The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist is celebrated by the Universal Church on June 24, introducing us to the last of the Old Testament prophets, sent to prepare the way of Jesus the Messiah. He is seen as “a man sent from God… as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him” (Jn 1:67). It may seem strange that besides that of Jesus and His mother, Mary, the birth of John the Baptist is the only one celebrated in the liturgical calendar of the Church. Yet, it highlights the importance the Church sees in our being aware of our role in the heralding of and preparing for Jesus in our lives. As we celebrate St John’s birth, we are reminded of our call, in baptism, to be prophets like himself, “to go before the Lord to prepare His ways” (Lk 1:76), to “make His paths straight” (Mk 1:3). We can also learn from the selflessness and humility of John the Baptist as he declared of Jesus: He must increase, I must decrease” (Jn 3:30) and “I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals” (Mk 1:7).

The Church also celebrates the Solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul as a single feast on June 29. St John Paul II described how in their apostolic mission, Sts Peter and Paul were obliged to face difficulties of every kind. But, far from deterring their missionary activity, these difficulties reinforced their zeal for the Church’s welfare and for the salvation of mankind. They were able to overcome every trial because their trust was not based on human resources but on the grace of the Lord. Indeed, St Paul learned that God’s grace was sufficient for him (2 Cor 12:9). In fact, God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness, as St Paul said of himself, For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10).

We see from the preface of this Solemnity that “Peter raised up the Church from the faithful flock of Israel. Paul brought your call to the nations, and became the teacher of the world. Each in his chosen way gathered into unity the one family of Christ. Both shared a martyr’s death and are praised throughout the world.” Both these Solemnities, which we celebrate each year, are a timely reminder of our missionary calling to witness to the truth and follow our conscience, in and through the persecutions we encounter; it was so, in the time of the Old Testament, and it continues to be true today. We are called to be untiring in proclaiming God’s love and mercy in and through our lives, “to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins” (Lk 1:77). Our challenge is to do so even when opposed by popular opinion, for as St Peter said, “Obedience to God comes before obedience to men” (Acts 5:29).

As missionaries, in the spirit of St John the Baptist, St Peter and St Paul, let us persevere in bringing Jesus to others for we know that “therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). How eager are we to imitate these great saints in applying their values and expressing their missionary zeal in our lives today?

Msgr Vaz is the Vicar General (Pastoral) in the Archdiocese.

This article was first published in The Catholic News on Sunday June 30, 2019.

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