“What then will this child become? – Nativity of John the Baptist

Source: seedsoffaith.com

Every new parent probably asks some version of the question, “What will become of my child?” Will she be a healthy child? What will he grow up to become? Will her life be marked by peace and happiness? What will be his dominant personality traits? Who does she look like and take after?

I’ve recently experienced two of my nieces having healthy baby girls. They join a growing family of grandchildren, great grandchildren, nieces, and nephews. I’m sure that my mother, despite being 88, asks these kinds of questions about every one of her descendents. How much more will Maria and Samuel ponder their new daughter? As will Laura and Frank wonder about their new daughter.

Elizabeth and Zechariah were no different. We refer to their son as John the Baptist, as the precursor of Jesus of Nazareth. But Elizabeth and Zechariah simply saw him as their child, a son granted to them in their old age.

John’s birth and the physical effect on his father Zechariah (his mouth being opened and his tongue freed) is the cause of fear in their neighbours, plenty of talk in the land, and much speculation and pondering about the child’s future. “What then will this child become.”

Even apart from any sense that this elderly couple had that John had a special role (doesn’t every parent naturally think of her and his newborn as special!), they were likely grateful that “the hand of the Lord was with him … the child grew and became strong in spirit.”

That’s very similar to what we hear in the Gospel about Jesus: he increased in wisdom and in favour with God.

Today’s Responsorial Psalm is from Psalm 139. My new great nieces could almost utter it. Being a devout Jew, John the Baptist probably did recite and pray with it.

“It was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.”

It’s no mistake that Psalm 139 is among the common scripture offered to retreatants to pray with. If there were a list of common scripture passages offered to people close to the start of their retreat, Psalm 139 would make the top ten.

Even someone as jaded and cynical as I am is not opposed to praying with it, or suggesting it to people. Having that intimate sense of being a loved child of God is a gift for us. It is the precursor to many more gifts from God.

Philip Shano, SJ has many years of rich and varied experience working with Ignatian spirituality: teaching, writing and using it in his ministry. He resides in the Jesuit community in Pickering, Ontario.

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