Archbishop Follo: Christ: the Grain of Wheat Sown in the Sky

Understanding that Living Means to Share

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

Roman Rite – Fifth Sunday of Lent – Year B – March 18, 2018
Jer 31.31-34;Ps 51; Eb 5.7-9; Jn 12.20-33
Ambrosian Rite
Dt 6,4a; 26, 5-11; Ps 105; Eph 5.15-20; Jn 11.1-53
Sunday of Lazarus – Fifth of Lent
1) See Christ, grain of wheat.
In the few days that separate us from Easter when we “see» the Risen One, let us continue with the actions that the Church recommends for Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving (= mercy). «Fasting is the soul of prayer and mercy is the life of fasting. Let no one divide them because they cannot be separated. He who has only one or not all three together has nothing. Therefore, he who prays must fast. Those who fast must have mercy. Who, in asking, wants to be answered, must answer to those who ask him. Whoever wants to find God’s heart open to him, must not close his heart to those who beg him «(Saint John Chrysostom).
In this way, we too will be able to be humbly and truly «grains of wheat». This gift of self allows us to see the Messiah, because He manifests God on the Cross. In fact, to the question of the Greeks (that is, the non-Jews) who want to see Jesus, He answers indirectly, indicating where He can be seen. He can be seen in his glory and his glory consists in being lifted up on the Cross. There is the place where the Lord is seen. The accent is not about death, but about life. The Glory of God is not death, but the abundant good fruit.
Christ shows God on the Cross, where he ascended because of His love for us. The Son of God detaches himself from his earthly life so that we can receive heavenly Life. Jesus not only says that he is like a grain of wheat that dies to give life. He spreads His arms on the cross. With the hands nailed and, therefore, open forever in an eternal embrace, Christ welcomes all of us, poor repentant sinners, and gives us the true life full of a joy that never ends. This joy comes from knowing that we are loved by a God
who became man,
who gave his life for us and
who has defeated evil and death.
This joy is to live for love of him. Saint Teresa of the Child Jesus wrote: «Jesus, my joy is to love you!» (P 45, January 21 1897, Op. Compl., Page 708). And St Mary Teresa of Calcutta, echoing the words of Jesus «We are more blessed in giving than in receiving!» (Acts 20:35), said: «Joy is a web of love to capture souls. God loves those who give with joy. And whoever gives joyfully gives more «and produces much fruit.
This fruit is the result of Christ’s yes to the «hour» in which He, the Son of man, must be glorified. For the evangelist St. John «the hour» is the time established by the Father to give us salvation. Since this salvation is given to us by Christ with the total offering of His life on the cross, after having spoken of his coming «hour», the Messiah adds: » 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 «(Jn 12: 24-25).
The «hour» of the glorification of Christ, that is of his raising on the cross, is the moment in which he offers himself as a grain of wheat to be «sowed in heaven» to bring heavenly fruits.
The grain «seeded on the ground» produces terrestrial fruits. This sowing really overturns the whole meaning of our life: «Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world
will preserve it for eternal life.» (ibid.). Christ came so that we have life but, in order to have life – as opposed to what we think and do every day – it is necessary to make it available to God and to give it to God so that He may give it to others. The cross is this giving, like God who gives himself entirely to us, in Christ, on the Cross, and from the Cross.
2) The Cross is the place where Christ shows God.
If, like the Greeks of whom today’s Gospel speaks, we really want to see Jesus, let us look at this Man on the Cross where He manifests his glory. Of course, we need to have pure eyes and a clear heart to «see» the glory of God in Christ who dies. The glory of Jesus consists in being raised on the Cross. There is the place where we see the Lord. Where can we see God? On the Cross. His glory, says the Messiah, is that of the grain of wheat. The glory of a seed is its fruit. He bears fruit just by dying on the Cross.
If it is true that glory is the fullness of light and of the beauty of God revealed in the beauty of creation and of holy creatures, it is equally true that the «hour» of the Cross is the moment in which God reveals himself in the glory of the Son of Man. Jesus explains this with the metaphor of the grain.
