10 August 2011

We cannot die fast enough

St. Lawrence
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory

Growth often requires death. Hold in your imagination for a moment the image of a seed, a single germ from which a plant will sprout. Now imagine that plant growing, blossoming, and producing healthy fruit. For this process to work, the seed, the germ of the plant, must die. It must cease to be what it is to become what it was made to be. We can expand the image of the growing seed to include acorns, pits, spores, and eggs. Even the human zygote must cease being a zygote to become a fetus. Growth often requires death; it also requires generosity and risk. Any farmer or gardener can tell you that every abundant harvest started with a generous planting of seed. Take melons for example. Planting watermelons and cantaloupe is a generous gamble—generous in that you put four or five seeds in the ground for each plant you hope to grow and a gamble b/c you're betting that some of those seeds won't germinate. You plant more to harvest more. Such is the work of faith in the world, “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” 

If we put Jesus' teaching together with Paul's we come away with a frightening combination: in order to produce an abundant harvest for the faith, we must risk a generous death; that is, we must gamble what we are right now against the chance of becoming what we were made to be. But why is this frightening? It sounds like a perfectly comfortable version of modern humanist psychology. Be the best you can be! It's frightening b/c the best WE can be is Christ; we were made to be Christ. And Christ has but one purpose: to die for another. “. . .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 serves me must follow me. . .” If we will be Christs, we must fall and die. For some, falling and dying are quite literal. St. Lawrence, for example. Or the thousands who die everyday around the world simply b/c they follow Christ. They are martyrs and their blood seeds the Church. 

For most of us, our falls and our deaths are much less bloody, much less painful but no less vital to the health of the Body of Christ. We fall from power and control, the attention of the limelight, the heights of success; we die to the illusions of false humility; the fantasies of a theatrical holiness. Perhaps the hardest fall, the cruelest death I might suffer is the death of the delusion that I am the hub around which the rest of the world turns. Being one member of a Body will kill that lie. But it is a lie that must die if I am to produce an abundant harvest for the faith. Jesus tells us that the seed must fall and die, but he doesn't lay out for us a systematic program for how we accomplish this. Instead, he says, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.” Loving our lives in this world means clinging to the natural order of a creation that is always changing, always passing away. Hating our lives in this world means clinging to the supernatural order that draws each of us toward the Love who made us. Our task—in falling, dying, and producing abundant fruit—is to give witness to and make manifest that supernatural order so that everyone might see and hear and know Him who loves us. Truly, we cannot be too generous in our falling and dying, too reckless in our planting and reaping. We cannot fall and die fast enough in bringing to Christ all those who need his mercy and seek out his saving Word.

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  1. How often I need this message. It is very easy to want to be 'special' for all the wrong reasons. Dying to self is hard; theosis is hard.

  2. Paul, quite literally, theosis does not come to us naturally. . .only supernaturally.

  3. Anonymous10:09 PM

    Fr. Philip,
    This is Josie from Dallas, TX. Thank you for the reminder. I needed that - I get tired of feeling unappreciated. Instead of feeling sorry, I should ask for grace to see God' will in everything.