Dear Parishioners,

Jesus is trying to do a difficult thing in today’s gospel. He is trying to promote a positive dimension to death. Jesus describes his own death as his moment of glory, as the time when he will draw all people to himself. But it is difficult for us to hear, to take in this positive dimension of death, because when we think of death, our first response is fear. In fact, most of us spend our lives in denial over the inevitability of death. Think about it. When we hear of someone, we know who has passed away, don’t we ask, “How old was that person?” Consciously or unconsciously that question is a way of measuring our own fate. If the person is much older than us, we breathe a sigh of relief. There is still time. It is not yet my turn. But if that person is our age or younger, we feel tense. Such a realization breaks through the denial and reminds us that death is a reality. It will come to us as well.

Now Jesus knows the danger of living in denial about death. He knows there can be a positive way to experience death, but only if we begin to prepare for death today. We cannot prepare for something we are trying to avoid. We cannot prepare for something that we are denying is an inevitable part of our future. So how can we prepare for death? Jesus gives us a direction through the image in today’s gospel. “Unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain. But if it dies, it produces much fruit.” Now how does this image apply to us? The next line explains: If we let go of our lives, we can keep our lives to life eternal. To put this in other words, the only things that we will be able to hold in our hands at the moment of our death are those things that we have given away.

A man in his eighties realizing that death was near developed a strong desire to return to the place where he grew up. It was a primitive cabin in the back woods of Georgia. He had not been to the place in over seventy years, and by now it had long been abandoned. As he approached the cabin, he was impressed by the large row of walnut trees that lined the pathway. He then remembered that shortly before he left this place as a child, he took a bag of walnuts and planted them along the side of this path. Over the years they had grown up and now they were flourishing. He also remembered that as a child he had decided to take a handful of those walnuts from that bag to keep for himself to eat. He had hidden them in a niche in the attic. He wondered if they were still there, so he searched the now abandoned attic. He found them. They were covered with decades of dust and were completely dried up. It struck the man that these walnuts provided helpful parallel to his own life. The things he had let go of the things that he had planted, would live on and continue to flourish long after he had died. The things that he had tried to keep for himself were dead already.

You and I prepare for a positive death each time that we plant some of our time, some of our energy, some of our wisdom in the lives of other people. Parents should realize this. The time you spend with your children, telling them stories, teaching them simple things, passing on your values, that time and effort will continue to live on long after you’re gone. Just last week, as I was tying my shoes, I remembered the hours that my mom spent teaching how to tie my shoes before I went to kindergarten. I was not good at it. For days she kept showing me how to make the loop and tie the knot. The knowledge and wisdom we pass on to our children, to our friends, to our co-workers, will continue to enlighten others for years to come. Now sometimes, I tie my mom’s sneakers when she has trouble doing it! The broken relationships that we heal will start a trajectory of love and peace which will be passed on from person to person, from generation to generation. Generosity is never wasted. The things we give away are larger than us and they continue to live and flourish long after we are gone.

Now of course, as Christians we believe that after death we will have eternal joy with Christ in heaven. But that good news does not in itself dispel the fear of dying. What can give us comfort and peace is to realize that we have lived well. At our moment of death, we will not find comfort in the things that we kept for ourselves. Those things will be dying with us. Where we will find comfort and strength is in the time, in the energy, in the wisdom that we passed on to others. For when we can see the life we have planted in our children, in our friends, even in the stranger that we helped along the way, that life will be our glory. In that glory we can close our eyes in peace, praying the prayer of every faithful Christian: “Lord I do not come to you empty handed. I bring with me all the seeds that I have planted, all the things that I gave away.”

Fr. Monteleone

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