What is the glory of the grain of wheat? In itself, a grain of wheat is not very glorious: it is nothing but a grain of wheat that is not even able to satisfy a person’s hunger. But if the grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it bears much fruit. The glory of the seed is to bring life and fruit. Jesus teaches that his glory is the Cross because through it, He will give life. In this hour, he gives life to the Father surrendering himself to him as a sacrificed Lamb and gives life to us by transforming the cross from an instrument of death to a bed of life, like that one of a woman in labor.
If the grain does not die, it remains only a grain. This is a natural and necessary law. This law also applies to the Son of Man. It is the law of every man: man dies because he is naturally mortal. But the death on the cross of Jesus is glory because his is not so much a death but the gift of life. Jesus is like a grain of wheat that is consumed and blooms, and a cross where the resurrection is already breathing.
Let us look at the example of consecrated virgins to understand the cross and to welcome and live the love it manifests.
Love lived virginally is a crucified love not because it is a mortified love, but because it is a love «sacrificed», that is, made sacred by the total gift of oneself to God. Virgin love is that of Christ, who «practiced» a crucified love. Jesus, to love, went into a progressive experience of emptying himself up to the cross. If we want to love as Christians, we must know it and do like him. This way of loving puts the other before me and the Other (God) more than me. The cross is the greatest sign of the greatest love, and virginity is the crucifixion of oneself to give oneself to God and to nail oneself to his love by embracing Christ on the Cross.
The consecrated Virgins are a significant and high example of the fact that the love of God is totalitarian. In fact, we must love the Lord «with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our strength» (cf. Mk 12:30). These women show that the body and heart offered in chastity do not distance the human being from God, but brings him closer to God more than the angels themselves (cf. Eph 1:14). It shows also that the Christian life is a progressive configuration of ourselves to Christ, crucified and risen. In fact, in the way as the love of Christ for us led him to the cross, our love for him imprints his wounds of love in us (Ct 2, 5). Love, in transfiguring, purifies and configures. Dying to oneself in the gift of virginity is not a true death because, as it happened to Christ, the total gift of self-multiplies life.
Virginity is not simply a renunciation. Virginity expands the heart on the measure of the heart of Christ and makes it capable of loving as he loved.
Virginity lived as a crucifixion, is to testify that Love has won through the gift of self.
Virginity lived as a resurrection, is to testify that the Bridegroom is truly present in everyday life and his condescending presence gives full and complete joy (cf. Jn 3: 29).
«The Cross was not given to us to understand it, but to cling to it» (Bonhoeffer). The consecrated Virgins, attracted by Christ who seduced them, cling to his Cross and walk behind Him learning from Him what love is and how to love God and the neighbor.
Consecration, total sacrifice and the perfect holocaust, is the way suggested by the Spirit to relive the mystery of the crucified Christ, come into the world to give his life as a ransom for many (see Mt 20, 28, Mk 10, 45), and to respond to his infinite love.
We have reached the fifth stage of our Lenten journey that, from the desert of temptation as brought us to the mountain of Transfiguration, made us enter the Temple of God that is the House of God and the Gate of Heaven in order to meet, today, the love of our life who offers himself to be looked at. In fact, today, Fifth Sunday of Lent, the Christian exodus that is the painful and luminous way of Love (Via Crucis et Lucis or Via Lucis per Crucem), offers us a pause to make us ask to see Christ, the Beloved who offers to his beloved (to the Church, that is to us) not only his most precious goods but his own life.

  Patristic reading

  Saint Augustine of Hippo
Tractate LII

  on Jn 12:27-36

After the Lord Jesus Christ, in the words of yesterday’s lesson, had exhorted His servants to follow Him, and had predicted His own passion in this way, that unless a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit; and also had stirred up those who wished to follow Him to the kingdom of heaven, to hate their life in this world if their thought was to keep it unto life eternal,-He again toned down His own feelings to our infirmity and says, where our lesson to-day commenced, “Now is my soul1 troubled.” Whence, Lord, was Thy soul troubled? He had, indeed, said a little before, “He that hateth his life [soul] in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.” Dost thou then love thy life in this world, and is thy soul troubled as the hour approacheth when thou shalt leave this world? Who would dare affirm this of the soul [life] of the Lord? We rather it was whom He transferred unto Himself; He took us into His own person as our Head, and assumed the feelings of His members; and so it was not by any others He was troubled, but, as was said of Him when He raised Lazarus, “He was troubled in Himself.”2 For it behoved the one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, just as He has lifted us up to the heights of heaven, to descend with us also into the lowest depths of suffering.
