Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist
LK 1:57-66, 80
June 24, 2018
Last week, I visited my old friend, Marie Wrocklage. She was “at home with hospice” and might well be “at home with the Lord” before you have an opportunity to read this reflection.
In 2016, at the age of 96, Marie was awarded the Bishop Murphy Award for her continued service within the Diocese of Saginaw. I intentionally say “continued service” because, at the time, she was still involved in religious education. Marie was recognized as the first parent-catechist in her parish community, and her ministry has spanned three generations. During our final visit, she taught me one final lesson. At least she reminded me of something that no minister or religious educator should lose sight of.
With a twinkle in her beautiful blue eyes, she told me how delighted she was to have received a phone call from one of her former students. This woman, living on the other side of the country, heard about Marie’s final illness and called to express her appreciation for all that she had learned about Christ and our Church from Marie. She explained that she was now involved in faith formation in her own parish. At some point in her description of her own efforts to pass on the faith, the younger woman said something that echoed a line from our First Reading. I thought that I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly spent my strength… (Isaiah 49:1-6).
Marie quickly replied: If they remember just one, single thing you taught them, it was worth your effort.
This weekend, the Church steps briefly out of the Season of Ordinary Time in order to celebrate the birth of an extraordinary life. John the Baptist is recognized and honored by Jesus, Himself, at Matt. 11:8. “Amen I say to you, among those born of women, there has been none greater than John the Baptist.”
John’s greatness stems from his work in heralding the coming of the Messiah, proclaiming the Kingdom of God, and calling people to repent. He was relentless in his efforts to the point of shouting out his message from a jail cell shortly before his execution. He used the last minutes of his earthly life to teach…or at least to remind people of something that no human being should lose sight of…GOD IS FAITHFUL TO US AND WE IN TURN MUST STRIVE ALWAYS TO BE FAITHFUL TO GOD…and repent those occasions when we fall short. What is amazing is that as important as John’s work was, Jesus elevates the efforts of everyone who echoes his message.
How wise it is for The Church to shine the spotlight on John. It gives us an opportunity to recall and celebrate all those in our own lives who have taught us just one single thing about Christ and our Church. Parents, grandparents, friends, neighbors, teachers, catechists…everyone described by St. Paul in our Second Reading, as those to whom the word of salvation has been sent. Christ Himself elevates the lives of all those, who, like John the Baptist and Marie Wrocklage, use their strength to bring light to the nations. Their reward is with the Lord.
As I was completing my thoughts for this reflection, I received the news that Marie had died. We take comfort in knowing that the thousands of seeds that she planted in the minds and hearts of three generations of Catholic children will grow and bear fruit. She was a “light to the nations” and now may Eternal Light Shine upon her.