As Holy Week draws closer and closer, the Gospels proclaimed to us at Mass turn our attention more directly to the reason for Our Lord’s coming among us: His sacrificial death and resurrection.
Fr. deLadurantaye is director of the Office of Sacred Liturgy, secretary for diocesan religious education, a professor of theology at Notre Dame Graduate School and in residence at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington, Virginia.
(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)
As Jesus' time on earth approaches its end, He begins to speak more openly of His Passion, indicating to His disciples that He is to die, to be “lifted up from the earth,” and ultimately to rise from the dead. But Jesus does more than simply speak of what will happen to Him; He also calls His followers to re-live in their lives the mystery of His own dying and rising.
The image Jesus uses to convey this point is that of a grain of wheat. “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.” Just as the “death” of a seed is not death but a process of releasing life and transforming the one seed into a source of life for many other seeds, so the death of Christ was the occasion by which Jesus became the source of life for the whole world and “produced much fruit.” Our Lord's words here echo other sayings of His earlier in the Gospels, and they all make the same point: that through death comes life. The paradox of Christ's life is the same paradox we, His disciples, are invited to discover in our lives: self-giving, self-sacrificing love is the only real way to grow in the service of God and neighbor. The opposite of love is not always hate; the opposite of love is a cold, calculating selfishness that refuses to see and respond to others. The indifference and egoism that we can sometimes fall into must be overcome by the Cross.
This is why Jesus adds more paradoxical words: “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, and where I am, there also will my servant be.” Once again, Our Lord reveals to us not only the pattern of His life, but also a truth expressed so beautifully by the Fathers of Vatican II: “Man can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself.” Emptying ourselves of self-concern allows us to live for others. This is true of every state of life: husbands and wives are called to give of themselves to each other in their marital and family life; priests and religious freely offer themselves for service to the entire People of God; and single persons also are called to a life of concern and active service to their brothers and sisters. Jesus points out again that true generosity must characterize the life of a disciple.
Certainly, this way of life is not an easy one. Our Lord Himself was troubled by His approaching death. As the shadow of the Cross grew ever larger before Him, Jesus turned to His Father in prayer, recognizing that in the way of the Cross lay the Father's will. “I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour'? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.” If the Cross marked Christ's life, then it will surely mark ours as well. But just as Jesus drew strength from fulfilling the Father's divine plan, so God provides us with the strength and courage we need to bear our crosses in union with Christ. The Gospel records the fact that the Father spoke to His Son. “I have glorified [your name] and will glorify it again.” The voice of God came to Jesus at all the important moments of His life: at His baptism, at the Transfiguration, and now, at the moment when Christ's human flesh and blood needed to be strengthened by divine aid for the ordeal of the Cross.
What the Father did for Jesus, He does for each of us. When He sends us out upon a road, He does not send us without directions and without guidance. When He gives us a task, He does not leave us to do it in the weakness of our own resources. God is not silent, and whenever we think the way of discipleship is too much for us, if we listen we will hear Him speak, and we will go on with His strength and grace assisting us every step of the way.
In this Lenten season, you and I are invited to enter more deeply into Christ's Paschal Mystery. Let us seek, then, to imitate the dying and rising of the Lord more completely, so that, with His help, we may come to understand and to practice what St. Francis of Assisi expressed so well in his famous prayer: that it is in giving that we receive, and in dying that we are born to eternal life.