I’m struck by Jeremiah’s words: “I will place my law within them and write it on their hearts” (Jer 31, 33). That sounds great; but do I have any cause to presume that this promise describes my life or how I operate? Is my heart like that because I’m a baptized Catholic? Is that how it works?…I’m also struck by what Jesus says in John’s Gospel: “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” (Jn 12:24). Again, doesn’t that sound great? Well, maybe not all that great because there is the bit about dying and that can be messy. But it does describe Jesus’ passion and resurrection, so that should be very consoling to me. That’s no longer messy but a very tidy dogmatic statement. However, is it as simple as all that? I can’t help but feel that if I do enjoy the benefit of being baptized in Christ, that I am, as St. Paul writes, baptized into his death, baptized into all that inconvenient messiness. Jesus has been there for me; and is there for me now, but has he ever given me an exemption from that messy and inconvenient passage?
Jeremiah promises. “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel…it will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers…” (Jer 31:31-32). OK, that’s fine, but what happens to that old covenant I’m used to, that I’m adjusted to, that I know inside-out? Or the familiar loop-holes that I know how to exploit so well, what happens to them? Three Sundays ago, Fr. Robert preached that the temptation of Christ and the Transfiguration of Christ are like the front and back covers of our Gospel experience. the temptation–my vulnerable, fallible, sinful state–certainly isn’t the whole picture but do I arrive at the grace-filled transfiguration by any other route than through temptation, struggle, conflict or loss? By any other route than the way Jesus took?…Doesn’t that old covenant, those guiding principles of life imposed from without, all those familiar preassures and norms coercing me to conform, don’t they have to die before the new covenant can blossom from within? It may not be enjoyable, but fear is such a persuasive, powerful motivation! It’s so much easier for me to restrain the critical comment in choir or the selfish pushiness in the refectory when the Abbot is present–and might correct my pettiness–than when he’s absent and may never know what I’ve gotten away with! But to act out of love–isn’t that an act of the will? I would have to decide to act responsively, not just passively evade correction. That’s asking a lot of me; and it’s not as easy as being controlled by fear or intimidation. First I would have to learn the right thing to do, then I would actually have to do it! Something has to die before this new state of living can blossom.
That leads me to think that dying isn’t a moment at the end of my life when all biological functions cease. After my parents died, it struck me each time that their dying summed up their entire lives. It wasn’t an isloated moment but an entire life’s work. And the dying had begun decades before they breathed their last. Dying seems to be an essential part of life if there’s going to be any real, full, free life. Freedom can’t be doing whatever I want, ignoring the effect on everyone else. Freedom would have to be doing the right thing, the best thing God intended and I am convinced that there’s a lot of dying to my own comfort and fears, to my own desparation to survive before I’d be ready for the Law of Love to be written on my heart.
Is Baptism no more than a ritual performed on me deacdes ago or is it, too, a life-time of dying–dying and responding to God’s initiative? Might Baptism be the sacred space in my life where God’s will informs my will through the mundane deaths throughout my lifetime? Is it possible that the ineveitable disillusionments I live through are not, after all, losses–or no more than the losses of my illusions? Loss of my delusions and denials? Can I actually gain from this dying, come closer to what is real? Jesus started all this talk of dying because some Greek-speaking Jews had asked Philip, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” And that may just be the best response to their inquiry: if I really want to see Jesus as he is and not as I need him to be, I must let that grain of wheat die. What grain of wheat? That grain of wheat of my life as I know it: that must be allowed to fall to the ground and die.
I wonder: is a daily training for learning to accept death, coming to me step by step through my entire life–learning to accept death in Christ as my true passage to Christ?
from a homily for the 5th Sunday of Lent