Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist
Reading 1 IS 49:1-6
Responsorial Psalm PS 139:1B-3, 13-14AB, 14C-15
- (14) I praise you, for I am wonderfully made.
Reading 2 ACTS 13:22-26
Alleluia SEE LK 1:76
- Alleluia, alleluia.
You, child, will be called prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way.
Gospel LK 1:57-66, 80
Feast of St John the Baptist, June 23-24, 2018
I want to introduce you to John the Baptist whom we honor today on his feast day. Let me tell you a bit of his life history.
The Archangel Gabriel appeared to Zachary and Elizabeth, and told them their unborn son was to be the Messenger of God. The child grew up to become John the Baptist, a prophet who preached that the Son of God was coming to Israel soon.
At the age of 26, John the Baptist went to the desert beyond the Jordan River and spent long hours praying and fasting, living on locusts and wild honey. Some thought John the Baptist was the Messiah (the savior for whom they had waited so long), but he humbly insisted he was only a “Voice crying in the wilderness.” As he roamed throughout Israel, he told all who would listen that they should repent because the true Messiah would arrive soon.
One day John was speaking to a crowd. A man approached him and asked him to be baptized. John knew that this was Jesus, the Messiah, and he said he was not worthy to baptize the Son of God. Yet in obedience to the will of God, he finally baptized Jesus. A dove came down from the sky, and a voice from the sky declared, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
John the Baptist knew it was the sign from the Holy Spirit. “Behold the Lamb of God,” he cried. “Behold Him who takes away the sin of the world.”
John the Baptist continued to preach the message of repentance and encouraged his disciples to follow Jesus.
So on this great feast day, let us honor John the Baptist for all he did for Jesus, and for us. John truly is one of the greatest saints of the church. But let’s never forget that the relationship between John and Jesus is something each one of us can experience as well. We can all leap for joy as we prepare this world for the coming of Christ the King! “Come Lord, and fill my heart with Joy.”
As I was preparing the homily for this weekend, I was going through some of my old homilies, hoping to find something else to add to the great feast of John the Baptist.
To be honest, I didn’t find anything to add, but I did find something interesting that I’d like to share with you. It was a copy from the very first homily I preached at Nativity Church. It was on the 1st Sunday of Advent, Dec 2, 1978, and a few weeks after I was ordained in November, 1978.
I read it to myself and I was appalled at how long it was. I have always subscribed to an unwritten preaching rule: the mind can only absorb what the rear can endure. I wish I had known that rule before I prepared that homily, I was pretty nervous.
I was about 40 years old and quite intimidated at the awesome responsibilities I had accepted as a deacon in the Catholic Church, despite almost 4 years of intense formation, education and preparation.
Several years later I began full-time as pastoral associate here in Nativity parish. I became more involved in our parish life, as the pastor gave me more and more things to do: Baptize babies, assist at Masses, preach, instruct couples and perform weddings, make hospital visits, counsel, visit home-bound parishioners, lead wake services, prepare funeral homilies, etc.
I found myself being with families when they were very happy, and when they were grieving at the death of a loved one. Everything was going well and I felt confident that this was my calling, so I set a goal for myself to remain here at Nativity (if the pastor would have me) until I was 80 years old.
But then in September, 2016 things changed unexpectedly when my wife Alice and I were involved in a serious car accident on the Northwest Arterial. We were hit broadside by a very large semi which had a green light as the driver approached the intersection where I was waiting to turn left. I had a flashing yellow arrow so I turned left into the path of that evil semi. The fault was entirely mine.
To make a long story short, our car was totally demolished and both Alice and I were badly hurt. We were both transferred to Iowa City Hospital where we were both put in the ICU while doctors decided what needed to be done. Following surgery I was taken back to ICU but Alice went to a regular room.
My son Christopher had arrived from his home in the Washington D.C. area. One day he inquired as to what room the truck driver was in and was told he was right down the hall in ICU. He went to see him and the driver-whose name is Mike- asked, “How are your Mom and Dad?” Imagine that! He was seriously injured, yet his first question was for our welfare. Christopher has stayed in touch with Mike. He always asks about us. What a good man he is!
