By MSGR. THOMAS DUFFY
On June 24, many Christians celebrate the feast of the birth of John the Baptist. The date, six months before Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, seems appropriate since according to St. Luke (1:36), when the Angel Gabriel invited Mary to be the Mother of Jesus, he told her that her cousin Elizabeth was now in her sixth month of pregnancy. The child she was carrying was later to be known as John the Baptist. According to a number of writers, this feast was celebrated in Christian churches in both the Eastern and Western part of the Roman Empire since the fourth century.
For Roman Catholics in South Carolina, it is an important feast day, because not only is our Cathedral in Charleston called the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, this saint is the patron saint of the diocese. Quite a patron for us to have because his mission was to prepare the way for the Lord. He called people to repentance from sin that they would be open to humbly receive the savior of the world. This would mean they would not only be open to receive him as their savior but accept his invitation to make him and his message known to everyone. The Catholic Church in this state, as the Catholic Church wherever it exists, exists not just for her members but to help her members seek to help everyone.
When I was director of Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Charleston, I use to say often that the reason for the agency was not to administer charity to Catholics but to administers the charity of Catholics to everyone. This, it seems to me, should be the reason for the existence of any Catholic institution and this is particularly true of our Catholic schools. This is a truth that unfortunately we often forget. Whenever Catholics limit their services to Catholics and even only to those Catholics who financially support their parishes, I think we have lost sight of our reason for being. Reflecting upon the mission of John the Baptist should help us realize our mission.
In the liturgy for the feast of the birth of John the Baptist, we as Catholics are reminded of a mission we have not only to Catholics but to all, and that is to speak out clearly about our belief that human life does not begin at birth but in the womb itself. Yes, it was not until after his birth that his father Zechariah gave him the name John, but his mother Elizabeth recognized him as the babe, her child, developing in her womb long before that. When Mary visited her, she said of her child, “The babe in my womb leapt for joy as soon as I heard your voice.” To Mary, whose pregnancy was six months less than her own, Elizabeth said, “And who am I that the mother of my Savior should come to me.”
That human lie with all of its dignity, and particularly its right to life, exists in the womb is a belief that all Catholics should not only treasure but seek to share with everyone. May the celebration of this feast help Catholics not be afraid to seek to help others respect human life. May we do so by word and example.
It will not be easy to follow the example of John the Baptist but if he is to be our patron, do we have a choice? Respect life. It’s our heritage. It must be our choice.
Msgr. Thomas R. Duffy is pastor of St. Michael Church in Garden City and is dean of the Pee Dee Deanery.