Dying to Live
5th Sunday of Lent (B)

Antonio P. Pueyo
Reproduced with Permission

The past week I have been sitting through a series of graduation ceremonies – from kindergarten to graduate school. The last one took four hours in a hot afternoon with graduates and academics sweating in their black togas. We bore the heat. The professors felt relieved and were thankful for having ushered forward in life another group of students. The students felt thankful that finally, they were relieved of the academe and could move on to new adventures.

Action starter: Whom does your life serve?

After having listened to the graduation speeches of commencement speakers and graduates, mostly about the “road to success,” the thought suddenly struck me, what if Jesus were a guest speaker in one of these exercises what would He say? What would be His road map to success? Will He talk about success at all?

This Sunday’s gospel reading gives us a central theme in the Lord’s life and about which He would be most qualified to give an address, ”Unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (Jn. 12:24). This is the paradox of loving and living. One does not seek love to find love. It is in loving that one discovers love. Living is not about getting something out of life or wringing every drop of fulfillment out of it. Rather, living is being a life-giving presence in the world.

St. Iraeneus affirms, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” This echoes what the Lord Jesus said, “I come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (Jn. 10:10). We can all agree to these statements in general. The disagreement would be in what “being fully alive” means. The hedonist would say that to live fully one must enjoy pleasure in all its forms. The humanist finds life to be more meaningful when given to causes that make for a more just, more free, and more peaceful world. The truth-seeker looks for fuller life through enlightenment. Somehow in some way each one of us looks for self-fulfillment and life to the full.

The way of Jesus goes beyond self-fulfilment. It is the way of self-transcendence. It is not about self-preoccupation. It is about self-donation. Jesus affirms the need for loving one’s self but it does not stop there. One has to love one’s neighbor as he loves himself, even to the point of giving up one’s life, “Those who love their life destroy it, and those who despise their life in this world keep it for everlasting life” (Jn. 12:25). Self-discovery and self-affirmation are only preludes to self-donation.

I have told the following story when I was once invited to be the commencement speaker. It is a story very close the the gospel and also to the academe. A new pencil was very vain and proud of her looks. She smelt good, had a crown of untouced red eraser, and as yet unused. She saw an older pencil and asked why she was so short, ugly, and chopped up.

This is what the older pencil told her: The best part of you is not your looks but what is inside. You have to be wounded so that what is inside will show. Then you become useful.

Sometimes there will be mistakes as you write. That’s why you have a red crown to erase the mistakes. You have to allow your owner to write your lines. The more you serve the shorter you get. At the end you will be a stump like me but you will be happy with the knowledge that your life has served. As you can see, I am old but I am happy.