HOMILY: ST JOHN THE BAPTIST EF Mass 2018
At Quarr Abbey, the Feast of the Nativity of St John the Baptist is a day of special importance for the Novices. As far as possible and given that there enough Novices, serving Mass and a significant part of the celebration of the Office is entrusted to the members of the Novitiate.
The reason for this is very clear when we remember those words of the Baptist early in St John’s Gospel: ‘He – Christ – must increase, but I must decrease’. The monastery is the ‘School of the Lord’s Service’, and the Novitiate is, as it were, the ‘reception class’ of the ‘school’ – the place where the would-be monk begins to learn that the whole purpose of his life is precisely to allow Christ to become for him, day by day, more and more important. Again, as the Rule of St Benedict puts it: ‘Let them prefer nothing whatever to the love of Christ’ (RB 72, 11) – ‘the love of Christ must come before all else’ (RB 4, 21). I order that this goal may always be kept in view, there is no more suitable ‘role model’ for the Novice than the Baptist.
And what is true for the Benedictine Novice must surely be no less true for each one of us in the Church. Each one of us, whatever our particular calling, is pledged by our Baptism to die to self and live for Christ. As we contemplate the birth and life and death of St John the Baptist, our eyes are opened more and more fully to the blessings he brings to us. The virtue of humility, which we not only find difficult to make our own, but also even more difficult to describe, he embodies: that genuine humility that looks away from self and finds joy in the happiness of others. As John said: ‘The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full’.
Finally, it is worth remembering how the very dates of our celebration of the Birth of both John and Jesus underline the significance each of them has in God’s loving purposes of salvation. Today’s Feast comes at the time of the summer solstice. From now on, the sun begins to decline. The Birth of Christ comes at the time of the winter solstice. After Christmas Day, the light again begins to grow. All nature is involved in the story of our salvation. If we can echo the Baptist’s words – ‘He must increase, but I must decrease’ – we will find ourselves and the cosmos deeply in tune with one another.