June 24th On the Nativity of St John the Baptist
Consider first, how just it is, that we should show particular honour and veneration to this saint, of whom our Saviour tells us, St. Matt. xi 18, ‘That there hath not risen among them that are born of women, a greater than John the Baptist. He was a burning and a shining light,’ St. John v. 35. ‘The special friend of the bridegroom,’ chap. iii. 29. ‘The angel sent before his face to prepare his way,’ St. Matt. xi. 10. ‘A prophet and more than a prophet,’ v. 9. An apostle ‘sent from god for a witness to give testimony of the light, that all men might believe through him,’ St. John i. 6, 7. A martyr, in laying down his life for justice and truth. A hermit, in retiring from his childhood into the deserts, and there consecrating his days and nights to the exercises of devotion and self-denial. A zealous preacher of penance, to reclaim sinners from their evil ways, and to prepare them for Christ. a virgin by the perpetual purity of his life. See here, Christians, what we have to honour in this great saint; what we have to embrace and love in him, and what lessons we are to learn from him.
Consider 2ndly, that, in other saints, the church honours the day of their departure out of this transitory life, which she celebrates as their birthday; because on that day they passed from their dying here below, to their true life with God above, and are happily born there, where they shall never die. But in St. John Baptist we honour also the day of his birth into this mortal life, by reason of his being sanctified in his mother’s womb, and of the wonders which accompanied his birth, which was to the world, sitting till then in darkness and in the shades of death, like the first dawning of the new daylight, which the Son of God, whose forerunner he was, was coming to bring amongst us. Therefore we rejoice in his nativity, as an angel foretold, Luke i. 14, and glorify the author of all these wonders, by celebrating, with love and gratitude, this birth of St. John, as a prelude of our redemption. See, my soul, if these be thy dispositions of this day.
Consider 3rdly, that St. John was saint from his birth; he always preserved his innocence, and wholly dedicated himself, from his very childhood, to the love and service of his maker. To this end he retired, when very young, to the wilderness, to fly the corruptions and distractions of the world: ‘The child grew,’ says St. Luke, ch. i. 80, ‘and was strengthened in spirit, and was in the deserts until the day of his manifestation to Israel.’ Happy they that wholly consecrate themselves, from their tender years, to divine love! ‘O! how good it is for a man, when he hath borne the sweet yoke of the Lord from his youth,’ Lament. iii. 27. O my soul, that we had been so happy! Let us begin now at least, and, from this moment, let us dedicate ourselves to be servants of divine love henceforth and for ever.
Conclude if thou desirest to imitate the early piety and innocence of St. John to follow him, as much as possible, into the wilderness; by retiring at least from the wicked ways of the world, from the infected air of the world; from the company and conversation of the slaves of the world; from the dangerous pastimes of worldlings, and from all the occasions of sin, so common in the world. and especially take care to make a private cell for thyself in thy own interior; and to keep thyself there, by inward recollection, in a holy solitude with thy God!