In a Word . . . John

St John’s Eve was an occasion for major bonfires all over our part of the world in those days

 

Today is the feast of St John the Baptist.

And I note this here with many apologies to my betters above me on this page as I, if ever so slightly, encroach on their territory.

St John the Baptist played a huge role in my young life, rendering me something of a hero in the most unexpected and unpredictable of circumstances.

John, traditionally, is believed to have been six months older than Jesus which is why his feast day is on June 24th. That he was a cousin of Jesus stuck in my young mind for some reason, as we were taught our catechism at the then one-teacher Mullen school in the countryside of north-west Roscommon, near Frenchpark.

This was in the days before our family travelled through time zones, entire universes and numerous dimensions to the metropolis of Ballaghaderreen.

Our teacher was Mrs Molly Forde, a good woman of deep faith who taught us religion diligently. Her telling of how the old man Zachary was struck dumb when he doubted the angel who told him his wife Elizabeth, and cousin of Mary mother of Jesus, would have a son, made a strong impact on me.

And how he only got his speech back when, after the boy was born, he wrote down that he should be called John.

Then the diocesan examiner – a priest – arrived and questioned us children about the gospels, with a nervous Mrs Forde standing at the classroom window.

One question he asked was “who was the father of St John the Baptist?”, to be met with a silence as mute as. . . well. . . Zachary.

My moment had come. I raised my hand and answered correctly. I might as well have walked on water where Mrs Forde was concerned. Thereafter I could do little wrong in that school, and all because of an old man who was silenced because he doubted.

I’ve always remembered too the card the priest gave us that day. It depicted Salvador Dali’s very striking image of Christ of St John of the Cross (a different John!).

Of course June 23rd, St John’s Eve, was an occasion for major bonfires all over our part of the world in those days too. Less so now, somewhat.

From Middle English John, Johan, Jon; Latin Johannes; Greek Ionnes; Hebrew Yohanan; meaning “God has been gracious.”

inaword@irishtimes.com

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