When we think of the Holy Family, we tend to think in terms of "Jesus, Mary and Joseph." A pious tradition gives blessings towards friends in those three names. While that family is indeed holy above all, I believe this feast reminds us that the family indeed was more than just those three. In a certain sense, we are also included.
We celebrate the feast of the Birth of St. John The Baptist, the greatest prophet of the Old Covenant. We celebrate the one of whom St. Gregory the Great wrote in song "John the bridegroom's friend became, the herald of Messiah's name." One thing we may forget is that in a certain sense, John was also of the Holy Family. He was the cousin (although perhaps distant) of Jesus. His mother Elizabeth, that saintly woman of the visitation, was Mary's cousin. As the herald of his cousin's triumphant arrival, St. John the Baptist calls upon us to look upon his kin, to prepare ourselves to indeed be joined into their family. He calls us towards a deep union with his relatives. This is the reason we celebrate his birth. While salvation history changed at the Incarnation, salvation history also changed when the harbinger of the Kingdom appears on this world.
The very timing of this feast is also important. We celebrate this feast 6 months before we celebrate the birth of Our Lord at Christmas. While the secular world speaks of "Christmas in July", perhaps we Christians should start preparing for Christmas in a special way at this moment. For just as John the Baptizer told God's people of their coming redeemer over 2,000 years ago, so John today tells us to prepare anew for His coming. Just as he announced Christ, so are we called to do the same between now and Christmas. The Introit hints at this mission:
The Lord has called me by name from my mother's womb, and He has made my mouth as a sharp sword. Under the shadow of His hand He has protected me, and has made me a chosen arrow.
As with many prophecies of the Old Testament, we could apply this on several levels. The Epistle for today provides the context, and this is undoubtedly one of Messianic origin. Yet one could also say that John to was called from the womb, and was given this mission. Finally, we are given that mission, to announce to today's unbelieving world of the salvation of Christ Jesus.
This may seem like a daunting task. Yet we should take great confidence in the beginning of this reading. We are told that "The Lord has called me by name from my mother's womb." The Gradual today tells the same story of the Prophet Jeremiah. Before the foundation of the world (as St. Paul tells us in Ephesians) God calls each of us by name. He knows us better than we could know ourselves, and knows we are capable of the mission He provides for us. Just as the Jews of John's day were awaiting eagerly the coming of the promised Messiah, so the world today awaits salvation. The Jews of his day did not perceive the type of Messiah to come. Likewise, many in this world today seek salvation in things that cannot save. God desires us, sinful beings we are, to present the truth of the Gospel, giving the world the truth. For us, this is not optional. This was our calling from the womb. When we celebrate this feast today, we remind ourselves of our own calling, our own duty.
Today's Offertory tells us "the just man will flourish." When we accept that calling and all that it entails, we will flourish. We will find courage to speak the truth as our blessed ancestor John did. Yet even in that justice, we call the world to something higher. John was one of the most righteous and just men of his day, yet he proclaimed "one is coming who is greater than I." When Christ revealed Himself, John stated "He must increase, I must decrease." Ironically enough, this is our calling. We flourish with justice when we accept God's calling, but ultimately we decrease. We speak of a coming of one greater than ourselves. The Jews of his time traveled out into the wilderness to see a man they viewed incredibly righteous. Instead, they were told that the one coming would shatter all their expectations of what righteousness was. We are to do the same! Our holiness will draw the attention of a sinful world. Yet once that attention is drawn, we cannot grasp it for ourselves. We must point that attention to whom it properly belongs. That is the job of a true herald. The herald speaks with a loud voice so the people will pay attention, yet not for the herald's sake. Instead, the herald draws the attention towards the King.
May the intercession of John the Baptizer always provide a path to Christ. May our imitation of his life lead us to proclaim Christ to this world. May his humility teach us to always place Christ above everything else. Indeed, May He increase, may we decrease. Amen.