Fuit homo missus a Deo, cui nomen erat Ioannes. Hic venit ut testimonium perhiberet de lumine, parare Domino plebem perfectam.
“He came to bear witness to the light…”
Per viscera misericordiae Dei nostri visitavit nos Oriens ex alto.
“…the dawn from on high shall break upon us.”
I was forty years old before I discovered that there were parts of the Catholic World (St. Bede’s hymn for First Vespers of the Birth of the Baptist; Poland) which celebrate a connection between St. John the Baptist’s Birth and the Summer Solstice. I still don’t quite know what to make of it, because the secularizing (New Age) forces in the Western World seem to be evacuating that connection faster than one generation can pass on the wealth to another. Northerners end up faced once again with a recovery operation under the general heading of evangelization of culture.
Then again, it truly is a “northern thing”. Here in the islands where sun abounds it’d be hard to talk about the importance of a June day some minutes longer than a December day. Such talk can’t be for even the most Catholic and connected of folks down South any more than an academic debate, “yes” or “no”?
Even so, the quotes from the Entrance and Communion Antiphons of today’s Solemnity point out very clearly that the “light connection” is more than just a matter of Germanic or Slavic popular devotion. The son of Zechariah and Elisabeth bears witness to the Light coming into the world, the longest day points to the Day from on high, to the Sun which never sets, Jesus Christ Our Lord. In this case, I suspect that Gospel (the Prologue to John’s Gospel above all else) probably turned meditative hearts to another level of reflection concerning St. John the Baptist as Precursor. In the light of the Summer Solstice, his birthday, its date fixed very clearly from the words of the Archangel Gabriel in Luke’s Gospel to the Virgin Mary “and she who was thought to be barren is now in her sixth month” (March to June makes St. John a baby come to full term!), took on new importance in the lives of people with solar calendar connections and an awareness of their immediate surroundings going beyond air-conditioning and electric lighting.
Perhaps it would be enough just to keep these dates in mind and thereby be better connected to the Good News of our Salvation. Then again, why retreat from the field and leave this beautiful time of year to Stone Hedge pilgrims and mediaeval jousting and juggling acts? Christ’s victory announced by the greatest of all men born of woman (though least in the Kingdom) is more than a moral victory. Jesus leads our first parents, Adam and Eve, and with them the just of all times into everlasting light. Let there be Light in our neon world as well! Let John the Baptist and his solstice connection lead us to the Light Who is Christ!