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The power of birthdays — John the Baptist’s and yours

BIRTHDAY CAKE
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The most important Person of all rejoiced the day you were born.

Summer is a time for birthdays, for me, for four of my children, for America on July 4 — and for John the Baptist on June 24.

This Sunday the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist, which, as it turns out, has much to say about birthdays in general.

Our birthday is the anniversary of our vocation.

If you attend the Vigil Mass on Saturday, you will hear in the Gospel an angel declare that John “will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb, and he will turn many of the children of Israel.” On Sunday, you’ll hear Isaiah foresee John the Baptist’s vocation. “The LORD called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name.”

John the Baptist’s birthday is worth celebrating because without his mighty calling, the world would be different. Your birthday is also worth celebrating because without your mustard seed calling, the world would not be the same either.

As the angel Clarence put it in It’s a Wonderful Life, “Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

A birthday is a day to recognize that each of us is a masterpiece of God.

The reason the world would have “an awful hole” without us is that we were each created according to an infinitely brilliant masterplan.

“Truly you have formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb,” says the Sunday Psalm. “I give you thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made; wonderful are your works.”

It is hard for us to believe that God specially designed and infinitely loves every single person, because they sure don’t seem that great to us. But he did and he does and they are.

He made us each in his own image and, as Sigrid Undset put it, God’s is “an image which is very hard to efface.” John the Baptist spent his life perfecting that image in a radical life of faith. That’s our job, too.

Your birthday was a day for your mother — and many more — to rejoice.

On Sunday, we hear that when his wife Elizabeth gave birth: “Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her, and they rejoiced with her.” The vigil Gospel said, “Many will rejoice at his birth.”

A mother especially rejoices at the birth of a child. As Jesus puts it, after labor, “she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy that a child has been born into the world.”

The day I wrote this, two different babies were born in the Benedictine College community, one to a theology professor and one to an administrative assistant. The news spread phone to phone, email to email, post to post, with great excitement again and again.

It’s true: Everyone rejoices when a baby is born. They did when John the Baptist was born, and they did when you were born.

A birthday is an opportunity to change your life.

In the Gospel for the day, Zecariah had been silenced because he doubted God’s power to bring him a son. Then, “He asked for a tablet and wrote, ‘John is his name,’ and all were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God.”

St. John Paul II talked about the “choice” of fatherhood. Mothers bond with their children practically automatically. Fathers have to choose to — and when they do, it changes them forever.

The actor John Stamos recognizes this. On Father’s Day he posted a picture with his new child on Instagram.

“My first Father’s Day means that I don’t have to hand a kid back to the parents when someone yells cut,” he wrote. “Most importantly, it means that for the rest of my life, I’ll always be known as someone’s dad. And that’s all I ever wanted.”

In the Vigil Gospel, the angel proclaims that John will “turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children.” The first father John changed was Zecariah.

Today, too many fathers don’t understand the power of their children’s birthdays. Through the intercession of St. John the Baptist, may their hearts be turned – and may they come to know that God the Father celebrates their birthday already.

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