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Friday, November 5, 2010

Saints Zacharias and Elisabeth, parents of John the Baptist

A Homily by Saint Ambrose the Bishop

St. Ambrose
The divine Scriptures teach us that we are behoven to praise the holy living of those who are worthy of public honour, and of their forebears as well, so that this their transmitted heritage of spiritual resplendence may be made manifest. What other meaning can the holy Evangelist have had in this place but to glorify Saint John Baptist, as well for having been the offspring of such parents, as for his miracles, his life, his gifts, and his sufferings? So likewise is praise ascribed to Hannah, the mother of Samuel ; so also did Isaac draw from his parents that noble godliness which he in his turn bequeathed to his children. Thus it is told not only that Zacharias was a priest of the course of Abia, that is to say, of a family noble among the noblest.

And his wife was of the daughters of Aaron. Thus we see that the noble blood of holy John was inherited not only from parents, but from an ancient ancestry, not illustrious indeed by worldly power, but worshipful for the tradition of a sacred succession. Such were the forefathers whom it well became the Forerunner of the Christ to have, that it might manifestly fall to his lot, not as a sudden gift, but as heirloom, to preach belief in the coming of the Lord.

And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. What do they make of this text who, to get them some consolation for their own sins, hold that man cannot exist without oftentimes sinning? To this end they are wont to quote what is written in Job to the effect that no one is clean, even though his life on the earth be but one day? To such we must reply by asking them first to tell us what they mean by a man without sin- whether it be one who hath never sinned, or one who hath ceased to sin. If they mean by a man without sin one who hath never sinned, I myself agree in their position, for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. But if they mean to deny that he who hath reformed his old crooked way, and changed his life for a new one, on purpose to avoid sin, cannot avoid sin, I am not able to subscribe to their opinion while I read that Christ loved the Church and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify it, and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word, that he might present it to himself a glorious Church, no having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it would be holy and without blemish.
O God, who didst make blessed Elisabeth and Holy Zacharias illustrious by reason of their patient waiting upon thee in prayer, and that they might not be disappointed of their hope, didst give them a son when they were both well stricken in years : be pleased through the intercession of them both, to grant us such faith in thy promises as never to falter in our waiting upon thee, through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

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