“Unless a grain of wheat falls down to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.”
It is an undisputed fact that all of us want to live, and have life to the full. Nobody in his right mind would like to die, and to give his life away, just for the sake of giving it. Each one of us would want as much as possible to live life to its full potential, and it is this desire that makes us recoil from the thought of just existing; somehow the expression “get a life” would convey to us that we are not just here to stay put nor just simply exist. Each of us desires to live (not just exist), and more than that, we want to live it to the full. Going further, we may ask ourselves what the expression “living life to the full” means. I myself would be at a loss to tell you exactly what that would mean on my own, but I have the feeling that life could never be lived and enjoyed to the full if it shut out from growth. When we continue to grow and age with grace, this is when we live life fruitfully. But then, that would lead us to consider another question: what does it mean to grow?
In the Gospel we hear the Lord saying these familiar words: “Unless a grain of wheat falls down to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” Jesus teaches us something important about life, using an example from nature. In this temperate region where I presently am, the harsh winter has gradually ceded to spring, with its gentle promise of new life and growth. Where previously there had been dry and seemingly inert branches, flowers are blooming, with the concealed promise of future fruits. But before these flowers ever came to be, before those fruits could ever be able to bend branches, the seed has to let go in order to give up its shoots; the flower has to give up its fragrance and its beauty, in order that it may bear fruit.
“Whoever loves his life loses it; and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for life eternal”. The law of life has been imprinted by God’s wisdom in the cycle of nature. The miracle of life does not exclude death from itself; rather it forms part of life. Dying in order to life: this is the supreme paradox of life. This is true in our life as Christians, as persons called to live. Jesus shows us that if we want to live, we have to let go, knowing that life moves on, and that the only true good that we have to hold on to is the very love of God, that does not age, that does not turn brittle, that does not fade. In the present state of things, letting go is a very important part of life; we cannot live to the full is we are too full of things that are perishable, things that moths eat and destroy, and that thieves could steal. We cannot live to the full if we insist on enjoying things as if they were meant to last forever, as if they could give us any real and lasting joy. Jesus the Lord, with the words of the Gospel, opens our eyes and allows us to see that we have to let go of things and make it our aim to make as our prized possession the only thing that endures and really matters: our union with God. This is something so great that it even merits us forgetting ourselves. this friendship, this love is so great, its fruit so satisfying, that the very price that we must pay is our very self: He who does not deny himself and take up his cross is not worthy of me (cfr. Matt. 10:38; 16:24), our Lord says. This self-denial with view for growth and eternal life is, in a certain way, at the heart of the Lenten season, which is fast drawing to a close.
But this self denial must be rooted firmly in that which IS at the very center of the Paschal Mystery: LOVE. In the First Reading we hear in the book of the prophet Jeremiah of the Lord promising to place his law in the hearts of the Israelites, one that would seal his relationship with them as a people particularly his own: “I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they will be my people”. A law not written on tablets of stones but in hearts of flesh; not carved by hard instruments, but imprinted with the gentle movement of the Holy Spirit, finger of God’s right hand. This law is none other than the law of love.
But how do we define love? Before our eyes we see the Son of Man being handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and the leaders of the people, scourged and maltreated, we see him crucified, and die on the cross, only to rise again. Man does not need to define what love is; God has defined it for him. Thinking about love, we are brought once again to consider the example of the seed that dies: love does not consist so much in possessing and having, than in the giving oneself. As such it presents a power not given to everybody. Everybody could receive and possess, but only the strongest and the purest of heart could give of themselves. And by his filial love and total obedience, Jesus on the Cross gives the supreme definition of what love is: the unselfish offering of his whole self as a gift to his Father, and as the price of our redemption. Herein lies a power which the devil never understood, but which served to allow him to recognize that he who hung on the Cross was the God who had defeated him, once and for all. In his generous self-giving, the Son of God gives those who unite their lives with him the same power to offer themselves and to participate in his redemption.
|The Crucifixion by El Greco|
The Cross is the definition to love that God gives: patient and kind, humble, not jealous nor boastful, not rejoicing at the wrong, but is happy in the truth; a love that bear all things and endures all things (cfr. 1 Co 13: 4-7). It is love because it is obedient, as we hear from the letter to the Hebrews, in the Second Reading: “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him”.
May the proximity of the most solemn feasts of the Christian year serve us all the more to intensify our struggle to be worthy of God’s love, repeating incessantly that prayer of the Psalmist: create a clean heart in me, O God. Only a heart that is pure can renounce itself, and make itself capable of loving. A heart that has died to itself is the only one capable of rising again to new life, and live according to the new law of Love, in perfect imitation of the love and obedience of the Son for His Father.