When a grain of wheat is planted and dies, it doesn’t stop being wheat. It becomes something greater through fulfilling the purpose for which it was created. When the grain is not planted, it remains small and insignificant, and it doesn’t achieve all its potential. Our Lord in today’s Gospel uses this example when he is told that some Greeks would like to meet him. His Passion is close, and even those beyond the confines of Israel would benefit from it, like the Greeks, but it would require that he be planted on the Cross and die in order to achieve salvation.
If a grain of wheat could feel it’s destruction in order to provide new growth and purpose, it would be an agony. Our Lord also chooses this process to describe what spiritual growth is like, not just in the case of martyrdom. Mortification is a process of “deadening” yourself to the things of this world in order to become detached from them and able to focus and use them for greater spiritual goods. However, everyone knows that this process of deadening, especially at the beginning, feels like dying: detachment means un-attaching yourself to something you’ve been stuck on for a long time, and that’s not easy. In the very moment you try to pull away you achieve a greater insight into how enslaved you really are and how much you are in need of liberation.
This process is not necessarily always done for spiritual reasons: many people sacrifice themselves for a higher purpose, even a noble one. St. Lawrence and Our Lord remind us that martyrdom is a supreme sacrifice for love of God and of souls. It is not just death; it is service and transformation. Even if we’re not called to martyrdom, let’s resolve to live less for the world and more for God and for others.
Readings: 2 Corinthians 9:6–10; Psalm 112:1–9; John 12:24–26. See also St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr and 11th Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday.