March 27, 2015

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Jesus’ dying and rising are lived out daily in family life

Sean GallagherThere is a passage from the Gospel of St. John that is proclaimed at Mass once every three years on the Fifth Sunday of Lent in Cycle B, and then only if worshiping communities don’t use the Cycle A readings because of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.

The reading is John 12:20-33. Like so many passages from John, this one has many layers of meaning that can inspire much prayer and meditation.

Jesus and his disciples were in Jerusalem for the Passover on the occasion when he would ultimately be crucified and rise again.

But before those events were put in motion, some Greeks who had come for the feast asked the Apostle Philip to see Jesus. When Jesus learned of this seemingly ordinary request, he mysteriously said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Amen, amen, I say to you, 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. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life” (Jn 12:23-25).

Later, in reference to the way that he would soon die and the effect of his death, Jesus said “when I am lifted up from the Earth, I will draw everyone to myself” (Jn 12:32).

Although this passage is not included in St. John’s Passion proclaimed on Good Friday, it gives a good perspective on Jesus’ suffering and death—and how it applies to we who seek to follow in his footsteps, including those of us called to family life.

People who have this vocation are said to live in the middle of the world, in contrast to those called to the priesthood or religious life.

But so many of the sacrifices that are part of family life that lead us to holiness and a share in Christ’s eternal life are as hidden from the world as a monk or nun living separated from the world in their cloistered monastery.

Few people notice the many small and sometimes large sacrifices that spouses, parents and children are called to make in caring for family members. But it is in these hidden acts of love that we allow God to plant us as seeds in the ground.

So many times, the daily duties that face us in family life run counter to our own inclinations. We’d rather watch TV, surf the Internet or read a book than do the laundry, make a meal or change a diaper.

We have to trust that going against our inclinations—being a seed that is planted in the ground—will result in bearing fruit far beyond the measure of what we would have gained if we went our own way.

In fact, Jesus suggests in this passage from John that when we do embrace our own inclinations—“whoever loves his life”—will actually lose it altogether.

But if we embrace more completely the vocation of self-giving love to which we have been called in family life, then we will “preserve [our lives] for eternal life.”

When we hear the accounts of Jesus’ suffering and death proclaimed on Palm Sunday and Good Friday, it can be easy to think that what happened in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago is far removed from our daily life here and now.

But that’s the furthest thing from the truth. In this same passage, Jesus also said, “Where I am, there also will my servant be” (Jn 12:26).

Not only are we, in spirit, with Jesus when he gives of himself completely in his suffering and death, he’s also at our side when we die to ourselves in giving of ourselves in our family life. And in the end, we’re with him in his rising from the dead and when he’ll raise us up as well. †

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