2. I hear Him saying a little before, “The hour cometh that the Son of man should be glorified: if a corn of wheat die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” I hear this also, “He that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.” Nor am I permitted merely to admire, but commanded to imitate, and so, by the words that follow, “If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be,” I am all on fire to despise the world, and in my sight the whole of this life, however lengthened, becomes only a vapor; in comparisonwith my love for eternal things, all that is temporal has lost its value with me. And now, again, it is my Lord Himself, who by such words has suddenly transported me from the weakness that was mine to the strength that was His, that I hear saying, “Now is my soul troubled.” What does it mean? How biddest Thou my soul follow Thee if I behold Thine own troubled? How shall I endure what is felt to be heavy by strength so great? What is the kind of foundation I can seek if the Rock is giving way? But me-thinks I hear in my own thoughts the Lord giving me an answer, saying, Thou shall follow me the better, because it is to aid thy power of endurance that I thus interpose. Thou hast heard, as addressed to thyself, the voice of my fortitude hear in me the voice of thy infirmity: I supply strength for thy running, and I check not thy hastening, but I transfer to myself thy causes for trembling, and I pave the way for thy marching along. O Lord our Mediator, God above us, man for us, I own Thy mercy For because Thou, who art so great, art troubled through the good will of Thy love, Thou preservest, by the richness of Thy comfort, the many in Thy body who are troubled by the continual experience of their own weakness, from perishing utterly in their despair).
3. In a word, let the man who would follow learn the road by which he must travel. Perhaps an hour of terrible trial has come, and the choice is set before thee either to do iniquity or endure suffering; the weak soul is troubled, on whose behalf the invincible soul [of Jesus] was voluntarily troubled; set then the will of God before thine own. For notice what is immediately subjoined by thy Creator and thy Master, by Him who made thee, and became Himself for thy teaching that which He made; for He who made man was made man, but He remained still the unchangeable God, and transplanted manhood into a better condition. Listen, then, to what He adds to the words, “Now is my soul troubled.” “And what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify Thy name.” He has taught thee here what to think of, what to say, on whom to call, in whom to hope, and whose will, as sure and divine, to prefer to thine own, which is human and weak. Imagine Him not, therefore, as losing aught of His own exalted position in wishing thee to rise up out of the depths of thy ruin. For He thought it meet also to be tempted by the devil, by whom otherwise He would never have been tempted, just as, had He not been willing, He would never have suffered; and the answers He gave to the devil are such as thou also oughtest to use in times of temptation.3 And He, indeed, was tempted, but not endangered, that He might show thee, when in danger through temptation, how to answer the tempter, so as not to be carried away by the temptation, but to escape its danger. But when He here said, “Now is my soul troubled;” and also when He says, “My soul is sorrowful, even unto death;” and “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me;” He assumed the infirmity of man, to teach him, when thereby saddened and troubled, to say what follows: “Nevertheless, Father, not as I will, but as Thou wilt.”4 For thus it is that man is turned from the human to the divine, when the will of God is preferred to his own. But to what do the words “Glorify Thy name” refer, but to His own passion and resurrection? For what else can it mean, but that the Father should thus glorify the Son, who in like manner glorifieth His own name in the similar sufferings of His servants? Hence it is recorded of Peter, that for this cause He said concerning him, “Another shall gird thee,and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.” because He intended to signify “by what death he should glorify God.”5 Therefore in him, too, did God glorify His name, because thus also does He glorify Christ in His members.
