The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist - 24th June, 2018

Liturgical Reflection

Luke 1: 5-17, 57-66, 80

John the Baptist is an intriguing figure in our faith-story tradition.  Indeed, the feast of his birth is a Solemnity celebrated by the entire Christian community this weekend.

John the Baptist is remembered as herald, prophet, baptizer, preacher, precursor, reconciler, sage …. to name just a few titles.

There are all sorts of parallels that might be drawn between John the Baptist and Jesus:

         - their birth stories with the divine presence anticipating the ‘extraordinary’;
         - both were highly ‘favoured’;
         - their life journeys open up the path to salvation;
         - the birth of the Messiah in mid-winter; the birth of John in high summer;
         - both were men of prayer;
         - both had faith-filled mothers and loyal fathers;
         - both suffered catastrophic ends.

But on this feast day, I want to reflect on an aspect of John’s life that is merely hinted at…  I suggest that John the Baptist is a model of contemplation for the Christian community.

John was the son of a high priest and a deeply religious mother.  He would have been steeped in Jewish temple rituals and the rhythm of daily prayer, and influenced by his mother’s spirituality and example.


The family was seen to be exemplary.  John (meaning “God’s gracious gift”) grew into his destiny. He became a holy man, a reflective man, and a man of prayer.

As holy men did in those times, John at some point left his family and went out into the desert.  Today’s Gospel records, the ‘hand of the Lord was upon him.’  John’s vocation seems to have been forged out in the wilderness, as a contemplative.  Thomas Merton writes: ‘As soon as you are really alone, you are with God.”  John became attuned to God’s plan of salvation and preached a message of repentance.

Jesus emerged from his ‘hidden years’ and began his energetic ministry of preaching, teaching and healing.  He also sought times of quiet prayer at night, in the hills.  When John sent ‘messengers’ to ask Jesus “Are you the one who is to come or have we to wait for someone else?”, Jesus invites them to ponder all that they have seen and heard.  The impact of Jesus’ ministry was a powerful witness for the messengers to share with John. In all this, Jesus exclaims ‘there is no one greater than John.’

Might it be that in John and Jesus we have exemplified for us Dominicans the call to active contemplation and contemplative action?

Jill Shirvington OP