Friday of the 18th Week of Ordinary Time – Option 2 – Mt 16:24-28
Today’s Gospel presents us with a wonderful truth of the Christian life. Using beautiful imagery from nature, Jesus tells us that unless we give ourselves fully to Him by dying to our desires and wants, we really won’t bear fruit for God’s kingdom: “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.”
Jesus presents this truth with the simplicity and logic of the laws of nature. “The grain of wheat was ineffective and unfruitful so long as it was preserved, as it were, in safety and security. It was when it was thrown into the cold ground, and buried there as if in a tomb, that it bore fruit.” Christ can present this as a law of nature, because, in fact, it is a law of nature; it’s inscribed in our souls that this is the way things work. In Gaudium et Spes, we read that “man is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, [and he] cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself” (GS, 24). Man can only find the meaning and purpose to his own life when he gives it away, when he surrenders it to God and His service, be that in marriage, or religious life, or any other vocation God has.
“Jesus was saying that only by spending life do we retain it.” On the contrary, “the man who loves his life is moved by two aims, by selfishness and by the desire for security. Not once or twice but many times Jesus insisted that the man who hoarded his life must in the end lose it, and the man who spent his life must in the end gain it.”
Selfishness is the desire to avoid sacrifice; it means to hold something back from God, to not surrender totally to Him and to His will. Living out our vocations is not easy: it’s not easy to be a parent when children are sick or wake up in the middle of the night, or when they misbehave; it’s not easy trying to live a Christian life when the culture, society, and coworkers try to demean what we value, or try to convince us in any number of ways to compromise and to sell ourselves out. It’s not easy, and the temptation always arises to cut corners, to not give ourselves entirely. But the only love and service that is worthy of Christ is one that is entire and complete; indeed, the word perfect comes from Latin and means completely, entirely.
The other great obstacle for laying down our lives is security. We want to know the future; we want to know what something will cost, how much we’ll need to pay to get where we’re going. But love doesn’t accept limits to its giving; by its very nature, it is open to whatever the beloved needs or asks. A real love is open to all of those possibilities, the real possibility of sorrow and suffering. Any conditions, any qualifiers, make love cease to be love. As Pope Saint John Paul II said, “A person who cannot decide to love forever, cannot even love for a day.” It might be security and safety, but it is no longer love. The only way to the heavenly Mount Zion is to first climb the earthly Mount Calvary.
Today, we can ask ourselves: are we willing to embrace what Christ has in store for us, to lay down our lives as He asks, or do we take refuge in selfishness and security? What areas in my life do I prevent from allowing Christ to work, do I avoid dying to self in order to live for Christ? Through the intercession of Mary, Queen of Martyrs, let’s ask for the grace to die to self, so as to live for Christ.