On Birth of John the Baptist

“The First ‘Witness’ of Jesus”

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 24, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today before reciting the midday Angelus with several thousand people gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today, June 24, the liturgy invites us to celebrate the solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, whose life was totally oriented toward Christ, as was the life of Christ’s mother, Mary.

John the Baptist was the precursor, the “voice” sent to announce the Incarnate Word. For this reason, to commemorate the birth of John the Baptist in reality means to celebrate Christ, the fulfillment of the promises of all the prophets, of whom John was the greatest, called to “prepare the way” before the Messiah (cf. Matthew 11:9-10).

All the Gospels begin the narrative of Jesus’ public life with the account of the Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan by John. St. Luke sets John’s appearance on the scene in a solemn historical frame. My book “Jesus of Nazareth” also takes cues from Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, an event that had enormous resonance at that time.

From Jerusalem and from every part of Judea people came to listen to John the Baptist and be baptized by him in the river, confessing their sins (cf. Mark 1:5). The fame of the baptizer grew to such an extent that many asked whether he might be the Messiah. But John — the Gospel writer emphasizes — resolutely denied it: “I am not the Christ” (John 1:20).

Nevertheless, he is still the first “witness” of Jesus, having received instruction about him from heaven: “The man on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is he who will baptize in the Holy Spirit” (John 1:33). This happened precisely when Jesus, having received baptism, came out of the water: John saw the Spirit descend on him like a dove.

It was then that he “knew” the full reality of Jesus of Nazareth and began “to make it known to Israel” (John 1:31), naming him as Son of God and redeemer of man: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

As an authentic prophet, John bore witness to the truth without compromise. He denounced transgressions of God’s commandments, even when the protagonists were people in power. Thus, when he accused Herod and Herodius of adultery, he paid for it with his life, sealing with martyrdom his service to Christ, who is the truth in person.

Let us call on his intercession together with that of Mary Most Holy so that the Church of our time will know how to be ever faithful to Christ and testify with courage to his truth and his love for all.

[After praying the Angelus, the Holy Father greeted pilgrims in six languages. In Italian, he said:]

This Sunday, which proceeds the solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, is in Italy the Pope’s Charity Day. My dear Italian faithful, I am deeply grateful for the prayer and support by which you participate in the evangelization and charitable work of the Successor of Peter throughout the world.

[In English, he said:]

I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors gathered for this Angelus prayer. Today, as the Church celebrates the Birth of Saint John the Baptist, let us ask for the gift of true conversion and growth in holiness, so that our lives will prepare a way for the Lord and hasten the coming of his Kingdom. Upon all of you I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace!

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