Birth of John the Baptist - homily
Today we celebrate the birth of St. John the Baptist. There was a lot going on before and at John’s birth. First, there was the drama involving his parents – they were apparently too old to have a baby. Then, we know the story about when Mary visited John’s mother, Elizabeth, and was carrying Jesus in her womb; John leapt for joy in his mother’s womb as Christ was in his presence. Also, like the prophet, Isaiah, in the first reading, John was given his name in his mother’s womb. At his birth, John was called by God…at birth! He was called by God to be the prophet of the Most High.
For John’s parents, Elizabeth and Zechariah, I’m sure it must have been surprising to their family members and friends that they were going to have a baby. They were thought to have been too old to have a baby (maybe in their fifties? We don’t know exactly). It was probably seen as too dangerous for her to give birth. But, they believed, as we do, that “with God all things are possible”. And, we see God’s Plan in John’s birth. He comes into the world to prepare the way for the Christ, and to announce Jesus as the Messiah. John is the sum total of all of the Old Testament prophets who lead us to Christ. Jesus once said that “there is no man born of woman greater than John the Baptist”. We see God’s Plan in the birth and life of John the Baptist; obviously, it was God’s Plan for John’s parents to be open to life.
God’s Plan is for all married couples to be open to life. Does this mean that every couple is to have, like, 15 kids? No. The Church advocates ‘responsible parenthood’. This means that a couple’s resources and situation in life are definite factors in their discernment of how God is calling them to bring life into the world. God’s Plan is for married couples to be open to life, and has given them the natural means to live out His Plan…Natural Family Planning (NFP). This is when the couple communicates regularly, and prays to God about whether or not He is calling them to procreate in a given month. If they are not able to procreate, they can discern whether or not they should adopt a child.
The biggest differences between natural and artificial approaches to family planning have to do with two main points: openness to God’s Plan and openness to life. I have talked with many couples who have tried to use NFP, and they say that it’s much harder than everyone makes it seem. So, for couples who do their best to use Natural Family Planning, the most important statistic I have found has to do with their commitment rate. 96% of married couples who use NFP stay together. This is obviously much higher than the general rate of 50%.
There are several reasons why the divorce rate is so much lower among NFP couples. In my research, I found many of their own insights as reasons. They say that their communication is very strong. They are in constant communication with each other and with God…He is the center of their marriage. They are able to discuss other issues much better; if they can talk about this issue, they can talk about (almost) anything! They report an increase in satisfaction with and appreciation for their spouse. They grow in friendship and in love for the other. They describe a cycle of courtship and honeymoon; that is beautiful!
They grow in love for each other: the sacrificial love they promised on their wedding day where they gave themselves to the other. They grow in respect for the other as a person, and not as an object of the desire only. Pope John Paul II called couples who use the natural methods of family planning as “ministers of God’s Plan”. Artificial means of family planning is a sin against the sixth commandment because it is a sin against marriage. The natural way is from God; the artificial way is not from God, it is from man.
Thank God that Elizabeth and Zechariah were open to life! Because they were, John came into the world and proclaimed Christ his whole life. He points us to Christ, especially in the Eucharist. He said the line we will hear in a few minutes and at every Mass: “Behold the Lamb of God”. As we receive the Eucharist today, let us go forth to be, like John, prophets of Christ’s coming into the world….in the Eucharist. As we receive God’s life and God’s love in the Eucharist this day, may we be open to life and love, through the Grace of this sacrament. May we know God’s love this day, and share His life with those we meet this day.