He must increase, but I must decrease
John 3:30 has always been a favourite biblical text for me. The way it is written and, most of all, what it really means together with the consequences of what it entails, give alot of hope and joy!
The great Doctor of the Church, the Westerner Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430), had to this to say about this Johannine text:
“He must increase but I must decrease.” In John human righteousness had reached the highest level that man could attain. Truth itself (Jn 14:6) said: “Among men, there has been none greater than John the Baptist” (cf. Mt 11:11); so no man could have surpassed him. But he was only a man whereas Jesus Christ was man and God. And since, according to christian grace, we are asked (…) not to boast about ourselves but “whoever boasts let him boast in the Lord” (2 Cor 10:17), (…), that is the reason John cried out: “He must increase but I must decrease.” To be sure, God is neither decreased nor increased in himself. But for ourselves, to the extent that a true spiritual life develops, divine grace increases and human importance decreases until the temple of God, which is made up of all the members of the body of Christ (cf. 1 Cor 3:16), reaches its perfection, all domination, authority and importance have died, and God has become “all in all” (cf. Col 1:16; 1 Cor 15:28). (…) “The Word was the true light which enlightens everyone coming into this world (…); from his fullness we have all received” (Jn 1:9.16). In itself the light is always total light; however it increases in one who is enlightened and diminishes when what is without God in that person is destroyed. For without God we can only sin and this human power decreases when divine grace overcomes and destroys the sin. The weakness of the creature gives way to the power of the Creator and the vanity of our egoism melts before the love that fills the universe. From the depths of our distress John the Baptist acclaims the mercy of Christ: “He must increase and I must decrease.”
This awesome text by the great master of Hippo makes me more aware of Mary’s humility! Mary, the Mother of God and Our Mother, the first and perfect Disciple of Our Lord Jesus Christ, is the humble woman par excellence! For her we can easily and perfectly attribute what John the Baptist said of Jesus: He must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:30). In Mary there has been always a true development of spiritual life. In her, divine grace increased more and more by the passage of time. Her human importance decreased so much that she could be filled completely with the Holy Spirit and truly became the temple of God, the living tabernacle of the Word. By God’s grace, she reached her perfection in holiness and, in her, God has become all in all (cf. Col 1:16; 1 Cor 15:28). Mary let herself be enlightened by the Holy Spirit in order that divine grace could take over her humanity. In Mary the power of God the Creator and the Saviour becomes resplendent to the point that she could sing jubilantly from the bottom of her heart to the Lord: My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior (Luke 1:46-47).
In a nutshell, Mary’s humility interiorly fashioned her to be the first living Tabernacle for Jesus, the Son of God made man. Recently, I came across a reflection piece taken from Sister Lucia’s letter which did alot of spiritual good for me. This reflection bears the date of September 16, 1970, and it speaks about the Rosary. Its title is: Mary is the first living tabernacle.
The prayer of the Rosary or five decades of it, after the Sacred Liturgy of the Most Holy Eucharist, is what most unites us to God by the richness of the prayers with which it is composed, all of them coming from Heaven, dictated by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Glory Be that we pray in all the mysteries was dictated by the Father to the Angels when He sent them to sing it beside His Word who was just born, and it is a hymn to the Holy Trinity. The Our Father was dictated to us by the Son, and it is a prayer addressed to the Father. The whole of the Hail Mary is imbued with meaning both with regard to the Trinity and to the Eucharist: the first words were dictated by the Father to the Angel when He sent him to announce the mystery of the Incarnation of the Word. “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with Thee.” Thou art full of grace, because in Thee resides the source of this same Grace. And it is by Thy union with the Most Holy Trinity that Thou art full of grace.
Moved by the Holy Spirit, Saint Elizabeth said: “Blessed art Thou amongst all women, and blessed is the fruit of Thy womb, Jesus.” If Thou art blessed, it is because Jesus, the fruit of Thy womb, is blessed. The Church, also moved by the Holy Spirit, added the words: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” This is also a prayer addressed to God through Mary: Because Thou art the Mother of God, pray for us. It is indeed a trinitarian prayer because Mary was the first living Temple of the Most Holy Trinity: “The Holy Spirit shall come upon Thee. The power of the Most High shall overshadow Thee. And the Son which shall be born of Thee shall be called the Son of the Most High.”
Mary is the first living Tabernacle, where the Father enclosed His Word. Her Immaculate Heart is the first Monstrance that sheltered Him. Her bosom and Her arms were the first altar and the first throne upon which the Son of God made man was adored. There, the Angels, the shepherds and the wise men of the earth adored Him. Mary is the first priest who took the Son of God in her pure and Immaculate hands and brought Him to the Temple to offer Him to the Father as a victim for the salvation of the world.
So the prayer of the Rosary, after the Sacred Liturgy of the Most Holy Eucharist, is what most introduces us to the intimate mystery of the Most Holy Trinity and the Eucharist; what most brings us to the spirit of the mysteries of Faith, Hope and Charity. It is the spiritual bread of souls. Whoever does not pray, wastes away and dies. It is by prayer that we find ourselves with God, and it is in this meeting with Him that He communicates to us Faith, Hope and Charity, virtues without which we cannot be saved.
The Rosary is the prayer of the rich and the poor, of the educated and the simple: take this devotion away from souls, and you take away their spiritual daily bread. It is what sustains the little flame of Faith that has not quite been extinguished in many consciences. Even for those souls who pray without meditating, the very act of taking up the Rosary to pray is already a remembrance of God, of the Supernatural. A simple recollection of the mysteries of each decade is one more ray of light to sustain the still-smoldering wick in our souls.
This is why the devil has made such war against it. … I have great hope that the day will not be long in coming when the prayer of the Holy Rosary will be declared a liturgical prayer. Yes, because all of it forms part of the Sacred Eucharistic Liturgy. We pray, work, sacrifice ourselves and trust that “In the end, My Immaculate Heart will triumph!”
The core of Mary’s being the first living Tabernacle, the first Monstrance that sheltered Him, the first priest to offer her Son as a victim for the world’s salvation, and her Rosary itself, remains her undisputed humility. A humility which beautifully meets us in her Medjugorje messages to transform us in God, her and our Saviour! A humility that the devil, being the essence of pride, rebellion and arrogance, cannot but wage war against it. A humility which, at the end, will proclaim in Mary: “In the end, My Immaculate Heart will triumph!”
Dear children! Also today, I call you to live my messages even more strongly in humility and love so that the Holy Spirit may fill you with His grace and strength. Only in this way will you be witnesses of peace and forgiveness (Message of April 25, 2004). Little children, believe, pray and love, and God will be near you. He will give you the gift of all the graces you seek from Him. I am a gift to you, because, from day to day, God permits me to be with you and to love each of you with immeasurable love. Therefore, little children, in prayer and humility, open your hearts and be witnesses of my presence (Message of October 25, 2005). Dear children! In the great love of God, I come to you today to lead you on the way of humility and meekness. The first station on that way, my children, is confession. Reject your pride and kneel down before my Son. Comprehend, my children, that you have nothing and you can do nothing. The only thing that is yours and what you possess is sin. Be cleansed and accept meekness and humility. My Son could have won with strength, but He chose meekness, humility and love. Follow my Son and give me your hand so that, together, we may climb the mountain and win (Message to Mirjana, July 2, 2007).
Let us pray to Jesus, with Mary, in every situation: Lord Jesus you must increase but I must decrease. Amen.
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap