Homily for 24 June 2021 by Fr. Gerard Jonas
Birth of John the Baptist
The Rooster of God
“Today, we also remember Fr Feliciano Manalili, who passed away on this day in 2014.”
Isaiah 49:1-6; Psalm 138; Acts 13:22-26; Luke 1:57-66, 80
Intro to the celebration
Today, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist. Each year, the Church honors him twice. The other one is in memory of his martyrdom – on 29 Aug. Truly he is the great precursor of Christ who prepared peoples’ hearts to welcome Christ our Redeemer. As early as at his birth, John has begun calling people to task.
Here at Mepkin, an electronic chime rings in our rooms at 3:40 am to wake us up for the first communal prayer. In rural communities, there’s also a common wake-up call. Roosters crow in chorus, or even sort of antiphonally at some point, loud and prolonged, enough to awaken the whole neighborhood. Remember how Peter’s denial happened before the cock crowed? Yes, that was at the break of dawn.
John the Baptist is presented as a voice crying out in the wilderness. For me, I think of John as the rooster crowing early in the morning, waking up people to their senses and putting them to task at the dawn of Redemption. He cries out to alert people’s hearts to prepare to welcome Christ the Redeemer. John offers an early morning wake-up call before the Lord’s public ministry commences. He introduces Him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
In today’s Gospel Reading, Luke presents how John initiates his task at his birth, way before he can even utter a word. People around him are called to task. His parents Elizabeth and Zechariah are able to abide by God’s bidding. They name him John, the name given by God as relayed by the Angel in a vision to Zechariah even before John is conceived. In doing so, Zechariah regains his speech. Their neighbors too are called to task. They have to break away from the long-standing tradition of naming a newborn child according to one’s ancestors.
We, too, have John the Baptists in our lives. From time to time, God sends us roosters that give us wake-up calls. They may be people, events, something we read or hear. They may not even be directly addressed to us, but just the same, they affect us or impact us – calling us to task, enlightening us on how to abide by God’s designs. Sometimes because we have strayed. Sometimes because we need to grow and transcend. There may be warning signs for health issues, personal or communal. Just see how the Covid-19 pandemic required us to toe the line of some protocols. Social distancing suddenly is required for everyone’s safety. We have environmental activists that harken us to modify lifestyles that are detrimental to the ecological balance that supports life as we know it now. We are tasked to think globally but act locally, individually.
For my monastic vocation, several people provided me wake-up calls: Our former Archbishop of Lipa, our dear Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales who invited us to join the Jesu-Caritas Fraternity of Priests as inspired by the spirituality of Blessed Charles de Foucauld, whose life rekindled the monastic nuance of solitude in me. I came to know about Mepkin through the Cardinal’s stories on his visits here and from Fr Feliciano Manalili who had visited Cardinal Rosales while still the Archbishop of Lipa. In turn, Fr Feliciano guided me in my sabbatical for monastic vocation discernment. Also, today, in 1999, one of my spiritual directors passed away. For years after my ordination in 1991, Msgr Amador Litong journeyed with me in discerning my monastic vocation. God so generously sent me wake-up callers until I finally joined the Mepkin community in 2010.
Our monastic vow of ‘conversatio morum‘ is an ever-active rooster that calls us to remain or resume to be faithful to our cenobitic monastic life. Personal attitudes, thoughts, words, and actions are formed to serve the good of the community and reformed when they adversely affect the self or others, so that each is enabled to seek and find God in the monastic milieu.
The birth of John the Baptist is a sign that God intervenes and that He sends the necessary guidance to call his people to Himself, people and events that point to what needs to be corrected, enhanced or transcended, and even how to go about it. Lately, who or what has God sent us to call us back to our senses and to call us to action? On the other hand, to whom or to what are we sent to address issues and matters that need to be reformed to conform to God’s designs?