When the angel spoke to Zechariah about his son John, he said “You will have joy and gladness and many will rejoice at his birth.” And so, in today’s gospel, those words were fulfilled. At the birth of John, many neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy towards Elizabeth, and they rejoiced with her. In spite of her old age, Elizabeth gave birth to him. And so, the newborn child was indeed a sign of mercy…that kind of sign that gives joy. When the mouth of Zechariah was opened and his tongue was freed, all the more did the people wonder about this child: “What will this child be, for surely the hand of the Lord was with him?”
What will this child be? The prophet Malachi responds: “Thus says the Lord, ‘Lo, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me…” When John the Baptist was confronted by the priests who asked him “who are you?”, John replied by quoting the prophet Isaiah: “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘make straight the way of the Lord.’” Pope Francis said that John is the voice, but "it is a voice without the Word, because the Word is not him, it is an Other." Here then is the mystery of John: "He never takes over the Word," John "is the one who indicates, who marks". The "meaning of John's life - he added - is to indicate another." And John really "was the man of light, he brought light, but it was not his own light, it was a reflected light." John is "like a moon" and when Jesus began to preach, the light of John "began to decline, to set". "Voice not Word - the Pope said - light, but not his own" "John seems to be nothing. That is John’s vocation: he negates himself. And when we contemplate the life of this man, so great, so powerful - all believed that he was the Messiah - when we contemplate this life, how it is nullified to the point of the darkness of a prison, we behold a great mystery. We do not know what John’s last days were like. We do not know. We only know that he was killed, his head was put on a platter, as a great gift from a dancer to an adulteress. I don’t think you can lower yourself much more than this, negate yourself much more. That was the end that John met".
And here we see the greatness of this child. He will be great because he negates himself; he keeps pointing to the one who comes after him as someone so great that he himself is not worthy to untie his sandal straps. It is this kind of greatness that the Church must aspire for. The Church is a Church of the poor, a Church that always diminishes. Francis continues: "The Church must hear the Word of Jesus and raise her voice, proclaim it boldly. 'That' - he said - 'is the Church without ideologies, without a life of its own: the Church which is the mysterium lunae which has light from her Bridegroom and diminish herself so that He may grow.'
"This is the model that John offers us today, for us and for the Church.” Imitating John, we must be “a Church that is always at the service of the Word, a Church that never takes anything for herself. Today in prayer we asked for the grace of joy, we asked the Lord to cheer this Church in her service to the Word, to be the voice of this Word, preach this Word. We ask for the grace, the dignity of John, with no ideas of our own, without a Gospel taken as property, only one Church that indicates the Word, and this even to martyrdom.“
Jesus, I trust in you! O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!