Sunday, March 18, 2018



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.
John 12

As some of you know, I grew up in the country. (Maybe you can tell?) I have helped plant wheat, corn, barley, soy beans and gardens of all sizes and varieties. In fact, I used to run a small retreat house down in Meade County that some of our Bellarmine students stayed at during their “alternate spring break.” It sat in the midst of some fields that would soon be planted with soy beans, wheat, barley or corn. One year it is corn. Next year it will probably be wheat. (Farmers do that so as not to wear out their soil.) It’s always amazing to me that the farmers come in with one truck full of seeds in the spring and come back in the fall and harvest several truckloads of grain. It is a sight to behold! 

In a way, these farmers come in with their precious little grains, dig little “graves” for these small seeds, cover them over and come back months later and “boom” each little grain has turned into 30 to 60 new grains. One grain gave its life so that 30 to 60 new grains could come into being. 

Jesus must have watched this process many times. In fact, the gospel has several references to the planting of seeds and the walking though standing grain. We know that Jesus’ disciples got into trouble in one place in the gospels for walking through a grain field and pulling off heads of wheat and eating the grains. The Pharisees saw what they did and labeled those simple acts of pulling, rubbing and eating as “working on the Sabbath.” It amounted. in their eyes, to harvesting winnowing and preparing a meal - all of which was forbidden on the Sabbath. Jesus dismissed their concerns as silly and accused them of “straining out gnats while swallowing camels.” 

Like he did many times, Jesus used his everyday experiences as tools for teaching. Just as one grain of wheat must die so that the wheat species can continue to have life, Jesus said that he must die so that all of us can have life. In the image he used today, Jesus refers to himself as the grain of wheat which must die so that all of us may have eternal life. 

When Jesus used the image of the grain “dying” in reference to us, he was not just speaking of our dying at the end of our lives. Sure, in the church, we believe that when this body is placed in the ground like a small grain of wheat, we will someday rise to a new and better life like a stalk of wheat adored with many grains of wheat. What Jesus wants us to know is that this happens, not only at the end, but all throughout our lives here on earth. It is not just a future event, it can happen each and every day while we live here on earth. Let me offer a couple of examples. 

A sperm and an egg, planted in our mother’s womb had to also “die,” in a way, so that we could come into being. Even when we were born, that baby had to “die” in a way so that we could grow into an adolescent. That adolescent had to “die” in a way so that we could grow into young adults - on and on until we die into eternal life. 
In a similar way, each Fall we watch the trees and flowers “die” only to come to life again in the spring, bringing with them even more life. All this happens in the world of nature, automatically, but as human beings we can actually choose “to die” in a parallel way, so that we can increase life within ourselves as we go from one day to the next. 

If we seek to always avoid these little “deaths,” we actually choose stagnation and a stunted life. For example, parents who protect their children too closely, holding them back and holding onto them too long, can actually retard the growth of their children into full human beings. If they really love their children, they will put them on the school bus when the time comes, in spite of their tears and protests, so that they can learn to relate to other children and learn necessary life skills. That process is like a small “death” for parents and children, but without it there is no new life for those children. Trying to cling to what was, is perhaps the surest way to sabotage any advanced growth as they grow older. 

Those same parents come to a day when their children fall in love, marry, leave home and start their own families. No matter how much some parents would like to hang onto to their children and keep them at home, they know this “death” is necessary, no matter how much crying goes on when they walk down the aisle and they kiss them “goodbye” at the altar. It is like Jesus said: “Whoever loses his life will keep it and whoever hangs onto his life too much will end up losing it.” Like Lennie, in Steinbach’s novel Of Mice and Men, who squeezes his precious bunny so tight that he kills it, holding onto life as it is for too long can actually lead to the destruction of the very life we love so much. 

This “wisdom” makes very little sense to the world, but it is so true. If you want to get more out of life, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and control. Choose too much ease and you will slowly die – whether it is exercise or food – but choose the difficult and you will slowly have more life. Give into your appetites and laziness and you will slowly turn into a big slob of an unhealthy disease-ridden couch potato. Eat selectively and push your body to its limits with regular exercise and you will enjoy a lean, trim, vigorous, disease-free body that can serve you well for years to come. Indeed, “no pain, no gain.” Anyone, as well, who has ever been successful in a recovery program knows this life-giving principle of death and resurrection: the old addicted person, and his destructive relationship circle, must die a slow and painful death before a new and healthy person can be brought to life. 

Friends! All of us are given a choice each day: the easy way that leads to death and the hard way that leads to life. A well-adjusted adult understands this life principle and freely embraces necessary pain. A childish adult resists such pain, choosing ease at every turn. He will certainly come to know that with each lazy choice, his life gradually withers away. As the old song from the 60s puts it, “If we are not busy being born, we are busy dying.” 

Dying and rising are actually part of a healthy life. These little everyday “deaths” simply prepare us for our big death at the end. We believe that if we choose to die with Christ here, we are also choosing to live with him for all eternity. 

Here is the great mystery! Pain before gain! Cross before crown! Death before resurrection! Then, as St. Paul puts it, “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it even dawned on human beings the great things that God has in store for those who love him.”

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