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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[Luke 1:56–80]

THE time of her delivery being come, Elizabeth brought forth a son, according to the promise of the Angel. All her neighbours and her kinsfolk rejoiced with her. Eight days after his birth the child was circumcised. The relatives and friends thought the child should be called Zachary like his father. But Elizabeth answered: “Not so, he shall be called John.” Upon this they reminded her that there was no one in the family who bore that name.

Then they made signs to his father, how he would have him called. But he, being still dumb, made signs, and demanding a tablet wrote on it: “John is his name.” At the same moment his tongue was loosened, and he spoke. And all those who were present were amazed, saying one to another: “What think ye this child shall be? for the hand of the Lord is with him.

Zachary, filled with the Holy Ghost and in an ecstasy of joy and gratitude, began to prophesy and bless God in the canticle which still bears his name:

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; because He hath visited and wrought the redemption of His people,

“And hath raised up a horn of salvation to us, in the house of David His servant,

“As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets, who are from the beginning:

“Salvation from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us,

“To perform mercy to our fathers, and to remember His holy testament:

“The oath which He swore to our father Abraham, that He would grant to us,

“That, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, we may serve Him without fear,

“In holiness and justice before Him, all our days.

“And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the Lord to prepare His ways,

“To give knowledge of salvation to His people, unto the remission of their sins.

“Through the bowels of the mercy of our God: in which the Orient from on high hath visited us,

“To enlighten them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death; to direct our feet into the way of peace.”

And the child grew and was strengthened in spirit; and was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel.

The Faithfulness of God. His promise to Zachary: “Thy wife shall bear thee a son”, was faithfully kept. The punishment of dumbness pronounced on Zachary, because of his doubt, was accompanied by the promise that his dumbness should cease on the day when all that the angel had foretold came to pass. This promise also was exactly fulfilled, for the moment Zachary asserted that the child’s name was John, his tongue was loosed, and he was able once more to speak. The instant that he obediently executed the angel’s command: “Thou shalt call his name John”, speech was restored to him.

The Divinity of Jesus Christ. Inspired by the Holy Ghost, Zachary in his canticle of praise and thanksgiving testifies to the divine nature of the Redeemer. If John was to be the prophet of the “Highest”, and to go before the face of the “Lord”, then is the Saviour of whom this was foretold both Lord and Highest, or, in other words, God.

The friendly sympathy of their neighbours and relatives with the joy of the aged couple is worthy of praise. Zachary and Elizabeth rejoiced that God had heard their prayer and had given them a son; and their friends really and sincerely shared their joy. He who possesses true brotherly love rejoices at the happiness of his fellow creatures. Those who are envious do not know what love means, being full of nothing but selfishness.

Holy youth. John spent his youth leading a hermit’s life in the desert, till he was thirty years old. Far from the turmoil of the world, he served God with prayer, fasting and contemplation, and grew daily in grace and virtue. Great fortitude was required to lead such a severe and self-denying life for so many years, and therefore the Evangelist says about him that he was “strengthened in spirit”. His angelic and innocent youth prepared John for being a worthy preacher of penance and precursor of the Redeemer. O, how lovely a thing is youth passed in innocence!

The Benedictus is the name given to Zachary’s canticle of praise. It is a splendid song of thanksgiving for the blessing of redemption, and is therefore daily recited by the priests of the Church in their office at Lauds. In this prayer Zachary exhibits a truly priestly mind. He does not think of himself or of his own happiness, or of the honour which was brought to him by the birth of such a son. His thoughts are occupied by the salvation which God had prepared for the whole world; and he regards his son only in the light of the prophet and precursor, whose birth heralded the near approach of the Saviour.

Birthdays and feast-days. The Church celebrates the nativity of St. John the Baptist on June 24th. In the case of other Saints it is not the day of their birth, but the day of their death which is solemnized, this last being the day of their entry into the glory of heaven. The nativity of only two Saints is celebrated, namely, that of our Lady (Sept. 8th), because she was conceived without the stain of sin, and that of St. John the Baptist, because he was filled with the Holy Ghost before his birth, and was thereby cleansed from original sin. We all come into the world the children of wrath, infected by the taint of original sin, and for this reason Catholics do not celebrate their natural birthday so much as the day of their supernatural birth, or their feast-day, i. e. the feast of the Saint whose name they received in Baptism. On our feast-day we should thank God not only for having given to us and preserved the life of our body, but also for that supernatural and eternal life to which we were born again in holy Baptism, being hereby made members of His holy Church and heirs of heaven. The name of a Saint was given to us in Baptism, in order that he whose name we bear may intercede for us with God, and that we may have a model before us to imitate.

APPLICATION. John came into the world in a state of grace, and grew daily in grace and virtue. You, indeed, came into the world in a state of original sin, but by Baptism this sin was taken from you, and you received sanctifying grace. But have you never lost that grace by mortal sin? Have you spent the years of your youth in piety and the fear of God, or in thoughtlessness and forgetfulness of God? Oh, do not desecrate the beautiful years of your youth by sin and folly, or you will bitterly repent it some day, and, full of sorrow, will exclaim: “Give back to me my youth. Oh, would that I had better employed the years of my youth!” “Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth” (Eccles. 12:1).








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