Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. (John 12:23-26a. NRSV).
Four months ago today, my mother died on the 22nd of November. My mother died of complications from vascular dementia. As with any illness that takes the life of a parent, watching my mother slowly wither away and die was a difficult experience to watch. On the other hand, witnessing the wondrous grace of God at work in my mother as she gave over everything physical and material as she embraced the spiritual and eternal was something I would not trade for a movie ticket to the next popular film. It was a moment of conversion of heart that will stay in my memory forever.
Accepting the reality of death is probably the most difficult of human experiences to accept. No matter how good we are, or how smart, how popular, how good looking; every one of us will die. It is a fact of life.
The great prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi ends with the words “It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.” These words echo what Jesus is saying in the Gospel for today. Jesus had accomplished so much in the time He was with His Disciples. He had healed the sick, made those who were blind able to see and those pushed aside found their place in the community of faith because of Jesus. Yet, Jesus not only knew but lovingly embraced that if He was going to make an impact on salvation history that would change human history forever, it would require Him to give us His life for all of us. Jesus’ great humility enabled Him to see His life as a mere grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies. Only by dying can that grain of wheat be a source of nourishment for those who eat the bread made from it.
Jesus is calling each of us to to see ourselves as a grain of wheat that must fall to the ground and die. Jesus challenges us to see our falling to the earth and dying to ourselves as our chance to grow closer to God with simple faith and trust. That death may come to us by being at the side of another person who is ill and/or dying to be a comforting presence for her/him. We may be called to give of ourselves for the poor, the disadvantaged or in even a more tangible way. Jesus offers Himself as our example of how to let go and search for union with God with nothing held back.
In our contemplative prayer, may we ask for the grace to know how God is calling us to fall to the ground and die as a grain of wheat. May we have that trust in God that Jesus had, to believe that our dying is not the end of the story, but only a change that leads us all to Eternal Life with God and all the Saints.
Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB