YEAR B: HOMILY FOR THE TWELFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME. SOLEMNITY OF THE NATIVITY OF SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST
HOMILY THEME: “The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.” (Luke 1:80)
BY: Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
Luke 1:57-66, 80
His entrance into their lives was startling after long years in the wilderness subsisting on locusts and wild honey, clothed in camel’s hair and girded with a leather belt. When finally John the Baptist came into public life, he was indeed unsettling. Even more so his message: reform your lives, for one greater than I is coming among you. As we celebrate today the birth of John, we hear the words of St. Luke, “The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.” (Luke 1:80)
As John was for his day, so in our own I can see his reflection in Pope Francis. How often his words and deeds have been as unexpected—even startling—as those of the Baptizer. With his insistent message of loving mercy before all else, Pope Francis has come among us as from a wilderness, calling us back to Christ. Let a Catholic News Service story take us into the heart of Francis. Entitled “‘Is my dad in heaven,’ little boy asks pope,” I share an excerpt with you:
“After circling a massive, crumbling public housing complex on the outskirts of Rome, Pope Francis had an emotional encounter with the neighborhood’s children. Question-and-answer sessions with youngsters are a standard part of Pope Francis’ parish visits. And, at St. Paul of the Cross parish, there were the usual questions like, ‘How did you feel when you were elected pope?’
“But then it was Emanuele’s turn. The young boy smiled at the pope as he approached the microphone. But then froze. ‘I can’t do it,’ Emanuele said. A papal aide encouraged the boy, but he kept saying, ‘I can’t.’ “‘Come, come to me, Emanuele,’ the pope said. ‘Come and whisper it in my ear.’ “[The aide] helped the boy up to the platform where the pope was seated. Emanuele was sobbing by that point, and Pope Francis enveloped him in a big embrace, patting his head and speaking softly to him. With their heads touching, the pope and the boy spoke privately to each other before Emanuele returned to his seat.
“Pope Francis said he had asked Emanuele if he could share the boy’s question and the boy agreed. [So Francis shared what he had said.] “‘A little while ago my father passed away. He was a nonbeliever, but he had all four of his children baptized. He was a good man. Is dad in heaven?’”
“‘How beautiful to hear a son say of his father, He was good,’ the pope told the children. ‘If that man was able to make his children like that, then it’s true, he was a good man. He was a good man. That man did not have the gift of faith, he wasn’t a believer, but he had his children baptized. He had a good heart,’ Pope Francis said. ‘God is the one who says who goes to heaven,’ the pope explained.
“The next step in answering Emanuele’s question, he said, would be to think about what God is like and, especially, what kind of heart God has. ‘What do you think? A father’s heart. God has a dad’s heart. And with a dad who was not a believer, but who baptized his children and gave them that [eternal gift], do you think God would be able to leave him far from himself? Does God abandon his children?’ the pope asked. ‘Does God abandon his children when they are good?’
“The children shouted, ‘No.’ “‘There, Emanuele, that is the answer,’ the pope told the boy. ‘God surely was proud of your father, because it is easier as a believer to baptize your children than to baptize them when you are not a believer. Surely this pleased God very much.’
“Pope Francis encouraged Emanuele to ‘talk to your dad; pray to your dad.’” (Catholic News Service, April 16, 2018)
St. Luke wrote of John the Baptist that he became strong in spirit during his time in the wilderness. Before becoming Pope, Jorge Bergoglio grew strong in faith and vision serving tirelessly the very poor of Argentina. Upon his election as Pope, he chose the name Francis after the 13th century saint who, responding to heaven’s call, set out to rebuild the church of Christ.