"Christ in Gethsemane" (detail) by Heinrich Hofmann

“Christ in Gethsemane” (detail) by Heinrich Hofmann

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)

As Christians, we must be people of prayer—pure and simple. If we do not pray, we do not have a relationship with Christ.

There are many types of prayer. Among them, the Catechism of the Catholic Church lists blessing, adoration, petition, intercession, thanksgiving and praise. Each of these prayers can be expressed in different ways. Again, the catechism mentions vocal prayer, meditation and contemplation.

Don’t let this overwhelm you, instead accept that God calls and invites you to a wonderful personal relationship and prayer is one of the principal ways you spend time with Him.

In her autobiography, St. Thérèse of Lisieux wrote this about prayer:

“For me, prayer is surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and love, embracing both trial and joy.”

Usually, when we speak of prayer, one thinks almost exclusively of prayer of petition. When the apostles asked Jesus to teach them to pray, He taught them the Our Father, a prayer that consists mostly of petitions.

The question might arise, “For what should we pray?”

It is a familiar occurrence… some difficulty arises in one’s life and the inclination of the believer is to turn to God and ask to be relieved of the difficulty.

“Why does this have to happen to me right now? I am busy at work, the kids need my help with their school projects… this couldn’t come at a worse time!”

Maybe the difficulty is a car needing repairs or a wisdom tooth that needs to be pulled. Maybe a family member is ill and needs care.

The troubles might even be more serious; the death of a loved one or a personal and grave illness.

So we turn to God and ask for his help.

But how often do we define what the outcome should be… too often, perhaps? Are we not encouraged by the Lord to do so?

Jesus has taught us to go to the Father in his name… that if we as fathers and mothers on earth know the needs of our children, just think of how much more the Father in Heaven cares for us and stands ready to come to our aid, if we but turn to him… ask and we will receive, seek and we will find, knock and the door will be opened.

The Gospel for today’s Mass (cf. John 12:20-33) has much to teach us about these questions. Some Greeks approach Philip with a request to see Jesus. Philip and Andrew take their request to Jesus. As a side note, the Greeks petition God by asking for the Apostle’s intercession.

There is much going on here.

Since Chapter Ten and the Good Shepherd discourse, there has been a sense of the gathering together of the nations; that the Lord’s mission ultimately is to all the nations and not just Israel. Greeks approaching Jesus through disciples with Greek names is a sign of this broader mission.

Throughout the preceding chapters of John’s Gospel, Jesus states that His hour has not yet arrived, that it was still off in the future. But, in response to the petition from the Greeks, Jesus announces that His hour has come.

There is much at stake here. Jesus knows what lies ahead—and so do we. The path is about to take a dark turn through a way of horrendous suffering and death. He says that He is troubled, but the Lord also asks the question, “Yet what should I say, ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ ” Today’s second reading (cf. Hebrews 5:7-9) tells us that Jesus “offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death.”

Yet, we learn that Jesus desires one thing, and so should we. He desires to do the will of the Father, to the glory of God. “Not my will, Father, but yours.”

If we listen with the ears of this world, the Lord’s answer might seem strange, but this is God who answers, so we need to hear with our spiritual ears of faith.

Five Lessons from Jesus about the Path to Glory

What can all of this teach us about prayer and the troubles of this life?

  1. The Path to Glory leads through the Cross: Jesus has his sights on Heaven, even while walking on this earth. Jesus sees that his mission to all the nations has already begun to bear fruit. When he is seated at the right hand of the Father, he will draw all men to himself. But in order to ascend to Heaven, he must first suffer and die for us.
  2. Death leads to Life: Jesus lets us know that he must die before he will be glorified. The imagery of the grain of wheat is absolutely clear. And he applies the lesson to his own path.
  3. We must identify with Christ: Jesus calls each of us to be grains of wheat as well. And the imagery is clear here, too. We are not to always escape our own difficulties—the often little troubles that cause us so much anxiety and the grave ones too. We are to live a life that includes acts of penance and detachment from things that keep us from God. These are moments of grace. It is not enough to just know about Jesus, we must actually identify with him—each of us is called to bear our own cross to God’s glory and the grace of salvation for others. He teaches, “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.”
  4. The Cross has meaning: Jesus promises us, no matter what may come, if we are faithful, the Father will reward us. “The Father will honor whoever serves me.”
  5. Surrender should be our response: No, I do not mean that we should seek suffering or that when faced with it, we should not hope and pray for it to be alleviated. But, we do not see the whole of God’s plan, so the correct approach should be one of trust in the providence of God.

Do we want to know and serve Christ in perfect love?

Do we want to be that grain of wheat that dies so that it will bear much fruit?

Each of the occasions of suffering that we encounter can be opportunities of grace from which much fruit shows forth, if we but surrender to Christ and trust in the Father’s love and bring them here to Holy Mass, offering our trials and joys to the Father in the Eucharist, joined to the Cross of Christ.

Into the deep…

Into the Deep by Deacon Mike Bickerstaff is a regular feature of the The Integrated Catholic Life™.

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