My daughter Anne- from New York and my daughter Brigid from Dubuque made it to Iowa City. They didn’t know if we would survive or not so they stayed close by, just in case. It felt good having all our kids there.
After several weeks we were both brought back to Dubuque-Alice to Stonehill Care Center, and me to Finley Hospital, but soon after I was moved to Stonehill.
We had both suffered broken ribs, but I also had a compound fracture of my left leg, just above the ankle and some internal injuries. Alice recovered well enough to go home in several weeks, but I remained there for 10 months during which time I managed to get sick with shingles, and then septic shock (from which I almost died) and finally I was told that my broken leg would probably have to be amputated.
That was absolutely the last straw! I awoke the next morning feeling how really worthless I was. I was having a big pity party, when into my room walked none other than our beloved Pastor, Msgr Jim Miller. He saw immediately how I was feeling and he gave me two things that changed everything: a good stern talking to and a big warm hug. He assured me that he and my friends at Nativity were praying for me. He asked if I was praying for myself, but I had to admit that I wasn’t, since I was so busy feeling sorry for myself. He soon let me know how he felt about that. I was surprised at how tough he could be.
I endured daily visits to the Physical Therapy department where the staff required me to walk, despite my protests of how painful it was to do so.
I was beginning to accept the fact that I was in this for the long haul, so I decided to follow Fr. Jim’s advice, and spent many hours and days of my recovery time by counting my blessings. I was pretty at God, but--
I reminded myself that both Alice and I were alive, in spite of our painful injuries. In reality we both should have died, but God had other plans for us. I started by giving thanks to God for sparing our lives. The human side of me kept asking God why he was letting me have so much pain, forgetting that the accident was entirely my fault, I had no one to blame but myself. I’m obviously a slow learner.
Initially I prayed for relief of pain, and for patience when the nurse was late bringing those little pink pills that helped take the pain away. I apologized to her for being such a grouch and I decided to thank her with a smile instead of a scowl and a reminder that she was late.
Our meals were served at little tables for four. It didn’t take long for me to find out there were patients who were a lot sicker and in more pain than I was. I tried to keep my complaints to myself and instead, offer encouragement to others.
Mass was offered almost every day in the chapel at Stonehill, so I began attending when I was not scheduled for therapy or some other medical meeting. I was amazed to see so many people I knew-many of whom were members of our Nativity Parish. Retired Archbishop Daniel Kucera stopped by my room several times, always reminding me to get well soon and get back to work at Nativity. I had so many visitors that my nurse put signs on my door restricting visitors from stopping by from 3 til 4 pm so I could have a brief rest. Nobody paid any attention to the signs.
My left leg was amputated on March 12, 2017 in Iowa City because of the persistent infection in my lower leg. The pain of that surgery was the worst of all, in spite of heavy duty pain killers. The pain lasted for about a week and began to ease up then.
I came home from Stonehill Care Center in early May of 2017. I received my prosthetic leg about 6 months later.
As you can see my walking isn’t what it used to be, but I can get around using a cane to help give me confidence. It has been a long and painful experience but I’m here today, and happy to be.
I am almost finished, but there is something I feel I need to add: this past Tuesday I fell going into our home. To make a long story short, Alice called the Asbury police and an ambulance arrived to take me to the hospital where staples were needed to close the gash in my head. God has a way of reminding me that he is in charge, and I need to practice humility when I forget.
That’s about it, but I want to address just one final topic. I am 80 years old and my health has taken a downward plunge. It is for that reason that I am announcing to you today that I am retiring from my position as Pastoral Minister at Nativity Parish.
In my nearly 25 years that I have held that position, I have grown to love everything about Nativity. My decision to retire was a difficult one! I have served under 8 pastors, all of whom were very good men, all of whom kept me very busy.
I have enjoyed serving alongside Deacon Steve Whiteman, and retired Jim Carroll who came to us from Chicago, and is now a member of our Nativity Parish family.
But most of all, I have treasured serving each one of you. I have danced with you in your joyful times, I have wept with you in sad times. I have grown with you as we have sought to recognize Jesus as our supreme teacher, model and friend.
I will not say goodbye because my heart will always be with you, my beloved friends of Nativity.
I have been generously blessed by the love and prayers you have heaped on me in my times of need. I promise I will do the same for you.
God Bless you!