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Increasing and Decreasing

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

Today's Gospel passage contains some of the most challenging words in the entire Gospel. He must increase; I must decrease (John 3:30). These words fall in that "truer words were never spoken" category. They are uttered by John the Baptist (or John the Witness, if you prefer) when his disciples came to him and reported that someone else was gathering disciples around him. John realizes that his time is over. The natural human reaction might have been to cling to what had been his and to challenge Jesus on the basis of "I was here first." However, ever conscious of the mission that Jesus had given him, John willingly recedes into the background and lets Jesus take center stage.

Balancing a healthy self-concept with the virtues of humility and obedience is a challenge that all of us have to face. It all boils down to answering a basic question: Whose name is it that I am praising? Whose kingdom am I building? If we can honestly answer both questions with "God's name" and "God's kingdom," then we like St. Paul can boast in the Lord and rest easy that we are doing what is ours to do. That takes both a healthy ego with a dose of humility. St. John the Baptist is our model in this regard.

All four of the Gospels record that St. John the Baptist stepped aside when Jesus came on to the scene, that he even dismissed his own disciples and pointed out that they should now follow Jesus. Another example of the same kind of humility can be found in St. Francis of Assisi who challenged his followers not to imitate himself but rather asked them to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.

Christmas is celebrated around the time of the winter solstice because of this famous verse from the Gospel of St. John. The Church deliberately placed the celebration of the Nativity as the days were growing longer in the northern hemisphere. The Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist is placed at the time of the summer solstice when the days begin to shorten. He must increase; I must decrease (John 3:30); words to live by.

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