“You child, will be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way.”
Luke 1: 76
Today we celebrate the birth of John the Baptist which is conveniently placed six-months from Christmas and at the summer solstice, the longest day of the year.
This feast day takes precedence over the ordinary Sunday since the Baptist figures so prominently in the story of salvation.
I recall a June holiday spent in Bellagio, Italy on Lake Como some twenty-years ago. It was on this weekend that I joined friends of mine, Dan and Penny, and Dan’s brother Dave, his wife and adult son.
On a Friday afternoon, I arrived by train from Milan and met them in Bellagio’s town square. We stayed at a hilltop hotel, named Il Perlo Panorama, where my small room had a “window with a view” of Lake Como, a sight of great beauty.
That week in Bellagio posters were plastered on walls announcing the solemn Mass and procession for the Saturday evening celebration of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist.
While we had a list of sites to see including boat trips around the lake, as a group, we decided to attend Mass on Saturday evening.
Now the weather was nearly perfect, but as the lake regions of Italy are known, storms come up quickly and can turn violent. While attending Mass in the cathedral, we heard the torrential downpour of rain with its accompanying wind. By the time for communion, I figured that the procession thru the town would be canceled for a more modest attempt within the church.
However, no such strategic thinking was on the minds of the organizers. At the conclusion of Mass, the congregation of several hundred faithful exited outdoors with candles in hand and into the drenching rain.
A few of the participants were lucky enough to be equipped with umbrellas. However, most of us walked the soggy paths with wet shoes for the mile or so nearby the lake and up toward a hillside park, and the staging area for food booths, live entertainment, and the site for evening fireworks.
To accomplish this journey of ours, we passed several of Italy’s premier hotels like the Grand Villa Serbelloni and the Hotel Belvedere whose veranda have commanding views of the lake. Under the protected awnings of these hotels, there were hundreds of tourists looking directly at us walking in the torrent of rain — and seeming to wave or smile as if we were the genuinely ridiculous members of a fraternity carrying out an initiation rite or college prank.
Their expressions of amazement reflect how contemporary society views the religious practice as something quaint or odd. Perhaps it’s the music and art that could be salvaged in a place like Bellagio, but in their minds religion, itself is not such a vital expression of everyday life.
In his new book, “Why We Need Religion,” professor Stephen Asma writes: “Religion can provide direct access to this emotional life in ways that science does not.” In his view, religion is a “pain reliever,” a sort of cultural analgesic when no amount of scientific or socio-political theorizing is going to console the mother of a stabbed boy. The author adds: “We need religion because it is a road-tested form of emotional management…and a form of social interaction that improves psychological health.”
In ways unknown, we too are very much connected to even the hotel visitors on the veranda looking out at the scene of a rain-soaked religious procession. According to Asma: “Religion is the most powerful cultural response to the universal emotional life that connects us all.” See NY Times, June 3, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/03/opinion/why-we-need-religion.html
On this feast of Saint John the Baptist, we were walking with and for one another – and, on this path despite the rain, we are preparing one another for Christ, his refreshment, and friendship.
- It’s about preparing young minds for engaging and hopeful lives.
- It’s about preparing young couples for a lifetime of happiness.
- It’s about preparing parents for more patience with their kids.
- It’s about preparing seniors for courage with bouts of illness.
- It’s about preparing one another for a renewal of hope in distressed times.
We are preparing those who feel exiled, alienated, lost or uncertain — to come back and receive his love and our embrace.
Carmel Valley, Mass for the Christ Child Society of Monterey Bay, CA