“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 an inaccurate bank transaction; 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: “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 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 particular challenges in life where we need Jesus. And even in this gospel passage, we read about Jesus, who questions his 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 challenges in life. He said that three issues could stop us in our tracks: the news of cancer or severe illness; or the death of a loved one – a wife or husband; the unexpected loss of a son or daughter in wartime.
Lastly, persons who are wrongly or falsely accused; perhaps innocent people going to jail for a crime they had not committed, or that “rush to “judgment 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 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.
Martyrs today include such figures 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 also thinking of the amazing acts of courage by medical personnel, doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers in their attempts to rescue those in Africa affected by the Ebola virus. And young Americans like Kayla Jean Mueller, coming to the aide of refugees on the borders of Turkey and Syria; and James Foley, the press photographer, just doing his job, to inform us, his readers.
Again, in this passage, Jesus is not asking us to despise this life, this precious and generous gift of life. Instead, he is telling us to live a life of integrity in which we thrive!
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.”
A friend of mine, Father Richard P. McBrien, was a man of high 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 a mere duty; fidelity without love is servitude.
Every virtue is an expression of love. No virtue is 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.”
San Carlos Cathedral, Monterey, CA.