The Path of Life

The Path of Life

Friday, March 20, 2015


NOTE: Each week during Lent, I am posting a reflection on the Sunday Gospel--a little food for prayerful thought. -- Br. Francis.

Spring always arrives early in southern Indiana—or so it seems to someone who, before coming to the monastery, spent 40-plus years living primarily in northern Ohio. In that region, winter usually lingers long past its welcome.

In any event, whatever time spring arrives, it is always welcome. Trees unfolding their fresh ensembles of leaves. Daytime temperatures sometimes stretching into the 70s and even 80s. Emerald carpets of fresh grass. Colorful blossoms everywhere, offering varying hues of hope for the once-dreary landscape and the often weary soul.

Hope, indeed, springs eternal.

What does this hope, this blossoming, spring from? Seemingly, it arises from lifelessness, which is why the season gives us an extra spring in our step. Everything is new and promising again. What was dead (or seemed so) has come back to life. A tiny seed planted many months ago in the dark, cold earth has decayed and fallen apart—to reveal a green sprout, then a stalk, and eventually branches, blossoms, and fruit held high above the ground. Whether spring is early or late, this happens every year. I always marvel at that.

The very tangible effects of this mystery beckon us to recall an even greater one—the flowering of eternal salvation for all of humanity from what was dead (or seemed so). In the Gospel reading for the Fifth Sunday of Lent (John 12:20-33), Jesus uses very tangible terms and familiar images to draw us into this mystery:
“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me.”

With these words, of course, Jesus is indicating his approaching death and resurrection, by which he gives all baptized Christians life. However, he is doing much more than that. He is calling us to follow him in the same manner. He is not telling us to loathe our existence and abhor the world in which we live. Rather, he calls us to give new life to the world by dying to ourselves—to our prejudices and preconceived notions, our selfishness, pride, greed, lust, anger, desire to control and consume.

For instance, am I holding a grudge against someone? Jesus calls me to sink it into the ground, bury it like a seed, pray for the heavenly dew of mercy, fertilize it by extending forgiveness, and prune myself for reconciliation. Sooner or later, the Light of the Resurrected Christ will bring what was dead back to life, raise up a shoot, an olive branch of peace which bears fruit for many.

Through the death of one tiny such seed, life springs forth. Eternal salvation buds from what had seemed dark, hopeless, and lost.

Like all growing seasons, this is a gradual process requiring many laborers in the field. At the beginning of the passage from John’s Gospel, some Greeks (foreigners, not Jews, not the “chosen ones”) approach the Apostle Philip (who speaks their language) and say, “We would like to see Jesus.” In other words: “We, too, want to believe. Show us how.” Philip tells Andrew, and both tell Jesus. The Greeks—like all believers—needed help in coming to the Light, and it didn’t happen all at once.

Viewed from this perspective, Jesus’ “grain of wheat” analogy takes on universal significance. “It is for this reason that I have come to this hour,” Jesus says—the hour of his Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension into heaven. “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.”

All people means all people. But each person must allow himself or herself to be drawn up with Jesus--to accept the seed of faith planted in our hearts, and to cultivate and care for it in our everyday lives. Then, in due season, we can watch it spring to life and breathe deeply of the fragrance from its blossoms.
--Adapted from Grace in the Wilderness
by Br. Francis de Sales Wagner, O.S.B.
© 2013, Abbey Press Publications

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