He dwells among us: He must increase

May we always give both the gifts of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and our hearts to others

By Bishop Richard F. Stika

Our Lenten pilgrimage begins early this year, before St. Valentine’s day, so if you’re giving up candy or chocolate, you might be challenged when the heart-shaped boxes of sweets appear on the table for all to enjoy. What will you do? Will you choose to give up something, or to receive something? How about both?

My advice is: be different this Lent. Think outside the candy box! Reflect instead upon the words of St. John the Baptist — “He must increase, I must decrease” (John 3:30) — and let these be your guide on how best to draw closer to Christ. In doing so, you will receive far more than what you offer up.

Plunging into the depths of this passage, we find inspiration for all our struggles in life. I even chose it for the name of a new group I formed on Facebook for those wanting to lose weight: “The John 3:30 group.” If we follow the counsel of St. John the Baptist, we hope to not only decrease our waistline, but also more importantly to increase our heart size, and that is something of far greater value to our spiritual health, as well as for others. But the key to our heart size is the heart of another.

Lent is a time, as Pope Francis reminds us in this Year of Mercy, to focus not so much upon our own heart, but upon God’s heart — the Sacred Heart of Jesus. There are lots of people with big hearts, but as good as that may be, it is infinitely better to have the heart of Jesus so that we can give both the supreme gift of God as well as the gift of our own heart and resources to others. It is said that when we do not give God as well as our own gift to others, we give too little. May we always give the Sacred Heart of Jesus along with our heart to others.

To increase our heart size, I highly recommend praying daily the Divine Mercy Chaplet. This simple prayer given by Jesus in the 1930s to a Polish nun, St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, takes only about seven minutes to pray. But for the small investment of our time invoking the Divine Mercy in prayer, we receive a far greater divine dividend than can be imagined. God’s mercy transforms whatever it touches.

Tradition associates the name of St. Longinus with the Roman soldier who pierced the heart of Jesus with a lance following his death on the cross. According to some accounts, it was the blood and water from Christ’s side that splattered upon St. Longinus that changed his heart and won the Divine Mercy’s first convert. But this grace of being “mercified,” as one priest describes it, was not just for St. Longinus, but for all of us. That is why Christ commanded St. Faustina to have a painting made of her vision of him with twin rays of light emanating from His heart, one pale, the other red. These rays of light represent the cleansing waters of baptism, and the life Jesus wishes to pour out upon us if only we’ll trust in Him. Will you permit the blood and water from Christ’s pierced heart to empty itself out upon your heart?

My episcopal motto, translated from the Latin, is our simple response to God’s love and mercy—“Jesus, I trust in you.” This prayer of trust was given to St. Faustina by Christ, and they complete the words of St. John the Baptist. Let these words form your prayer: “I must decrease — Jesus, I trust in you. He must increase — Jesus, I trust in you.” For indeed, the spiritual life is a challenge: in order to find our life, we must lose it; in order to grow and flourish, we need to die to self, like the grain of wheat that yields a rich harvest. But we must trust Jesus if we are to exclaim with St. Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

As we journey together through Lent, it’s good to remember that the best “sacrifice” is the one that helps us to receive the gift Christ wishes to give us, which may be in the form of an unexpected grace, or even in the form of suffering. Our greatest gift is to receive Jesus, the Light of the world, and to then share with others the twin rays of this light flowing from His Sacred Heart.

John the Baptist, just prior to giving us his words of counsel, spoke of rejoicing in hearing the Bridegroom’s voice, Christ’s, seeking out his bride, which is all of us. With this in mind, I want to celebrate our longest-married couple in the diocese:

Anthony Joseph Kliemann and Dorothy Lenora Tryon Kliemann. They were married on June 27, 1942, and have shared almost 74 years together as husband and wife. They are parishioners of Immaculate Conception Church and still attend Mass together. Let us join in thanking God for their wonderful witness that speaks so beautifully of the Heavenly Bridegroom’s love for His Bride, the Church. ■

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