Few, if any of us, were not moved with outrage at the stories of young children separated from their parents as a result of the Trump administration draconian policy of ‘zero-tolerance’ for immigrant families entering our country illegally. While, of course, every country has the right and the responsibility to safe-guard their borders and to develop a just and humane immigration policy with laws that appropriately balance border protection with rights that reflect the inherent dignity of all persons, the wholesale separation of children, as young as one year old or younger, from their parents has been characterized as nothing less than state sanctioned child abuse. Fortunately, the President, sensing an unwinnable backlash, signed a Presidential executive order, ending the practice.
With the birth of every child comes the promise of a life that hopefully will make a difference in our world. It is no wonder then, that in the face of the inevitable traumatic experience that children separated from their parents will suffer, there was such an understandable outcry throughout the world. Like a small and vulnerable flower, anyone with an ounce of common sense would know that small children need to be protected from needless trauma and abuse, so that their lives can indeed grow into what God intends them to be.
Today, as we gather in worship, we celebrate a feast that does not often fall on a Sunday but when it does, it takes precedence over our Sundays in Ordinary Time. We mark and celebrate the birth of a child whose life made a profound difference in our world as he lived out his call from the Lord. We celebrate today the Birth of John the Baptist whom the Church refers to as the last of the great prophets, since he heralded the coming of Jesus, the anointed one.
The word “prophet” from its Hebrew roots, literally means “one who speaks for another.” The role of the prophet in Israel was to be a herald or watchman who would be ever quick to sensitize his listeners to the in-breaking of God’s presence into the world. Some have referred to the prophets as the “conscience of Israel” for they were willing to risk telling the people what they needed to hear about God’s great plan for them rather than what they wanted to hear.
Prophets were generally unpopular folks since they were constantly challenging the spiritual complacency and the comfortable religiosity of their people. They would have nothing to do with what the German Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer referred to as “cheap grace” - living the life of faith without paying price of true discipleship.
At his birth, John’s relatives and friends knew that there was something different about this child for they pondered in their heart, “What, then, will this child be? - for surely the hand of the Lord was with him.” Indeed, in God’s inscrutable plan, he would use John to be the voice “crying in the wilderness” to make a straight a path for one who would usher in a new creation and a new world transformed by his love.
Like John the Baptist, each of us through our sacramental initiation into the community of believers - through our baptism and confirmation - are called to be prophetic witnesses to the presence and values of the Lord of Life in our world. Sometimes we can sense the anguish of John the Baptist - crying in the wilderness, especially when we encounter the great tragedies in our society that disfigure the tremendous dignity that God calls us to as members of the human family. In a society of such abundance, there are still too many who go to bed hungry and homeless. In a society that exalts, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” we continue to legally tolerate the National disgrace of abortion on demand.
My brothers and sisters, our society and world continue to hunger and thirst for the courageous witness of latter day prophets like John the Baptist who are strong in spirit, as we raise our voices in witness to the Good News of Christ. May we do so with a passion that will cause others to say of us, “Surely the hand of the Lord is upon them.”