Only heart open to transformation ‘produces much fruit’

By Shawn Reeves

Fifth Sunday of Lent/March 18

Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:3-4,12-13,14-15; Hebrews 5:7-9; John 12:20-33

When I was a kid, some of my favorite toys were Transformers. I would spend hours reenacting scenes from the popular cartoon. There was something captivating about cars and aircraft transmuting into robots, because there is something captivating about the act of “becoming,” of finding a thing to be more than what it originally was. It is something we both long for and fear all at once.

Every masterful story demands that the protagonist become more than what he or she originally was, that they become transformed. Stories simply have no appeal without this foundational characteristic. Because in the depths of our souls we know that being fully alive requires transformation. But accepting it is an altogether different story.

Spiritual transformation requires risk and loss. Risk, because control is surrendered to God. Loss, because what we once were will be no more; it is replaced by something greater. This is why Jesus follows his analogy of the grain with the verdict that “whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.”

John’s Gospel was originally written in Greek, and there are three words for “life” he could have chosen in recording Jesus’ declaration. The first is “bios” – generic, physical life. The second is “zoe” – the life proper to God, which gives our souls vitality by grace. The third is “psuche” – the experience of life (as it is) and the emotions upon the soul. It is this word that John records, and it’s not difficult to see why.

What hinders transformation more than anything is the stubborn clinging to our experience of life as it is, as we prefer it, and the emotions that experience gives us. Whoever loves this sensation of life more than the promptings of God will never risk becoming something greater.

What hinders transformation more than anything is the stubborn clinging to our experience of life as it is, as we prefer it, and the emotions that experience gives us. Whoever loves this sensation of life more than the promptings of God will never risk becoming something greater. And the irony is that Jesus suggests that even that experience will eventually become distasteful. They will “lose” even what they clutched tightly, because we were not created to remain static and unchanging. We were created for transformation. There can be no eternal life (“zoe”) without the risk of transformation.

SOMETHING MORE

Though the Hebrew people took God’s hand as He led them out of Egyptian slavery (as we hear in the first reading), they resisted real transformation. They grasped God’s guidance with their hands but not with their hearts. God proclaims through Jeremiah that a new covenant will come, in which the people will no longer need to be directed as a child submitting to a parent’s firm grip, but in which God’s ways, His “law,” will be cherished in internal devotion, for He “will write it upon their hearts.” And no heart can claim this more than the Sacred Heart of Christ, through whom our hearts are transformed by grace to resemble His own.

Faced with the risk of the cross, with the loss of the good experience of life that His redemptive suffering would cut off from Him, He responds boldly, “I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.” God’s law written upon His heart. God’s new covenant alive in His person with the full expectation that the cross will ultimately glorify the Father’s name.

Upon the cross, “he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears.” He let the grain of wheat fall to the ground to die, in order that it would no longer remain merely a grain of wheat but become something more – a new life, a glorified, resurrected life.

As Lent comes to a close, ask the Lord to give you a heart like His, one that selflessly “produces much fruit.” Be transformed. There alone is found the glory of eternal life.

Shawn Reeves has served as the director of religious education at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center in Champaign since 2001. He and his family are members of St. Malachy Parish in Rantoul.

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