What I love about this icon is that although it is of the Sacred Heart, it is window into our faith as a whole. In the Sacred Heart we are reminded of the humility of God in the Incarnation. Today we remember the beheading of Saint John the Baptist. ( He has, of course, an earlier feast in June to celebrate his birth. Is he the only saint to have two feasts??)
Jesus told his followers that John was the greatest of all the sons of men. Whilst John told his followers that Jesus was the Lamb of God. In John we see another model of humility. John knows that the time has come when he must diminish and Jesus must increase. And he humbly gives way to Jesus.
I think this quality of humility must be one of the signs of a great soul. The greater the soul, the smaller the sense of self importance.: the greater the soul, the smaller the ego. None is greater than John, and yet none submits so willingly to his own diminishment. He is also a figure of importance to all concerned with the place of faith in the public sphere. John was not afraid to tell the powerful that they were in breech of God's law. He was not afraid to tell Herod that they way he was living was wrong and immoral. John told is how it was. And, in Mark (6: 17-29) we are told that Herod rather respected him for that! Indeed, that he liked to listen to him! But he also liked his wife's daughter as well. And that was John's misfortune. There are several prayers to St. John the Baptist. This one seems appropriate for today:
O Martyr invincible, who, for the honor of God and the salvation of souls didst with firmness and constancy withstand the impiety of Herod even at the cost of thine own life, and didst rebuke him openly for his wicked and dissolute life; by thy prayers obtain for us a heart, brave and generous, in order that we may overcome all human respect and openly profess our faith in loyal obedience to the teachings of Jesus Christ, our divine Master.
As we pray to the Sacred Heart, St John reminds us that we must be open to the fire of God's love: we must in all humility ask for our selfish self-seeking egos to be purified. It is not our heads WE must lose, but our hearts that we must give. We must diminish, if we are to increase. **
** Having written this, I came this across this passage the following day by Benedict XVI which says it all so much better!
' The task set before the Baptist as he lay in prison was to become blessed by this unquestioning acceptance of God'd obscure will; to reach the point of asking no further for external, visible, unequivocal clarity, but instead, of discovering God precisely in the darkness of this world...John event in prison had to respond once again and anew to his own call for metanoia or a change of mentality, in order that he might recognise his God in the night in which all early things exist. Only when we act in this manner does another - and doubtless the greatest - sayings of the Baptist reveal its full significance: ' He must increase, But I must decrease' (Jn 3; 30). We will know God to the extent that we are set free from ourselves.' (cited in Magnificat, Vol 1, No 11, August 2011: p384)
'We will know God to the extent that we are set free from ourselves.' This statement seems to me to go to the very heart of the Sacred Heart. As we become ever more attracted or pulled towards the Sacred Heart we become less constrained by the narrow limitations of our own hearts - that is 'ourselves'. Hence, the full significance of what the Baptist can bring to our understanding of this icon of the Sacred Heart of Jesus: we increase only as we diminish. ( Teilhard had much to say about 'diminishment' ...so that will require another blog! )
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