light of the world, the truth, the Resurrection, the presence of eternal life. But he is these things, not in his own power, but because he manifests the Father’s love.

        Lest we become completely confused and wearied by this riddle of his simultaneous stepping forward and stepping back, his appearances and disappearances, he goes beyond it: when he rises from the dead and goes back to the Father, he sends the Holy Spirit from the Father. This Holy Spirit is the one, whole, personal manifestation and confirmation of this baffling unity between Father and Son, the divine “We” that is more than the mere “I” and “Thou”. It leads beyond the endless process of counting up, of supplementary definitions, to the reality of mutual presence and indwelling, without causing Father and Son to submerge in the Spirit. The Spirit comes to the aid of our helplessness in the face of the unity of opposites so clearly expressed in the gospel. He rewards us for not trying to resolve this apparent contradiction by our own efforts-for this would be to destroy the core of the Catholic reality: if we are to see things properly, we must include the opposite of what we have seen. It is not that what we see suddenly turns (“dialectically”) into its opposite, but that in the lowliness of Jesus there is a direct revelation of his lofty nature; that in his severity we discern his mercy, etc.

        And it is not that, in his human lowliness, he shows the greatness of the divine Father; it is not that his human severity prepares the way for the Father’s compassion. Rather, his lowliness reveals the humiliation of the Father’s love, and that shows his greatness. Thus, too, his human severity reveals the unshakable nature of the Father’s love, and hence of its compassion. So, in the distinction between Father and Son, we discern simultaneously the unity of the divine essence, and, within it, the possibility of uniting those qualities that seem to us irreconcilable. The famous Catholic “and”–Scripture “and” Tradition, etc.–which is the object of Protestant criticism, has its true origin here, and here alone.

        A Church can be Catholic only because God is Catholic first, and because, in Jesus Christ and ultimately in the Holy Spirit, this catholicity on God’s part has opened itself to the world, simultaneously revealing and giving itself. The Spirit is “Person”, the “We” in God: he provides the basis for the “we” that exists between God and ourselves, and hence too between men. But we would know and possess nothing of this if Jesus Christ had not stood at the alpha and omega of all God’s ways in the world, as the form of revelation available to anyone who is open to it, i.e., is prepared to believe.

        One thing to keep in mind that is that Jesus did not come to establish a religion over and against Judaism, but to establish an everlasting and universal (catholic!) covenant that was the fulfillment and culmination of the covenants with Adam (man/woman), Noah (family), Abram/Abraham (tribe), Moses (people/nation), David (nation/empire). See CCC 50ff for more on this.

  3. Symbolically, John the Baptist is confession.

    Jesus is Holy Communion.

    The former was until…50 years ago…the prerequisite for the latter.

    Then the Catholic Church abolished John the Baptist in the great iconoclasm of The (over-riding) Spirit of the Second Vatican Council. One obvious token of that sweeping iconoclasm, John the Baptist was removed from the Confiteor.

    If the Catholic Church establishment had any real appreciation for the regard Jesus had for a John the Baptist, they would restore his name to the Confiteor.

    • This website just published an article about a recent papal address. The article is titled “Pope Francis warns against preachers who sow division online.”
      It was the usual Pope Francis blasting rigidity. This almost right on top of the Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, one of the boldest of prophets and no stranger to giving prophetic correction. The pope’s address appears to put him at odds with St. John the Baptist and St. Stephen.

    • Agreed. Vatican II liturgical spirits deleted John the Baptist again when they removed in its entirety the Prayer to the Most Holy Trinity (which followed Washing of Hands). All these little gestures of irreverence and modernism add up to a council which fails the faithful.

      Apostolic Nuncio Pierre’s speech before USCCB seemed to allude to the bishops attending to their faithful. The faithful will carry the Church through its crisis; Christ will lighten our load by pruning dead wood.

  4. Blessed Feast ! 🙂
    ‘ The spirit of Elijah ‘ – Elijah , who had to deal with the kingdom of evil , the death and gore and violence related to same ..

    St.John The Baptist , visited in the womb , by the King and Queen of grace … ,
    to win over hearts where in rage the battles of the soul ..

    and being filled with The Spirit , his days in the desert likely always in bloom in the trust and gratitude to The Father , both for the honey as well as the locusts ..
    as per Bl .Emmercih , it was Mary Magdalene who taught Salome the dance .. and she too would learn to listen …to the Voice of The Master , to dance in accordance ..

    Good meditation by St.Augustine too –

  5. Many years ago, our Pastor-Emeritus, Fr. Robert Vidal related in a sermon on the Birth of St. John, the Baptist that the Birth of Jesus introduced a period of increase in natural light, while the Birth of St. John, the Baptist signaled a decrease. Hence, “He must increase; I must decrease” (Jn 3:30). Isn’t June 21 “the longest day of the year”?

    • The Nativity of Christ is celebrated near the winter solstice, and the Nativity of St. John the Baptist is celebrated near the summer solstice. In terms of daylight the shortest(winter solstice) and longest(summer solstice) days of the year.

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