Loss of a loved one.
Who of us has not tasted at least one of these flavors of suffering? We have likely felt the cross weigh on us in more than one area of life. Whether you personally consider your unique hardships a crushing boulder or a mere pebble in your shoe, the experience of suffering touches everyone, and even to compare sufferings is likely to prove only unhelpful, if not even harmful.
In Salvifici Doloris (On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering), Saint John Paul II writes that suffering “is a universal theme that accompanies man at every point on earth: in a certain sense it co-exists with him in the world, and thus demands to be constantly reconsidered.” (2).
In our Spring of Water meditations for the new year, we desire to do just this — to reconsider suffering: what it is, why it matters, and how we can live it in this precise and unique moment of each of our lives. As Apostles of the Interior Life, we recognize to have been gifted with a priestly charism, based on the universal priesthood into which all the baptized are called to live. As we AVI Sisters continue to go deeper in our charismatic calling, we desire to share more how we can all embrace more fully our baptismal call.
Recognizing the universality of suffering is just one side of the proverbial coin coin. As human persons conformed to Christ in baptism, immersed in His cross and resurrection, we know and believe that pain, suffering, death — these are never the final answer, they will never have the final word.
“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.” – John 12:24
This passage of John’s Gospel, from which we draw the title of our series of meditations for 2022, is a rich mine of spiritual treasures and encapsulates the various sub-themes that we will unpack month by month. In order to dig deep into this rich terrain of Scripture, it helps to remember its context: in John’s Gospel narrative, Jesus has just entered Jerusalem on a donkey, acclaimed with palm branches and cries of “hosanna”. As this January meditation is published, most of us are still contemplating the Babe in the manger, but we know that Bethlehem is not His final earthly destination, nor is Nazareth or Galilee, but this small and vulnerable Child will one day journey to Jerusalem to be tortured and killed on a cross, to rise from the dead, and to ascend to His Father, accomplishing the drama of our salvation.
As Jesus paints this simple picture speaking of a grain of wheat, He shares not just a striking image or a spiritual teaching; Jesus is both prophesying His own call and proclaiming the spiritual life cycle of the one who seeks to live in and for the Father.
But if it dies, it produces much fruit.
But if it dies, it produces…
Pause to pray:
Fill in the blank with what this “much fruit” means for you, for your life, for your loved ones, for the world in which you find yourself.
But if it dies.
Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat.
But if it dies…
What is the tragedy of the grain of wheat that remains “just a grain of wheat”? It is the heartbreaking loss of fruitfulness. If we never die to ourselves, we risk losing a crucial element of human identity: self-gift in love. In Salvifici Doloris John Paul II quotes what is perhaps the most iconic phrase in recent Magisterium: “Man cannot ‘fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.’” (cfr. Gaudium et Spes, 24).
To run away from this call to “fall to the ground and die” is to negate our very human identity, created in God’s image, called to a total gift of self in love. And note that Jesus does not say “unless a grain of wheat is planted in the ground”, but unless it falls. Our self-gift must be chosen in freedom, yes; but much of what it entails is not chosen per se, but surrendered to, as we learn to accept especially those crosses we did not choose or foresee.
Let us turn to Jesus with the willingness not only to imitate His total gift of self, but let us also ask Him to live His Paschal Mystery in us.
- Think of the suffering or struggle you are experiencing most vividly right now, or perhaps a cross you may be trying to escape.
- Name it and write it down.
- Reread John 12:24, and ask the Holy Spirit to enter your heart more deeply and speak a word of truth to you through this Scripture, particularly in light of the suffering you named.
This month’s meditation is written by Sr. Ruth Kuefler, AVI.