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Today is the commemoration of the birth of John the Baptist. Tradition tells us that he and Jesus were related, probably cousins. In addition, John was an important figure in the life of Jesus. In the synoptic gospel texts (Matthew, Mark and Luke) we meet John the Baptist as the one who recognized Jesus most clearly and wanted Jesus to baptize him. Jesus convinced John, however, that he was to be baptized by John and John reluctantly acquiesced. Although somewhat rare, John’s appearances in the gospels were significant and his dedication to the ministry of Jesus was complete.

I wonder about the “in-between” times in their relationship. Did they ever play together when they were children? It seems they didn’t live in proximity to one another. Were there family visits? In adulthood, John seemed to be a renunciate, described as being in the desert and having a stringent diet – much different from our picture of Jesus. It seems likely that the baptism encounter was the first meeting of the two men – at least in their adult life – but that something in them “recognized” each other.

Having moved to another state at the age of 12 and then entered the convent at 18, in the days when there was little connection with the “outside world,” I have rare encounters with cousins but understand the connection that can endure beyond the times of physical presence. Today I plan to bring to mind each of my 17 first cousins and pray in gratitude for the ways in which they have touched my life, especially those who have become friends to me.