4. “Then came there a voice from heaven, [saying], I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.” “I have both glorified it,” before I created the world, “and I will glorify it again,” when He shall rise from the dead and ascend into heaven. It may also be otherwise understood. “I have both glorified it,”-when He was born of the Virgin, when He exercised miraculous powers; when the Magi, guided by a star in the heavens, bowed in adoration before Him; when He was recognized by saints filled with the Holy Spirit; when He was openly proclaimed by the descent of the Spirit in the form of a dove, and pointed out by the voice that sounded from heaven; when He was transfigured on the mount; when He wrought many miracles, cured and cleansed multitudes, fed so vast a number with a very few loaves, commanded the winds and the waves, and raised the dead;-“and I will glorify it again;” when He shall rise from the dead; when death shall have no longer dominion over Him; and when He shall be exalted over the heavens as God, and His glory over all the earth.
5. “The people therefore that stood by, and heard it, said that it thundered: others said, An angel spake to Him. Jesus answered and said, This voice came not because of me, but for your sakes.” He thereby showed that the voice made no intimation to Him of what He already knew, but to those who needed the information. And just as that voice was uttered by God, not on His account, but on that of others, so His soul was troubled, not on His own account, but voluntarily for the sake of others.
6. Look at what follows: “Now,” He says, “is the judgment of the world.” What, then, are we to expect at the end of time? But the judgment that is looked for in the end will be the judging of the living and the dead, the awarding of eternal rewards and punishment. Of what sort, then, is the judgment now? I have already, in former lessons, as far as I could, put you in mind, beloved, that there is a judgment spoken of, not of condemnation, but of discrimination;6 as it is written, “Judge me, O God, and plead [discern, discriminate] my cause against an unholy nation.”7 And many are the judgments of God; as it is said in the psalm. “Thy judgments are a great deep.”8
And the apostle also says, “O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments!”9 To such judgments does that spoken of here by the Lord also belong, “Now is the judgment of this world;” while that judgment in the end is reserved, when the living and the dead shall at last be judged. The devil, therefore, had possession of the human race, and held them by the written bond of their sins as criminals amenable to punishment; he ruled in the hearts of unbelievers, and, deceiving and enslaving them, seduced them to forsake the Creator and give worship to the creature; but by faith in Christ, which was confirmed by His death and resurrection, and, by His blood, which was shed for the remission of sins, thousands of believers are delivered from the dominion of the devil, are united to the body of Christ, and under this great head are made by His one Spirit to spring up into new life as His faithful members. This it was that He called the judgment, this righteous separation, this expulsion of the devil from His own redeemed.
7. Attend, in short, to His own words. For just as if we had been inquiring what He meant by saying, “Now is the judgment of the world,” He proceeded to explain it when He says, “Now shall the prince of this world be cast out.” What we have thus heard was the kind of judgment He meant. Not that one, therefore, which is yet to come in the end, when the living and dead shall be judged, some of them set apart on His right hand, and the others on His left; but that judgment by which “the prince of this world shall be cast out.” In what sense, then, was he within, and whither did He. mean that he was to be cast out? Was it this: That he was in the world. and was cast forth beyond its boundaries? For had He been speaking of that judgment which is yet to come in the end, some one’s thoughts might have turned to that eternal fire into which the devil is to be cast with his angels, and all who belong to him;-that is, not naturally, but through moral delinquency; not because he created or begat them, but because he persuaded and kept hold of them: some one, therefore, might have thought that that eternal fire was outside the world, and that this was the meaning of the words, “he shall be cast out.” But as He says, “Now is the judgment of this world,” and in explanation of His meaning, adds, “Now shall the prince of this world be cast out,” we are thereby to understand what is now being done, and not what is to be, so long afterwards, at the last day. The Lord, therefore, foretold what He knew, that after His own passion and glorification, many nations throughout the whole world, in whose hearts the devil was an inmate, would become believers, and the devil, when thus renounced by faith, is cast out.
