The editorial of the month

Father Sebastian White, o.p.

by Father Sebastian White, o.p.

Every year on my birthday (I will not be so uncouth as to reveal when it is) I feel a little bit guilty. That may sound peculiar, but I have never been able to shake the feeling that, all along, I should have been the one to throw a party for my parents on that day. Even now, though I am well beyond the age of expecting cone hats, cake, and kazoos, I’ll receive an email or text message from my family early in the morning, often by the time I wake up. They’ll wish me a happy birthday, tell me they love me, they’re proud of me, and other such expressions of affection. Later in the day they’ll call, we’ll have a nice conversation, share a few memories, and I’ll hang up feeling affirmed and, indeed, loved. I am quick to let them know, however, that I should be the one to leap out of bed to thank them for having given me life, for having provided for me for so many years, and for being the good and loving parents that they continue to be. I could never repay them for all they’ve done for me.

Not to us but to your name give glory (Ps 115:1)

Of course, the venerable practice of wishing someone a happy birthday is by no means something we should drop. For every sincere “happy birthday!” we utter is a recognition of the goodness of someone’s existence. It’s like saying in just two words: “I am glad that you are. I am blessed to know you. I am happy you are in my life. The world is better with you in it.” So whenever we happen to be the recipient of a thoughtful and cordial birthday salutation, we should thank God for the gift of life, conscious that we would not even exist if he didn’t have a loving plan for us. You formed my inmost being, the Psalmist declares, you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, because I am wonderfully made. My days were shaped, before one came to be (Ps 139:13-14, 16). And even when more years have come and gone than we’d care to admit, or when we are in the midst of great trials, a birthday is a moment to take a deep breath of fresh air, to give thanks for being a child of God and ask him to sustain us in his grace.

Sacred birthdays

Only three birthdays are marked by the Church’s liturgical calendar. In the first place there is Jesus’ birthday. We have an entire season to gear up for it, a solemn octave to bask in it, and then several more days of the Christmas season to savor it. For Christ’s birth marks the fullness of time (Gal 4:4), and fulfills what we would not have dared to ask for. Thus, we celebrate the birth of Jesus every year, not because he needs affirmation, but because we do. In marking Christ’s birth, we say, in effect: “Jesus, we would be lost without you. Thank you for entering our world. Thank you for loving us so radically.”

The second birthday we celebrate in the liturgy is, of course, our Lady’s. We exult and rejoice, as the Prayer after Communion says, because the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary was “the hope and the daybreak of salvation for all the world.” God is wonderful in his saints, and we honor him by honoring the Mother of Divine Grace, the Woman who gave birth to the Savior.

The third birthday, the one we celebrate this month, is John the Baptist’s. My illustrious predecessor here at Magnificat, Father Peter John Cameron, reflected on the birth of John the Baptist, and I find his words very moving:

The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist is a sacred reminder of the fact that every day I need born in my life: someone who leaps with joy before the presence of the Lord, who makes me want to live my own relationship with Jesus with greater ardor and fervor; someone to prepare the way of the Lord and to give me knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of my sins; someone who turns my attention away from my distractions and preconceptions so that I will behold the Lamb of God as the true desire of my heart; someone who models for me that there is no greater joy in my life than for Jesus to increase and for me to decrease, especially as regards my self-reliance, my self-assertion, my self-absorption; someone who is a burning and shining lamp whose radiance gives light to my path and courage to my heart, making me want to live for others; someone so committed to the truth that he is willing to lay down his life for the Truth-become-flesh—witnessing to me that all true happiness comes through self-sacrifice; someone whose sanctity proclaims that there is no man born of woman greater than he is, but that I can share his greatness if I love Jesus as he did.

It’s the last line, which ties it all together, that I particularly love. Actually, it prompts me to add my own two cents: celebrating the birth of John the Baptist is how we receive the graces to become that someone, to become the men and women who do each of those things in our world. Each saint’s feast day helps us to share in his or her particular virtues. Celebrating John’s birthday is precisely how we share in his greatness, and in his love for Jesus.

This month, as we approach the birthday of the Baptist, let us ask that by his intercession we will live unflinchingly, energetically, and joyfully for the Lord, and to prepare the way of the Lord in our own parishes, homes, and work­places. Saint John the Baptist, pray for us. Help us to persevere so that we can join you in the Kingdom of heaven!