5th Sunday in Lent: Gospel – Mark 12: 20-30

“Death” . . . beyond, in Victory and Service

Preached by Fr Philip Heng, SJ at Church of St Ignatius – Singapore
on 22nd March 2015

In today’s Gospel that we just heard proclaimed, Jesus says, “Unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.”  Jesus then goes on to explain what this means.  He says, “Anyone who loves his life loses it; anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for the eternal life.

The context of Jesus’ teaching is this: He was heading towards Jerusalem and He is sensing that His suffering and death was imminent; it was going to happen soon.  The very core and essence of our Christian faith is that in Jesus’ suffering and Death, He will destroy death, and restore us to a life that is beyond death; an eternal life of glory with God.  So, the “seed of the wheat grain” that must die before it can bring a rich harvest is an allegory of how Jesus as a single individual when He dies, He will bring forth a rich harvest of eternal life to all peoples and for all times.

               

A spiritual writer, Antoinette Bosco shares, “I had many moments where God has given me the grace to accept all I have been given; the crosses as well as the joys.  One powerful experience of Christ’s love came after my son Peter took his own life.  At the time, my faith was truly shaken; I could not see how a beautiful, brilliant young man had to suffer the torments of having something wrong in his brain cells for nearly eleven years; a pain so deep that he felt the only way out of it was to end his time on earth and “go home” to God.

I prayed and searched for a way to cope with the tormenting loss of my son.  At times I was tempted to scoff at a God who seemed to have abandoned my son and now me.  In desperation, trying to find a way to hold on to my faith, I challenged God to lay a path before me that would shake the darkness out of me.  Soon after that, to make a long story short, I attended a summer programme at Oxford University in England in religious studies.

One morning, I felt strongly that I should take a walk to find a church where I should make a visit.  There were many churches in the area, but somehow, I felt drawn to one particular church.  Upon entering the church, there before me was a main altar.  Then I noticed a Marian altar off to one side with a sculpture of the Pieta, depicting Mary in agony, holding her dead son Jesus.  I prayed intensely to Mary to help me.  She had been there before me; holding a dead son to her heart.  She knew the pain I was in; she had been pierced with the same torment. I felt she had a message for me.

      

Kneeling there, I closed my eyes.  Suddenly, I felt myself in a deep, dark pit, far too deep for me to get out of.  My son Peter was on the ground above me.  He was with Jesus, and they were dancing.  They looked so joyful.  I wanted so much to be with them.  Peter knew.  He came over to the edge of the pit and looked down at me.  Smiling, he let me know that I could be up in the light with him and Jesus if I willed this strongly enough and if I believed in him.  Yes, yes, I told him.  And then, immediately, I was with the two of them, bathe in light, so full of a joy that I could never describe.

I don’t know how long this visualisation lasted, but the joy of it will be with me forever.  Never again would I ever have to wonder if God’s mysterious ways are meant to hurt us.  Indeed, the world hurts us, but God is there to lift us out of our pits of despair and pain.  That morning, I found a peace I believed would endure.

A year later, when I got news that my son John and his wife Nancy had been murdered, that peace was tested.  But because God had given me such a gift of grace that morning as I prayed before Mary’s altar, I was able to hold on to his promise of peace even as I suffered the pangs of hell once again.  I survived the agony of losing another son and a beloved daughter-in-law without falling into the pit of despair.

My sisters and brothers in Christ, you and I may not have gone through such tragic experiences.  But, if we reflect on our lives more deeply, like Antoinette, we too would find the similar truth of God being present in our lives. The divine Light that Jesus speaks, like Antoinette, of is already present in the finiteness of our human existence and also in the darkness of the sufferings of life.

Like Antoinette, we too are called in our faith, by Jesus today, to see beyond the shadows and darkness of our lives; to let this divine Light shine through the greasy layered window of our hearts and experience the reality of the divine truth that is buried within the darkness, sufferings and trials of life; and to discover that indeed, the victory of Christ Light is already present within us; and we are never alone . . . That is why Jesus is reminding you and I today that “when a wheat grain dies, it will yield a rich harvest.”

Another dimension of the “wheat grain having to die before it can yield a rich harvest,” is our need to affirm that if we want to serve Jesus as His disciple, then in today’s Gospel Jesus reminds us, “Anyone who loves his life will lose it; and anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for the eternal life.”

In this, Jesus is not urging us to despise life.  He is reminding us that our daily attitude in life should go beyond merely trying to preserve and loving our lives at all costs.  Instead, we are called to embrace the self-sacrificing life that Jesus has shown us through His willingness to suffer and die for our sake and salvation of all peoples.

If we want to be and become God’s “light” and hope to others in our daily living and especially to those who are going through depression and darkness in life, then we must be willing to open our hearts to allow God to give you and I the wisdom and strength to dare to “die to ourselves” like the grain of wheat, so that, through us, God can bring forth a rich harvest in this world.

If for one reason or another we have “fears” in our hearts and do not dare to trust God fully enough to follow the path of Calvary with Jesus, then we must first pray fervently to receive the needed divine wisdom from God.

       

Archbishop Fulton Sheen describes the “modern man” to being like a chick within and egg.  To be within this egg is like being imprisoned in an “inner hell”.  There are two ways to break this egg: from the outside or from the inside.  To break the egg from the outside is to smash the egg with the evils of injustice, exploitation, immorality and the like.

However, the chick can also break the shell from the inside.  To do this, the chick must have the wisdom to see that there is a bigger and broader reality than to be merely confined within the dark world of the shell.  Given the greater reality around, the chick can then try to establish a relationship with it and break free from its shell.  In doing so, it will free itself from its imprisonment and enter into a world of greater opportunities, divine blessings of hope, peace and glory that God wants to share with the chick, who represents us.       

My brothers and sisters in Christ, let us conclude our reflection by reminding ourselves that Jesus, in today’s Gospel is urging you and I to “die to ourselves, like the grain of wheat.”  We need to put the good of others and the glory of God before our own needs and glory.  We need to dare to believe that only in such dying to our self-will can we embrace God’s Will in our lives.

        

The life of Jesus shows us that the quality of our life does not consist in self-expression, but in self-sacrifice.  If we are afraid of sacrifices, then probably our lives are not worth living; we are probably living a miserable life and also making other people’s lives miserable.  If we have found nothing worth dying for, then probably we have found nothing worth living for.  And if we are afraid of death, probably we are afraid of life as well.

So, let us not be afraid of such “dying to ourselves’ before we actually die; as one spiritual writer says, “for death is only a parting of the cloud which hides the sun.”  Let us, with God’s graces, pray for the wisdom to embrace what Jesus has proclaimed in today’s Gospel when He says to us, “Anyone who loves his life loses it; anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for the eternal life.  If a man serves me, he must follow me” . . . like Antoinette, like the wheat grain, like all faithful disciples . . . gain the eternal life that awaits you, but through Calvary.

(cf. adapted: Shaken Faith, Hanging in there when God seems far away, Antoinette  Bosco, Twenty Third Pub: CT: 2001: p.32-33.)

Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.

                                  

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