8. But some one says, Was he then not cast out of the hearts of the patriarchs and prophets, and the righteous of olden time? Certainly he was. How, then, is it said, “Now he shall be cast out”? How else can we think of it, but that what was then done in the case of a very few individuals, was now foretold as speedily to take place in many and mighty nations? Just as also that other saying, “For the Spirit was not yet given, because that Jesus was not yet glorified,”10 may suggest a similar inquiry, and find a similar solution. For it was not without the Holy Spirit that the prophets predicted the events of the future; nor was it so that the aged Simeon and the widowed Anna knew by the Holy Spirit the infant Lord;11 and that Zacharias and Elisabeth uttered by the Holy Spirit so many predictions concerning Him, when He was not yet born, but only conceived.12 But “the Spirit was not yet given;” that is, with that abundance of spiritual grace which enabled those assembled together to speak in every language,13 and thus announce beforehand in the language of every nation the Church of the future: and so by ’this spiritual grace it was that nations were gathered into congregations, sins were pardoned far and wide, and thousands of thousands were reconciled unto God.
9. But then, says some one, since the devil is thus cast out of the hearts of believers, does he now tempt none of the faithful? Nay, verily, he does not cease to tempt. But it is one thing to reign within, another to assail from without; for in like manner the best fortified city is sometimes attacked by an enemy without being taken. And if some of his arrows are discharged, and reach us, the apostle reminds us how to render them harmless, when he speaks of the breastplate and the shield of faith.14 And if he sometimes wounds us, we have the remedy at hand. For as the combatants are told, “These things I write unto you, that ye sin not:” so those who are wounded have the sequel to listen to, “And if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous; and He is the propitiation for our sins.”15 And what do we pray for when we say, “Forgive us our debts,” but for the healing of our wounds? And what else do we ask, when we say, “Lead us not into temptation,”16 but that he who thus lies in wait for us, or assails us from without, may fail on every side to effect an entrance, and be unable to overcome us either by fraud or force? Nevertheless, whatever engines of war he may erect against us, so long as he has no more a place in the heart that faith inhabits, he is cast out. But “except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.”17 Presume not, therefore, about yourselves, if you would not have the devil, who has once been cast out, to be recalled within.
10. On the other hand, let us be far from supposing that the devil is called in any such way the prince of the world, as that we should believe him possessed of power to rule over the heaven and the earth. The world is so spoken of in respect of wicked men, who have overspread the whole earth; just as a house is spoken of in respect to its inhabitants, and we accordingly say, It is a good house, or a bad house; not as finding fault with, or approving of, the erection of walls and roofs, but the morals either of the good or the bad within it. In a similar way, therefore, it is said, “The prince of this world;” that is, the prince of all the wicked who inhabit this world. The world is also spoken of in respect to the good, who in like manner have overspread the whole earth; and hence the apostle says, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself.”18 These are they out of whose hearts the prince of this world is ejected.
11. Accordingly, after saying, “Now shall the prince of this world be cast out,” He added, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things19 after me.” And what “all” is that, but those out of which the other is ejected? But He did not say, All men, but “all things;” for all men have not faith.20 And, therefore, He did not allude to the totality of men, but to the creature in its personal integrity, that is, to spirit, and soul, and body; or all that which makes us the intelligent, living, visible, and palpable beings we are. For He who said, “Not a hair of your head shall perish,”21 is He who draweth all things after Him. Or if by “all things” it is men that are to be understood, we can speak of all things that are foreordained to salvation: of all which He declared, when previously speaking of His sheep, that not one of them would be lost.22 And of a certainty all classes of men, both of every language and every age, and all grades of rank, and all diversities of talents, and all the professions of lawful and useful arts, and all else that can be named in accordance with the innumerable differences by which men, save in sin alone, are mutually separated, from the highest to the lowest, and from the king to the beggar, “all,” He says, “will I draw after me;” that He may be their head, and they His members. But this will be, He adds, “if I be lifted up from the earth,” that is, when I am lifted up; for He has no doubt of the future accomplishment of that which He came to fulfill. He here alludes to what He said before: “But if the corn of wheat die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” For what else did He signify by His lifting up, than His suffering on the cross, an explanation which the evangelist himself has not omitted; for he has appended the words, “And this He said signifying what death He should die.”
