Dying to Live
by Msgr. Charles M Mangan
It is likely that Catholics who regularly attend Mass have heard more than once an explanation of St. John 12:24-"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit"-similar to this: Our Lord Jesus Christ was referring to His own death and its incredible, long-lasting spiritual dividends to help His listeners to understand that all of Christís followers must die in order to live.
This interpretation is only strengthened when one considers the passage in which this verse is located:
Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew went with Philip and they told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honor him." (Jn. 12:20-26)
Christians believe that death is the harbinger of new life. Christís salvific death on the Cross, stained with His own Precious Blood, made possible His glorious Resurrection. For Jesus and His disciples, Calvary points to the empty tomb.
Follow Where Jesus Leads
Wishing to convince his readers of the connection between the death and Resurrection of Jesus and our future death and resurrection, St. Paul wrote to "all Godís beloved" in Rome: "For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his . . . if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him" (Rom. 6:5, 8).
Both Jesus and St. Paul knew the force of words and wanted to avoid any misunderstanding. Therefore, Christ and "the Apostle to the Gentiles" insisted that to be an authentic follower of Jesus entails hardship and eventual death. It can be no other way. Yet that death is not only necessary, but also noble because of what invariably results: everlasting life.
We may glean several important truths from John 12:20-26. Here are a few.
Ethnicity is not important to salvation (v. 20).
Persons of every nationality and race are drawn to Jesus Christ and His overflowing love and mercy. Interest in the Savior of the Universe is not limited to one group or another. All are welcomed by Christ and then challenged by Him to repent and believe in the Good News. The call of the Master also transcends gender, socioeconomic class, and educational background.
The hunger to see Jesus is real (v. 21).
There can be no denying that deep within us there is a desire to know God. Our hearts are restless until they rest in Him. Jesus Christ is God enfleshed. We readily acknowledge our pining to know Jesus Christ. We want to be with Lord and to allow Him to teach us how to live as His free brothers and sisters. We confess that without Him, we do not have what we require to be whole, healthy, and happy.
There is a communal aspect to approaching Christ (v. 22).
Perhaps we point to parents, siblings, extended family members, teachers, friends, coworkers, schoolmates, priests, and religious who have admirably assisted us in finding Christ and answering His alluring summons. The sway of good example cannot be discounted. When reflecting on how others have led us to Jesus, we usually confront a significant question: How have we been the conduit through which someone else has come to know Our Lord? We will never regret our efforts-fragile as they may be-to introduce someone to the Redeemer.
The Son of God came to earth to be "glorified" in His death (v. 23).
The great paradox is clear: Jesus Christ came to die in order to live, and not only in Himself but also in His followers. Jesus knew His singular mission with which He was entrusted by His Father. He would not spurn death, but instead would embrace it as the vehicle through which He would honor His Father and redeem us. We, too, accept our own death as Christ accepted His. We admit that while our transition from this place to our everlasting abode will not be easy, it is possible because the compassionate Jesus has traced the way for us. Christ wants us to trust Him.
Death fades to reveal life (v. 24).
Death is the initial focus, occupying our attention and even inciting us to worry, but soon it passes in order to reveal the life that does not pass. Life is the victor, not death. This was true in the case of Jesus. It is also true concerning His disciples. How can we bear much fruit? Our obedience to God and His mysterious plan for us here, which includes physical death, ensures that our lives will blossom and yield splendid fruit in paradise. Cooperation with the One who attends to the vine signifies terrific fruit that will perdure.
Priorities are crucial (v. 25).
To cling to this world without proper regard for the next life is folly. Our existence on earth is, of course, vital; we donít consider this life to be meaningless. Yet it is not the ultimate but rather a springboard to what God has planned for all eternity for those who love Him. We must be willing to depart from this life when Jesus wishes and how He permits. Such surrender to Christ bespeaks of confidence on the part of His disciple.
To serve Jesus is to follow Him, and the Father will reward the disciple of His Son (v. 26). We cannot pretend that we are serving Our Lord while withholding our necessary assent to Him and His teaching. Service demands loyalty. The true servant of Christ enjoys His presence. And what a glorious prize there will be for the faithful servant! Jesus promised that the Father Himself will reward the servant of His Divine Son.
The Path to Life
A doubt is sometimes raised about verse 24. Is the dying Jesus spoke of to be understood as a spiritual "dying-to-self" or physical death?
This author believes that both readings are justified.
Those who are striving to follow Jesus Christ realize just how difficult it is to attain sanctity, which is impossible without the Holy Spirit. That continual, daily dying-to-self involves a renunciation of personal comfort and ambition so that the Cross of Jesus may be rightly carried.
Once the disciple of the has grown in his dying-to-self, physical death, while foreboding to most of us, will be better seen for what it is: the path to life.
"The Prayer of Heaven," which has an imprimatur, presents the attitude of the friends of Christ regarding physical death.
My God, I adore you and I love you!
Through the hands of Our Lady, with your grace and help I accept from you, O Lord, at the unexpected hour any kind of death as it will please you to send me, and I ask of you the grace not to have fear of death. Please forgive all of my sins.
I accept my death in union with the sacrifice that you, O Jesus, High and Eternal Priest, yourself made on the Cross and that now you renew on many altars. I intend to offer to you my death in the spirit of the Holy Masses which at that moment will be celebrated, and I offer you your infinite merits to pay for my sins and the penalty of purgatory.
Saved by your Blood, through your merits and those of your Mother, I ask you for the same mercy granted to the Good Thief, namely the grace to enter immediately with you into paradise and to have immediately the perfect beatific vision of God. Amen.
I thank you, my Jesus!
The grain of wheat that falls to the earth and dies will yield much fruit. Such a pledge from Jesus Christ Himself is both a consolation and a challenge. Spiritual and physical dying is not to be feared, but instead to be clasped and cherished. Unending intimacy with God, which is the reason and goal of our existence, occurs when we rise with Christ after having died with Him.
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Msgr. Charles M. Mangan is a priest of the Diocese of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, a member of CUFís advisory council, and a frequent contributor to Lay Witness. He currently works in his dioceseís chancery and is in residence at St. Joseph Cathedral, Sioux Falls. This article first appeared in the Jan/Feb 2009 issue of Lay Witness Magazine. Copyright © Catholics United for the Faith
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