Jn 12.20-33                 Jer 31.31-34              Heb 5.7-9

Here we are today with Holy Week fast approaching, and summer warming up in autumn, with another 3 warm days in a row this weekend! Expect the unexpected!!

Life can be so unfair and hard to take at times in all of our lives, but this week I had a funeral back in Manly for Aaron, a 46 year old son, brother, partner, father and friend, who had died of MND, leaving behind 3 young children. My own Dad had died of it just short of 60, in early 1982, but could at least walk, talk and swallow until the end. On the other hand, Aaron  had not been able to speak or swallow for the last 6 months or so, in the end, with a food tube, and communication limited to moving only his eyes! His mother had earlier asked me to be priest celebrant, as we had known each other when I was parish priest there, and we both had hip replacements within a short time of each other!

I was anticipating a relatively small family funeral gathering, only to walk into a scene where there would have been around 1,000 present, from family, friends and workmates, with queues to sign the memorial book at the church entrances, going out beyond the parish carpark. I had no idea beforehand! I think it would have been the biggest funeral I’ve done in nearly 46 years as a priest.

It turned out that Aaron was a force of nature, with a mercurial personality, a passion for the underdog, an interest in sports of all sorts, and an underlying deep commitment to social justice all round, to my mind, attributable to his Catholic background and education. These qualities obviously attracted an extraordinary number of friends throughout his relatively short life, gone far too soon, but a life lived well with love and enthusiasm.

(Sad as it was, on the positive side, I was able to have 2 early morning swims at Manly Beach and caught up with a number of old friends, on a quick turnaround. The down side was that I absent-mindedly left my house and car keys behind, with my car in Melbourne airport carpark, so it was an anxious flight home, and then a return taxi trip to get keys from the parish office here! All’s well that ends well, as I was finally home by 9pm on Wednesday.)

In today’s Gospel, Jesus selects yet another example from nature as a metaphor for life, death, growth and brokenness, for you and me. The simple grain of wheat must die in terms of breaking open and sprouting new life, when tended carefully and nurtured with water and good soil.  I remember it being used in primary school as an example of the wonder of nature, the way the grain in cotton wool and water, would start to grow. It was almost magical to me, as it was in springtime in Ottawa, when the maple leaves would start to appear, growing rapidly from the stark empty branches of the trees, after the beauty of the autumn or ‘Fall’ colours before the harsh subzero period of winter’s short days. And there’s a lovely hymn composed about the grain of wheat falling on the ground to dies too.

John’s Gospel is theologically heavy, written early in the second century, for early Christian communities, where there were all sorts of problems with persecutions, defections, divisions, diversity, no bad thing in itself, but, with human nature being as it is, added to the complexity of getting on together, and finding common ground, rather than building walls of distrust and ignorance.

The message of Jesus is at the heart of it all, where he speaks here of drawing all people to himself, through the forecast paradox of the tragedy and injustice of the Cross. Here we have Jesus speaking of the call to faith and perseverance, encouraging his followers to face up to the crosses of life, and to believe in him showing the way to live life well and so, ultimately, to achieve fullness of life in him.

Nevertheless, John can be a bit too negative, in my opinion, as to the dangers of the wide and wicked world, sometimes losing touch with a view of the wide and wonderful world, of which we are all part and for which we have a responsibility of care, as well as for each other. The pessimist’s approach of seeing this world as ‘a veil or valley of tears’ (as one of the old prayers suggests!), is just not the correct one. Jesus’ message is one of hope and promise, if we live according to his law of love.

Jesus’ words are not to be taken literally, in terms of hating our own lives, or ourselves. This needs to be interpreted as not pursuing the path of perdition of sin and evil, but rather the path to goodness and life, reflecting his light and love in the way we respond to living as faithful disciples.

I like the way Claude Mostowik MSC puts it: “Jesus’ suffering is a concrete sign of his solidarity…  with us. The Gospel story begins (today) with the Greeks or Gentiles wanting to meet Jesus. Rather than confirm his personality cult status, he refers to himself as an anti-hero and a countercultural force, by using the ‘grain’ to speak of his passion, death and resurrection. Rather than focusing on the spectacular, the powerful and the dominant, he chose the way of vulnerability, expressed in service and solidarity; of a life poured out for others. He shows us… that he is among people who are rejected, suffering, unvalued or oppressed. We must go with him if we are to be his followers.”

Michael McGirr quotes Pope Francis in his recent encyclical Fratelli tutti, wherein he speaks of the need for hope, which ‘speaks to us of something deeply rooted in every human heart, independently of our circumstances and historical conditioning. Hope speaks to us of a thirst, an aspiration, a longing for a life of fulfillment, a desire to achieve great things, things that fill our heart and lift our spirit to lofty realities like truth, goodness and beauty, justice and love… Hope is bold.’

Lovely words, but much easier said than done, and it certainly can be a dark, depressing and evil world at times!  As people of faith and hope and love, let’s move forward together.

Now, once again,  let’s not forget to keep up our ongoing contributions to Caritas Australia through Project Compassion, as we approach the end of Lent and the coming of Easter.

john hannon                                                                                    17th  March  2024


Jeremiah 31:3134   I  Ps 50:3–4. 12–5. R. v.12   |  Hebrews 5:79   I   John 12:2033


Written by Michael McGirr

The word ‘heart’ occurs almost a thousand times in the Bible, more than three times as often as the word ‘soul.’ Perhaps this is just another item of trivia but surely it gives us a clue about Christianity. It is a religion of the heart. It gets our blood pumping.

As we approach the climax of our Lenten journey, this week’s readings ask questions about our hearts. The psalm begs ‘a pure heart create for me, O God.’ Those words invite the Lord to come right inside us, into the very core of our being. The prophet Jeremiah quotes the Lord as saying, ‘deep within them I will plant my Law, writing it on their hearts.’ In other words, we won’t find God’s most intimate whisperings to us just in books or lectures. We will find it when we are genuinely in touch with our core, our most intimate space. God’s love is inscribed on our hearts.

In his letter Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis speaks against ‘a culture of walls.’ He asks us to treasure the hope found in every heart:

The word ‘caritas’ means love. The work of Caritas Australia is a heartfelt response to the needs of the world, one that gives expression to our shared hope. Caritas always works in partnership with others. During Lent, as we have listened to the experience of people we have helped through our support of Project Compassion, we will have noticed that life-giving partnerships with groups on the ground in many countries make this possible.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of the grain of wheat that must die to create a rich harvest. Of course, he is referring to his own passion. But there is a message here for us all. ‘Anyone who loves their life will lose it.’ We are called to wear our hearts on our sleeves. To be led by love for others.

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