12. “The people answered Him, We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever: and how sayest Thou, The Son of man must be lifted up? And who is this Son of man?” It had stuck to their memory that the Lord was constantly calling Himself the Son of man. For, in the passage before us, He does not say, If the Son of man be lifted up from the earth; but had called Himself so before, in the lesson which was read and expounded yesterday, when those Gentiles were announced who desired to see Him: “The hour is come that the Son of man should be glorified” (ver. 23). Retaining this, therefore, in their minds, and understanding what He now said, “When I am lifted up from the earth,” of the death of the cross, they inquired of Him, and said, “We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever; and how sayest Thou, The Son of man must be lifted up? who is this Son of man?” For if it is Christ, He, they say, abideth for ever; and if He abideth for ever, how shall He be lifted up from the earth, that is, how shall He die through the suffering of the cross? For they understood Him to have spoken of what they themselves were meditating to do. And so He did not dissipate for them the obscurity of such words by imparting wisdom, but by stimulating their conscience.
13. “Then said Jesus unto them, Yet a little23 light is in you.” And by this it is you understand that Christ abideth for ever. “Walk, then, while ye have the light, test darkness come upon you.” Walk, draw near, come to the full understanding that Christ shall both die and shall live for ever; that He shall shed His blood to redeem us, and ascend on high to carry His redeemed along with Him. But darkness will come upon you, if your belief in Christ’s eternity is of such a kind as to refuse to admit in His case the humiliation of death. “And he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth.” So may he stumble on that stone of stumbling and rock of offence which the Lord Himself became to the blinded Jews: just as to those who believed, the stone which the builders despised was made the head of the corner.24 Hence, they thought Christ unworthy of their belief; because in their impiety they treated His dying with contempt, they ridiculed the idea of His being slain: and yet it was the very death of the grain of corn that was to lead to its own multiplication, and the lifting up of one who was drawing all things after Him. “While ye have the light,” He adds, “believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light.” While you have possession of some truth that you have heard, believe in the truth, that you may be born again in the truth.
14. “These things spake Jesus, and departed, and did hide Himself from them.” Not from those who had begun to believe and to love Him, nor from those who had come to meet Him with branches of palm trees and songs of praise; but from those who saw and hated Him, for they saw Him not, but only stumbled on that stone in their blindness. But when Jesus hid Himself from those who desired to slay Him (as you need from forgetfulness to be often reminded), He had regard to our human weakness, but derogated not in aught from His own authority.
1 The word anima used here, and frequently elsewhere, and corresponding to the Greek zwhv, denotes “human life,” in reference to its internal principle or substance; and differs from “vita” (Gr). yuchv), as in the words following above, “unto eternal life” (vitam), which expresses rather the general idea of life in its existence, aggregate qualities, and duration. Our English word “soul,” which best corresponds with anima, is, however, more restricted in the idea which it popularly suggests; and hence, as in our English version of the Scriptures, the apparent confusion, which is unavoidable, in translating anima sometimes by “soul” and sometimes by “life.”-Tr.
2 Chap. 11,33: literally, as in margin of English Bible, “He troubled Himself.”
3 Mt 4,1-10
4 Mt 26,38-39
5 Chap. 21,18, 19.
6 Or, discernment, discretio; see Tract. XLIII. sec. 9.
7 Ps 43,1
8 Ps 36,6
9 Rm 11,33
10 Chap. 7,39.
11 Lc 2,25-38.
12 Lc 1,41-45; Lc 1,67-69.
13 Ac 2,4-6.
14 1Th 5,8,
15 1Jn 2,1-2.
16 Mt 6,12-13.
17 Ps 127,1.
18 2Cor 5,19,
19 There are here two readings in the Greek Mss., pavnta» (all men), and pavnta (all things), of which the former seems now the better approved; but the latter is that adopted by Augustin and the Vulgate.-Tr.
20 2Th 3,2.
21 Lc 21,18.
22 Chap. 10,28.
23 Modicum lumen).
24 1P 2,6-8.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation