“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit”. These words were proclaimed in today’s Holy Gospel.
Jesus uses this familiar example from nature to make his point. If a seed stays in the packet, it remains a seed. A plant will never result from that. The seed must be placed in the ground to germinate. Only then will the seed break apart, and tiny roots and a stem will appear. In order for this transformation from seed to plant to fruit to occur, the seed must be buried, shed its casing and must die.
By using this example, Jesus is speaking of his own death. Jesus promises his disciples that they will derive benefits from his death. Like the grain of wheat, Jesus must let go of everything, including his own life, in order to bring new life to himself and to all of humanity.
But Jesus goes further. He says that we have to have the same view of our lives. We are the grains of wheat. Like Jesus, we may have to die to some things so that we may find a new and richer way of living.
Most of us will not be called to literally lay down our lives for our faith. However, we are called to let go of elements in our lives that are not in harmony with the message of Jesus. We ought to bury all those ways of thinking, doing and living that hinder us in witnessing to the gospel. We ought to die to all those values, attitudes and behaviors that prevent us from being Christian disciples. This is the type of death that is necessary in order for us to grow and bear fruit.
Let us consider 1 specific example. This year is the 150th anniversary of the declaration of Saint Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church. To mark the occasion, the Holy Father has proclaimed a “Year of Saint Joseph” from December 8, 2020, to December 8, 2021.
March has also been designated as the “Month of St. Joseph”. Yesterday (this past Friday) we celebrated the Solemnity of St. Joseph. Furthermore, St. Joseph is the Principal Patron of Canada. As you know, from its founding in 1917 until 1935, the name of this building was St. Joseph’s church. That’s the reason for which 5 of the 10 large stain glass windows depict a scene from the life of St. Joseph.
Father Harrison Ayre is a priest of the Diocese of Victoria, British Columbia. In a recent article, he points out that St. joseph can be a spiritual role model for us in 3 areas: obedience, self-sacrifice and silence. I would like to make a connection between these 3 areas of St. Joseph’s life and today’s Gospel about the transformation from seed to plant to fruit.
First, St. Joseph offers us an example of obedience. Although he did not fully understand what God was asking him to do, he surrendered completely his plans for his life to God’s plan – whether it was marrying Mary, naming the child, fleeing with his wife and child in the middle of the night to Egypt, bringing them to Nazareth, or the other numerous ways he showed his unwavering faith and courage.
Bishop Robert Barron puts it this way: “Joseph was willing to cooperate with the divine plan, though he in no way knew its contours or deepest purpose. Like Mary at the Annunciation, he trusted and let himself be led”.
To return to the Gospel image of the seed that is buried, each of us ought to ask this question: “What attitudes, habits and behaviors do I need to bury in order to be like St. Joseph – to trust God and let myself be led by him through the circumstances of my life?
Second, St. Joseph offers us an example of self-sacrifice? Joseph was troubled and confused by the unexpected situations of his life. As such, Joseph had a choice to make. He could have said “No” and continued to remain on the path he had already decided to follow. Although he was uncertain and fearful, Joseph said “yes” to God. Through the action of the Holy Spirit in his life, Joseph heard the word of God and acted upon it. He made the decision to change his own agenda, desires and pleasures and to accept God’s will. Joseph took his eyes off himself and willingly gave of himself in selfless service to his God, to his wife and to Jesus.
To return to the Gospel image of the seed that dies, each of us ought to ask this question: “Which of my values, desires and pleasures need to die in order for me to be like St. Joseph – to be able to say “yes” unreservedly to what God is calling me to do?
Third, St. Joseph offers us an example of silence. Joseph does not say one word in all of Sacred Scripture. Silence implies a listening heart and mind. Silence is not be equated with inaction. Rather, silence leads to a life immersed in prayer and to a life that is responsive to the Holy Spirit.
Matthew Kelly, an American spiritual writer, puts it this way: “Prayer is not so much turning to God and asking for what we want as it is turning to God and asking, ‘What do you want?’” This statement is an accurate description of St. Joseph’s prayer life. St. Joseph did not handcuff the Holy Spirit.
To return to the Gospel image of the seed that germinates in the ground, each of us ought to ask this question: “What belief systems and viewpoints must I shed to be like St. Joseph – to be more attuned and more responsive to the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life?
As you know, we are entering the 5th week of Lent. Simply put, Lent is a time to walk better with God in daily life. Today’s Gospel is challenging all of us to ask ourselves these questions: Is God playing a more intimate role in my life as Lent progresses? Am I closer to God today than I was at the beginning of Lent? Will I be a better disciple of Jesus on Easter Sunday than I was on Ash Wednesday?
“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit”. These are powerful words as we journey through Lent!
As our Eucharist continues, let us God’s help to bury, to shed, to die to those thoughts, words and actions that lessen our ability to live the Gospel. In this way, we will be like St. Joseph, doing our part to ensure that our faith bears fruit and yields a rich harvest in our time. When that happens, we are showing beyond any shadow of doubt that we are walking more closely with God in our daily lives.
Deacon Roland Muzzatti
March 20-21, 2021