Reflections on the Gospel for the Fifth Sunday of Lent (March 25, 2012)
By Deacon Rick Fisher
"Lives given in love are the seed of the Father's fields."
We are midway through Lent and most have "settled into" routines of extra mortifications, remembering the Friday abstinences, attending morning Mass when we can, and Stations of the Cross, or being a little kinder ... something we may not have done since Advent. As I reflected on the passage of John's Gospel for today, where a grain of wheat that falls to the ground, dies, and produces a rich harvest, a story came to mind that I would like to share with you on this subject.
It was a dark and stormy night ... starts off like one of those murder mysteries ... and the wind blew in all directions and the rains came in large sheets. An elderly man and his wife sloshed up to the desk of a small hotel in Philadelphia and asked for a room. They had gone to all the other hotels and found they were filled, and so was this one. But the clerk was the kind of a person who didn't want to put the elderly couple out at one in the morning on such a night and told them that they could have his room. When the couple asked where he would sleep, the clerk told them not to worry.
The next morning the elderly man paid his bill and told the clerk who was till on duty, "You are the kind of manager who should be the boss of the best hotel in the United States. Maybe some day I'll build one for you." With that, he and his wife picked up their bags and headed out the door. The clerk dismissed the statement, accepting it as gratitude, and feeling good about what he had done.
Two years later the young clerk received a letter with a round trip ticket to New York and a note from the guest on that stormy night asking the clerk to meet him in the big city. The clerk went to New York and met the elderly man and was taken to the corner of 5th Avenue and 34th Street. Pointing to the towering new building, the man declared, AThere is the hotel I have built for you to manage."
The young man looked at the building with total amazement and stammered his thanks. His benefactor was William Waldorf Astoria. The hotel was the most elaborate of that day, the original Waldorf Astoria. The young man was George C. Boldt, the hotel=s first manager.
Here is striking proof of what Jesus tells us in the Good News selection, " ... a grain of wheat dies, it bears much fruit." The young clerk had buried his own comfort and convenience by giving up his room. That sacrifice sprouted and brought forth the reward of being the manager of the most outstanding hotel in the world.
A seed must die before it can bring forth fruit. That is also true in spiritual things. We followers of Jesus know that any effort, any sacrifice, any penance, any giving up of comfort or time or convenience will "bear much fruit." This is especially true when the effort is made out of love for Christ, and out of love for our fellow men and women, as was the case in the story.
It is in the giving, not the dying, from which true glory springs. Everything that lives will die ... from the moment of his human conception Jesus shared fully in our mortality. There is no glory in the fact of death, only pain and loss and sorrow. Violent death such as Jesus anticipated lacks even dignity. Not by accident has "waste" entered our vocabulary as a synonym for senseless killing. That slang terms speaks a profound truth; much of the dying we do ? and all the death we inflict on others ? is empty and meaningless. It contains no element of loving choice.
At this very moment a hungry child on the other side of the world is taking one last hopeless tug at his emaciated mother's breast and will soon succumb to starvation. Closer to home a promising young life has just been snuffed out by a careless driver. A young woman lies beside a jogging path with fatal knife wounds. Another young man lies in the street, a victim of random shootings. An old man in a lonely apartment has stopped breathing and no one will notice his absence for days. We are not enriched by these deaths. They are a waste, cruel and senseless, left in the wake of the storms human sinfulness raises.
But there are deaths which nourish life; the blood of present?day martyrs poured out as the price for speaking for justice and peace in the world ... the precious hour of limited existence one friend surrenders to the need of another ... the gasping last breath that tears at the lungs of God's Son on Calvary. Lives given in love are the seed of the Father's fields.
Seeds fall to the ground without awareness or feeling, whether beaten by the rains or planted with care by the farmer. The hard hull of the wheat grain splits at the pressure of an exploding seedling or beneath the millwheel without conscious pain. Human death is always harder. Whether the precious shell of self is stripped away willingly or reluctantly, it is a painful loss.
I doubt if any of us will be asked to fall quickly to the ground in the sudden agony of martyrdom. Most of God's crop makes its way slowly to his mills to be ground into fine flour to nourish other lives. But the hard husk must always break before life can be given. The selfish urge, the indifference to other's needs, the cherished prejudice, the dearly harbored grudge, the yearning for immediate gratification of our every desire ? all this and more ? must be broken if the germ of life within us is to develop ? and the breaking is painful.
Jesus was preparing His followers for His own supreme sacrifice. He permitted His own body to be torn apart in His passion and death, to be buried, and then to spring forth in the glories and fruits of the resurrection. That death and that burial and that resurrection is renewed on the altar at every Mass.
A few weeks of Lent remain. It is not too late to start "burying" ourselves, giving of ourselves for love of Christ and love of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Find out for yourself how true these words of Jesus are in this Gospel, namely, that the seed of sacrifice will bring forth precious fruit. Join Christ in His sacrifice and you will be with Him as he springs forth joyfully and victorious on Easter.