From the Pastor's Desk
In the Holy Land, which is often referred to as the “fertile crescent,” there are many agricultural fields which produce a robust abundance of crops, fruits, vegetables, dates, and wheat. As Jesus describes in our Gospel reading today the image of a grain of wheat falling to the ground, my mind’s eye can’t help but to return to the image of those amazingly beautiful and fertile fields throughout the countryside of Israel. This image even shapes my interpretation today of our current Sunday message.
As we all continue our journey through the Lenten season, on so many levels, we are invited to make our lives fertile, to create clean hearts, to foster the beautification of our souls, to allow Christ to draw us to himself, and to position ourselves to produce an abundant harvest of grace for Easter and beyond. This surely sounds like a wonderful prospect. But, as we may have already discovered, the accomplishment of these goals doesn’t come easy. They require attention to the second part of the message: to “fall to the ground and die.” Yes; in order for an abundant harvest and a full flowering of spiritual fertility, we must be willing to die to ourselves, to make sacrifices and changes, to give up the clutter in our lives by making adjustments, even simplifying our lives, and grounding them in a definitive reliance on God, so that as we die to sin and selfishness, new life may surge forth. “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains but a grain of wheat. But, if it dies, it produces much fruit.” This is surely the goal of Lent and, better stated, this is the spiritual goal of our lives. When we cling to the past we are held back. But, when we welcome the transforming, forgiving, freeing love of Christ into our lives, new life dawns.
Our first reading this weekend announces a “new covenant.” In the face of all the false gods and wayward choices by the Israelite people, the Lord announces that he will be their God; and they shall be his people. Through his compassion, he forgave their evildoing. Why should we not expect the same promise toward us from the God who has created us all in his own image and likeness. Those words apply to us, just as surely as they applied to the people of Ancient Israel. We who are the crowning jewel of his creation can only stop and wonder at the magnitude of his largess in our regard. Jesus, God’s wheat, who died and gave his life to set us free, is the Divine Food and source of eternal salvation for all who believe. It is his holy desire and dream that we would open ourselves to this gift, and finally figure out the meaning of life, by allowing him to feed us, making our lives fertile.
Our works of penance and sacrifice during this Lenten season do very little for us, if we don’t set out to change our lives and make them fertile, ripe for an abundant harvest of virtue, good deeds, generosity, and ministerial service. Giving up pieces of candy or abstaining from meat products on Fridays, are practices that accomplish almost nothing, if we don’t allow them to be catalysts to change our lives and make them robust to the glory of Christ. The secret deeds of darkness, the indecency and impurities which hold us captive, in short, the toxicity of sin, must all be done away with. Our Lord wants our hearts this Lent. He doesn’t want our candy and sweets. Jesus asks us to die to ourselves, if we expect the blessing of rising to newness of life.
Just as the places of biblical fame are called the Holy Land because of the footsteps of Jesus, may we seek to make the land of our lives holy by his grace and mercy. May our spiritual goal during this Lent then be to produce in our lives a robust harvest that is beautiful and fertile to the glory of Christ.