Vigil of 5th Sunday of Lent

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Sister Marcia Ziska, OSB | March 20, 2021 First Day of Spring

As we continue to journey to Jerusalem with Jesus, our first reading instructs us that we should love one another. There is no surprise in that statement; that is what Christians are expected to do, right? Christians are to love one another. The first letter of John is rather consistent in the message that we as believers need to love one another, and not just love “with word or tongue, we are to love in deed and truth.” (vs.18) This latter type of love has been shown over and over again in community during this year-long pandemic…with haircuts, mask-making, sewing PPE gowns, the employee pantries, the regular testing, our own social distancing, refraining from hugs, and the list goes on and on…. And we are still forging forward in being of service to each other. 


God’s love was shown to humanity with the Incarnation and now Jesus’ love is shown in dying on the cross. Participating in God’s life is embracing the paschal mystery…the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is what we as Christians are all about. From John’s Gospel we hear: “…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…” (Jn 12:24) Loss and renewal, death and new life, dying and rising, letting go and getting back….this is the pattern of all Christians. All of us, as St. Benedict says who “yearn for life and desire to see good days” (RB Prol 15), inherit this pattern of loss and new life. 


Nature, too, demonstrates this pattern of loss and renewal.  At least the calendar tells us it is time to say goodbye to winter and bid a hearty welcome to spring. New life can be seen as trees leaf, crocuses bud, tulips grow and gift us with an array of colorful blossoms.


When we came to the monastery whether that was 3, 5, 25, 60 years ago or more, we all had to be that grain of wheat, go into the ground and die a bit to ourselves. Each of us let go of parts of our life, perhaps a job, a car, attachment to family, to friends, and surrender our own will to the monastic rhythm of life as lived here at the Mount. Parts of our life had to die so we could live out the calling we were choosing, to put on Christ Jesus and welcome a new way of being, a new way of walking in Christ’s footsteps.  


This new reality of being a monastic required moving from self-centeredness to anticipating the needs of the other, concern for the other, growing in humility, becoming more God-centered. Growth in community entailed becoming vulnerable and humble so that the fruit of our lives might blossom, the rough edges might become less sharp and made smooth. Walking in Jesus’ footsteps included suffering, pain, and heartache, essential elements of true discipleship.


Joseph Cardinal Bernardin’s reflection on Letting Go in Give Us This Day for Sunday states: “if we are to love as Jesus loved, we must first come to terms with suffering”…and this suffering is “for and with other people. It is walking with them in the valley of darkness.”  As community we know that kind of suffering well…we walk with sisters who are dying, most recently Sister Cyprian and Sister Mary Ann; we sat by their side, prayed the psalms, were present to and with them. For many the entire past year has been a valley of darkness.  Not visiting our families and friends, not having a vacation, not having any guests, not giving or receiving a hug…these, too, have been our valley of darkness. I am sure each of you can name examples of what your valley of darkness has been. 


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.” (Jn 12:24) None of us knows the fruit that will be born from this pandemic, or the fruit being birthed by any one of us. Our community has been recipient of the generosity of many people. And we, in turn, have been generous to others. Throughout the world there are stories of the gifts of this past year. New life is on the horizon, perhaps it is already here and we can’t yet perceive it. One thing is for sure, together as grains of wheat we are the Body of Christ.  As the Body of Christ, we are visible to one another in the gift of community that we share with each other. In that, we can REJOICE!


I would like to close with singing from the GATHER book #401 verse 2.


Seed that dies to rise in glory,

May we see ourselves in You,

If we learn to live Your story

We may die to rise anew,

We may die to rise anew.