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Reflections and Perspectives

Welcome! Reflections, Testimonials, and Perspectives for St. Mary Magdalen are offered by our priests, deacons, parishioners, and others as guest writers. We will offer a Sunday Reflection as well as other topics. 

  • Writer's pictureRev. Eric J. Banecker

Expanding Hearts

by Rev. Eric J. Banecker, Pastor of St. Mary Magdalen in Media, PA

It’s the longest day of the year, in the blazing heat of summer, and I have the Grinch on my mind. 

When I was a child, the part of that story and the movie version (the original one!) that struck me the most was the idea of his heart being two sizes too small. That comment, of course, forms an inclusio with the end of the story, when in a moment of self-sacrificial love, the Grinch’s small heart expands. 

Image created through Adobe Express using AI technology, 6/21/2024.

In June, when we as Catholics meditate upon the Sacred Heart of Jesus, do we dare ask God to expand our hearts?

I’ve been thinking about this as I ended my tenure as pastor of Saint Francis de Sales Parish in West Philadelphia and began as pastor of Saint Mary Magdalen Parish in Media. On Monday morning, I woke up with the responsibility of the spiritual care of about 800 souls. And I went to bed charged with the care of 6,500. Yes, it seems God wants my heart to expand. 

Admittedly, Media, PA is an idyllic place. The beautiful homes, the pleasant roads, and the beautiful state park a few minutes away all make this area a very desirable place for families to settle down. The welcome so far has been so warm and friendly, as I begin to meet parishioners who call this beautiful church their spiritual home. 

But people's hearts can expand even in much less beautiful places. I often meditate upon the life of Father Walter Cizek, the Jesuit priest who spent years imprisoned by the Soviets, who accused him of being a spy while he ministered in Poland during the Second World War. Cizek, a native of the Pennsylvania coal regions, ended up in solitary confinement in Lubianka Prison, where he experienced physical and psychological torture. He was then sent to a forced labor camp and eventually "released" into a small Russian town where he was made to live in exile until the Kennedy Administration negotiated his release after twenty-three years. Most of his family and Jesuit brothers had long assumed he was dead. 

When Father Cizek came home, he wrote an autobiography of his harrowing experience called With God in Russia. But after a few years, he wrote another book, collecting the spiritual insights he gained in those years. That book is called He Leadeth Me, which has become a modern spiritual classic.

In commenting upon a moment of despair and shame while in solitary confinement, Father Cizek reflected on an experience of deep consolidation in prayer which reoriented his life. In his own words,

God's will was not hidden somewhere 'out there' in the situations in which I found

myself; the situations themselves were his will for me. What he wanted was for me

to accept these situations as from his hands, to let go of the reins and place myself

entirely at his disposal. He was asking of me an act of total trust, allowing for

no interference or restless striving on my part, no reservations, no exceptions,

no areas where I could set conditions or seem to hesitate. He was asking for a

complete gift of self.


In other words, Father Cizek's heart expanded that day, allowing him to accept God's very unique plan for his life with otherworldly serenity and peace. In June, when we as Catholics meditate upon the Sacred Heart of Jesus, do we dare ask God to expand our hearts? While that may seem a bold and daunting request, we can be sure that when we step out in faith to serve God more faithfully, Christ himself accompanies us. For this reason, the first words of Father Cizek's spiritual masterpiece are not his own but those of the Holy Spirit, speaking through the words of the psalmist:

The Lord’s my shepherd, I’ll not want

He makes me down to lie

In pastures green He leadeth me

The quiet waters by.

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