Vigil of the Birth of St. John the Baptist

Readings: 2 Kings 19:9-11, 14-21, 31-35, 36 -- Psalm 48 -- Matthew 7:6, 12-14 (or) Jeremiah 1:4-10 -- 1 Peter 1:8-12 -- Luke 1:5-17 -- Psalm 71

This day I set you over nations and over kingdoms, to root up and to tear down, to destroy and to demolish, to build and to plant. Jeremiah 1:10

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Today's readings are a feast fraught with meaning for those who explore the orthopraxis of justice and peace. The Church presents us with two sets of readings, one for Ordinary time, and another for the Vigil of the Birth of John the Baptist (a solemnity).

In ordinary time, we are presented with the experience of the kingdom of Judah with the Assyrians. Unlike the northern Israelites, Judah has not forgotten the Lord. When the King of the Assyrians sends a sneering letter to Hezekiah, he takes it to the Lord in prayer. God answers his prayer and defends the nation. Israel abandons the laws of God, and its structures that protect the poor and marginalized and it is destroyed. Judah remembers the law and its structures regarding the poor, and is protected from invasion. We can see many things here, but underneath the historicity is the message that the more justice there is in a society, the better it is able to withstand mortal peril. Without its faithfulness to God and God's laws, Judah would have gone the way of Israel.

The ordinary time Gospel presents us with the Golden Rule -- do unto others as you would have them do to you, one of the fundamental sacred commands regarding justice and peace. This is certainly something we don't see much of today in our politics. In the land of the free and the home of the brave (a/k/a the USA), people demand that the bread of the poor be taken from them -- we want their neighborhoods, their food stamps, their welfare checks, their jobs, and we want their money. We want all these things so that we can turn around and give them to the rich and powerful -- people like MacDonalds Corporation, which uses its federal welfare check to buy advertising -- or needy souls like the Archer Daniel Midland Corporation, surely one of the world's all-time great welfare queens.

To people such as the management and stockholders of these corporations -- and the politicians who grant the favors in return for consideration received -- poor people are merely pockets to be picked along the way to their latest raid on the federal treasury. Their consciences should be filled with shame, but instead, they are shameless and claim that the assaults they make on the poor "are for their own good."

From the perspective of MacDonald's Corporation, God forbid that anyone should do unto them what they do unto others. It might hurt their quarterly profit statement and annual dividend.

When our Lord said in today's Gospel -- narrow is the way that leads to eternal life, and broad is the way that leads to destruction, it seems to me that this is the kind of thing he is talking about, at least in part. Where are the voices that today cry peace in the vicious and cruel war against the poor? Who is to be heard in Congress saying, "Leave those poor people alone"? Where can we find an honest soul who will not be bought by the greed of corporate America and who will say to God and everybody -- "This Emperor is naked!"

In the Gospel for the Vigil of the Birth of John the Baptist, the Angel Gabriel is sent from God to Zechariah, to tell him that in their old age, he and Elizabeth will bear a child, who will be a prophet, filled with the Holy Spirit from the moment of his conception. The spirit off Elijah will be upon him, he will go to prepare a "people fit for the Lord", that is, a people who are filled with justice, who reject oppression, who obey the law of the Lord.

So today let us go to Our Lady of Sorrows, again we are heavy with thoughts of the wickedness of the world, of the many great and wicked sins committed against the poor by the rich and the powerful. We see the shamelessness with which this oppression is praised by all. We hear few voices that cry out against the crimes which themselves cry out to heaven for justice and redress. We mourn for the prophets murdered in our own time by our own sins. We share with Our Lady her grievous sorrow at these sins so offensive to her most immaculate Heart and that of her blessed Son.

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