A Seed Must Die to Bear Fruit! March 22, 2024

When the allied troops moved through Cologne, Germany at the end of World War II they found the following text written on a basement wall by someone who hid there from the Nazis: “I believe in the sun, even when it is not shining. I believe in love, even when feeling it not. I believe in God, even when God is silent.” Nothing is known about the fate of the writer. However, the sentiment expressed in the text is profoundly moving and inspirational for us, even today.

As I was preparing for Holy Week, I was reminded of Michael Horvit’s haunting setting of this text which is sung by our Schola Cantorum during Tenebrae Service on Good Friday. While sitting in a darkened Basilica and listening to this anthem I always imagine Jesus’ struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane. This was a very pivotal moment in his life. He knew he was about to be betrayed, tortured, and killed. He must have been extremely weary and afraid. In that very dark moment, he understandably asked God to be spared his fate. His prayer was met by Divine silence. Yet, even when faced with this silence Jesus did not run away, instead he embraced his mission and accepted his fate.

We live in uncertain times marked by war, violence, loss of civility, climate change and so much more. Like Jesus we pray fervently for all the ugliness and darkness in our world and in our lives to go away and just like him we are often met with Divine silence. When that happens, it is most important that we not withdraw from God. Rather we ought to widen the doors of our heart to God because God is with us, always and everywhere even in the darkest of times and the deepest of silence.

During the past five weeks of Lent, we have been on a journey to learn how to listen more deeply and open our heart to God and one another. On the first Sunday of Lent, we joined Jesus in the desert where we discovered silence, solitude, and distinguished the essentials of life from all that is superficial. On the second Sunday of Lent, we climbed the mountain with Jesus, Peter, James, and John where we beheld to majesty of Christ. On the third Sunday of Lent, we were asked to cleanse the temple of our soul like Jesus cleansed the Temple of Jerusalem. On the fourth Sunday of Lent, we faced the choice between living in darkness or embracing Jesus, the light of the world. And on the fifth Sunday of Lent, Jesus offered the challenging image of the seed that needs to die to produce fruit. Jesus used this image to reference his impending death on the cross. At the same time, it is a profound challenge he offers to his followers: “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.” John 12:24 With these words, Jesus offers an invitation to all of us to follow his path of self-sacrifice and to let go of unhealthy habits, selfish desires, and un-Christian attitudes so we may more closely follow God’s will and embody Christ to the world.

As we begin the observance of Holy Week let us carry the encouraging words of the anonymous writer from Cologne and the challenging words of Jesus about the seed dying to bear fruit with us. About the latter, Pope Francis said during Holy Week of 2017 that those who pursue their own self-interest may be winners in the eyes of the world yet in the eyes of God they “swell with pride and lose.” However, those who are ready to serve others may be losers in the eyes of the world, but they follow God’s will which makes them winners in the eyes of God and “seeds of hope for the world.”

May the commemoration of the mystery of the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus during Holy Week afford us a better understanding of our calling as Christians to die to ourselves so we may live to love God and one another. And may it be a time when we listen more deeply and open our hearts more widely to God and one another.

Johan van Parys, PhD
Managing Director of Ministries/ Director of Liturgy & Sacred Arts