5th Sunday of Lent - homily
“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit”.
Let’s pretend I am holding a grain of wheat in my hand - a little, tiny seed of wheat. In his life, this little guy doesn’t do a whole lot for me or you. But, in its death, it gives us a lot! When this little seed of wheat is buried in the ground as if it were dead, then it gives us so much fruit – well, actually, things like bread, cookies, and, of course, my favorite cereal: Golden Grahams! Seriously, the first ingredient that is listed (on a box of Golden Grahams) is whole grain wheat. So much comes from this little seed – not from its life, but from its death.
Jesus often uses the analogy of a seed in the Gospels. He uses this analogy to refer to Himself – He is the seed. He is the grain of wheat which dies in order to produce much fruit. He is using this analogy today to talk about his upcoming death and to show its necessity. His death produces much fruit for us. The fruit of his death is our salvation. The fruit of his death is life for us…eternal life. In his death we have life.
How is each of us to be the grain of wheat? Is Jesus telling us that we need to fall to the ground and die as He did? Is he calling us to crucifixion? No. He is not calling us to a physical death, but to a personal death. He is calling us to die to self. He explains: “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life”. The word “life” here means “self”. Whoever loves himself (or herself) loses himself…his soul…his life. Whoever loves himself less (“hate” here means “love less”) will save himself…his soul…his life. The person who does not die to self does not produce fruit and loses eternal life. The person who dies to self produces much fruit and gains eternal life.
Let’s look at some examples - first, marriage. In marriage, each spouse is called to die to self, first in their promises to one another and second in living out what they promise. They lay down their life for the other; their seed falls to the ground and dies. And, it produces much fruit – the fruit is on their love and in their children. Children are the first fruits of marriage. But, if one of them decides not make the promises in the first place or not to live out their promises – really because of love of self, then they remain a grain of wheat and produce little fruit.
Another example is Confirmation – we have young men and women here tonight who were made their confirmation retreat today. Confirmation gives us the help to live out this Gospel – to die to self. And, these young people have a great challenge ahead of them- they will be confronted by a culture that says, “live for yourself”. Each time they tell their friends that they are going to Mass or Youth Group, they will die a little death. Whenever they tell their friends that they are pro-life, they die a little death. In relationships, when they talk to the other about living chastity, they die a little death. The Holy Spirit will give them help at Confirmation to stand up for what’s right even if means that their image dies. He will give them wisdom and courage to live for Christ and for others. To all of our young people here tonight, I say that we support you, we love you, and we have great confidence in you!
Next, Confession. Confession plays a role – I think a big role – in this Gospel because it is where and how we die to self. Confession is where our sins go to die. It is where our pride, anger, laziness, whatever go to die. And so, those parts of ourselves die – the person coming out of confession is different than the one who went in. The proud, angry, lazy person has died; a new person lives and produces much fruit. Confession is necessary for us if we wish to fall to the ground and die, and to produce much fruit. A Catholic who never goes to confession is like a grain of wheat that remains just a grain of wheat: he or she doesn’t produce much fruit.
Finally, the analogy from this Gospel is also a reference to the Eucharist. Christ is the grain of wheat which falls to the ground and dies, producing the Bread of Life (the Eucharist). Holy Communion is the abundant harvest of the Lord in which we all share.