“Some Greeks who had come to worship at the Passover Feast came to Philip…and asked him: “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” John 12:20.
I’m sure we’ve all experienced a moment when we telephoned an 800 number to complain to an agent about a package not delivered on time, or a bank transaction that was inaccurate; or you’re put on hold for a long, long time by the “friendly skies” that were not so friendly to you. And the minute the agent comes back on the phone, you say something more demanding, such as:“ Sir, please, I want to speak to your supervisor!” You want some higher authority to resolve your issue!
Well, in like manner, I believe in this particular passage of John’s gospel, we read about Greeks or Gentiles demanding from the Apostles — a “face to face” direct encounter with Jesus, whose healing, preaching, and “food of life” has nourished and strengthened his followers. They want to see for themselves this man who is a “life force,” and seeing Jesus might just set things right.
Indeed, there are certain challenges in life where we really need Jesus. And even in this gospel passage, we read about Jesus who questions his own mission and sounds troubled about the road ahead and the Cross. These are the times when things have gone wrong and we ask ourselves “Is God really on the job?”
I recall reading Cardinal Joseph Bernardin’s memoir about his own challenges in life. He said that there are three issues that can just stop us in our tracks. The first is the news of cancer or serious illness. The second is the death of a loved one – a wife or husband, the death of a child, or the death of son or daughter in the midst of war, and in military service to country. Third, being wrongly accused; perhaps innocent people going to jail for a crime they had not committed, or that “rush to judgement” by the crowd or the press.
And then we listen to Jesus’s words: “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. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.” These words demand great courage and integrity, if we are to follow Christ.
We hear these words, again and again, and often at funeral Masses. They speak to our history of celebrating those whose lives as martyrs have followed Jesus on the path to the Cross and Resurrection.
There are too many examples of these martyrs today such as Archbishop Oscar Romero who will be declared a saint for his work on behalf of justice. And more recently, with the too many violent examples of “holy war” that bring about death to Christians and the destruction of holy sites of spiritual significance and artistic value.
I’m thinking also of the amazing acts of courage by medical personnel, doctors, nurses and healthcare workers in their attempts to come to the rescue of those in Africa affected by the Ebola virus. And young Americans like Kayla Jean Mueller, coming to the aide of refugees on the boarders of Turkey and Syria; and James Foley, the press photographer, just doing his job, in an effort to inform us, his readers.
Again, in this passage, Jesus is not asking us to despise this life, this rich and generous gift of life. Rather he is telling us to live a life of integrity, to life up to the values and virtues we truly believe in.
So it’s a matter of integrity. Years ago I heard a speech by former U.S. Senator, Alan Simpson, who in speaking about political corruption, remarked: “If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.”
So it’s a matter of integrity. A friend of mine, Father Richard P. McBrien was a man of great personal integrity. You may recall him as a theologian and public figure, since he was so often on television. I can count him among my very close friends. He died in January; and this past week I traveled to South Bend and to Notre Dame University where he taught. There was a memorial Mass to celebrate his life and work. I was honored to be there among his faculty colleagues, former students and friends.
Father McBrien once wrote: “Every virtue is an expression of love.” The holy card distributed on Thursday had this quote of his:
If love is the soul of Christian existence, it must be at the heart of every other Christian virtue. Thus, for example, justice without love is legalism; faith without love is ideology; hope without love is self-centeredness; forgiveness without love is self-abasement; fortitude without love is recklessness; care without love is mere duty; fidelity without love is servitude.
Every virtue is an expression of love. No virtue is really a virtue unless it is permeated, or informed, by love (1 Corinthians 13).
So we turn to this “life force” that is Jesus – the teacher, the preacher and healer of souls, and we want to see him person-to-person, face-to-face, heart-to-heart.
And as we join him on this Lenten journey, we hear his invitation: “I have come that you may have life, and that you may live it more abundantly; I am the light, and the way to the Father.”