Turning Sorrow into Joy

View the readings for this Sunday.

Sunday, June 24 - Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist
• Is 49:1-6
• Ps 139:1B-3, 13-14AB, 14C-15
• Acts 13:22-26
• Lk 1:57-66, 80

The parents of St. John the Baptist, Zachariah and Elizabeth, prove that God can take your seemingly pointless suffering and transform it into abundant blessing.

To refresh your memory, Elizabeth and Zachariah had been "walking in the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly. But they had no child because Elizabeth was barren" (Lk 1:6-7).

Throughout Scripture, a barren marriage served as a sign of God's disfavor (see Gen 30:2). Elizabeth refers to her barren womb as a "disgrace among the people" (Lk 1:25). But even after many years of suffering, this couple remained faithful to the Lord.

Late in their lives, when hope seemed lost for Elizabeth and Zachariah to have children, the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah and announced that Elizabeth would conceive, not merely a son, but a "prophet in the spirit of Elijah." He would give them "joy and gladness" and "turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God" (Lk 1:14-17).

Unfortunately, Zachariah did not believe the angel's words - he did not trust. Wounded after many years of suffering, Zachariah may not have been able to imagine the Lord blessing His family so abundantly.

The Lord, therefore, disciplined Zachariah for his disbelief, making him mute until John's arrival.

In the Gospel reading for this weekend, we encounter Elizabeth, nine months later, about to give birth. Her disgrace had already turned into favor. Luke says, "Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her, and they rejoiced with her" (Lk 1:58).

On the 8th day of John's life, Elizabeth and Zachariah had to name the child. According to ancient Jewish custom, families needed to call their sons after a relative. But Luke writes, "[Zachariah] asked for a tablet and wrote, 'John is his name,' and all were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God" (Lk 1:63-64)

After all those years of inexplicable suffering, and after an additional nine months of speechless discipline, Zachariah could finally talk, and in his first words, he blessed God's name. He now had every reason to believe in the angel's prophecy, and joy finally filled this faithful couple's hearts.

The first reading from Isaiah speaks to how they must have felt (emphasis added):

You are my servant, he said to me,
Israel, through whom I show my glory.

Though I thought I had toiled in vain,
and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength,
yet my reward is with the LORD,
my recompense is with my God.

For now the LORD has spoken
who formed me as his servant from the womb,
that Jacob may be brought back to him
and Israel gathered to him;
and I am made glorious in the sight of the LORD,
and my God is now my strength!
It is too little, he says, for you to be my servant,
to raise up the tribes of Jacob,
and restore the survivors of Israel;
I will make you a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.

If you're trying your best to walk blamelessly before the Lord like Elizabeth and Zachariah, though you may feel as if the Lord has been withholding His blessings from you, for days, months, or even years, dare to believe that He loves you as you are and wants you to experience abundant joy. Take strength from the Gospel this weekend. Realize that even the holiest men and women in the bible went through terrible suffering, even feelings of abandonment.

But God has not abandoned you.

Trust in the Lord's goodness.

As Jesus says to St. Faustina in her Diary, "[I]f your trust is great, then My generosity will be without limit" (548).

So receive the Sacraments regularly. Persevere in daily prayer. Continue to perform works of mercy.

Seek the Lord with all your heart in spite of your pain. That will make Satan more angry and more helpless than anything.

Give everything to the Lord, and He will give even more to you. He will take your pain and turn it into joy, just as He did for Elizabeth and Zachariah.

The name "John," after all, means, "Yahweh has shown favor."

View the previous Sunday Scripture Preview.

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