Monday, April 2, 2018


April, 2018

My dear graduates of Chaminade, Kellenberg Memorial, and St. Martin de Porres Marianist School,

This morning at our Community Mass, the Communion meditation song was the popular, “Unless a Grain of Wheat.” Based on John 12: 24, the refrain of this song reminds us, “Unless a grain of wheat fall to the ground and die, it remains a single grain. But if it die, it will yield a rich harvest.”
We need only think of the events of Holy Week to confirm the truth of this Biblical verse. Holy Week was more like “Hell Week” for Our Lord. He enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, hailed as a hero. Jesus, however, knows how fickle the crowd can be. He also knows that the Pharisees and Sadducees are conspiring against Him, and that the adulation of the crowd will soon enough turn to animosity and mockery. On Holy Thursday, after He shares His body and His blood with His apostles, He will be betrayed by one of the chosen twelve. He will be denied – three times – by the “rock” on which He will build His Church. Good Friday will see Christ savagely scourged; crowned with thorns; and left to die, nailed to a Cross.

But two days later, Christ rises from the dead, and the harvest is indeed rich. Generations and generations of Christians will claim the crucified and risen Christ as their Lord and God. Thousands of martyrs will go to their deaths for the sake of the crucified and risen Christ, their own deaths adding to the spread of Christianity. As early Christian patriarch Tertullian (c. 150 – c. 240 A.D.) observes, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” And their blood continues to be shed. The twentieth century saw more martyrdoms than all the other centuries of Christianity combined. And lest we be tempted to bemoan the current state of Christianity, let us remember that Christianity remains the largest religion in the world, with approximately 2.1 billion followers across the globe. Indeed, a truly rich harvest!

Holy Week calls us to die to self. Easter reminds us of the rich harvest that will follow.

So many of you probably share the same story of immigrant grandparents or great-grandparents that I have. Some of these patriarchs of our families grew up in what journalist and author Tom Brokaw has called “the greatest generation.” Others were born and grew up a little later, but all made tremendous sacrifices for the sake of their families. All of them denied themselves so many of the luxuries that life offers to save and scrimp for the sake of future generations, for your sake and mine. None of my grandparents – neither Vincent and Irene Balletta nor Michael and Marie Sottosanti – went to college, but they worked hard and lived frugally so that their children could. And those children also worked hard, and made multiple sacrifices, so that the grandchildren of Vincent and Irene, Michael and Marie – all twenty-six of them – earned college diplomas as well. Sacrifices made by one generation for the benefit of future generations: How well this phenomenon exemplifies the wisdom of the Gospel! “Unless a grain of wheat fall to the ground and die, it remains a single grain. But if it die, it will yield a rich harvest.”

My thoughts turn to the many young men and young women who are aspirants and novices, seminarians and temporary professed in our Church. In an age that promotes the self (Look at all the “selfies” we take.) and emphasizes care of the self above all others (Look at the proliferation of self-help articles, books, television shows, and websites.), these young men and women have chosen instead a life for others. For the sake of the Gospel, they have willing accepted any number of deprivations and undertaken considerable self-discipline. They have vowed poverty, chastity, and obedience. (How countercultural!) After a life of considerable independence and self-direction, they have adopted a life of interdependence and direction by their religious communities and their religious superiors. In our own novices and aspirants, I have witnessed the sacrifice that this dying to self entails, but I also know the rich harvest that such heroic commitment yields. Already these young men – and thousands of young men and women like them in seminaries, novitiates, rectories, and religious houses across the globe – are making an indelible impact on the Church. They are witnessing to what Pope Francis has called “the joy of the Gospel.” They are acting as ambassadors for Christ. By the authenticity and generosity of their lives, they are winning souls for the Lord, gathering the rich harvest that Jesus promises.

Allow me to consider one more example. For thirteen years now, Fr. Garrett Long has organized mission trips to help rebuild homes in the wake of hurricane damage. For seven years, approximately twenty students from Chaminade and Kellenberg Memorial traveled down to the Gulf Coast to lend a hand to the rebuilding efforts there. More recently, in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, the volunteers have concentrated their efforts locally. Dubbed “St. Joseph’s Mission,” the project involves a weeklong commitment during the February vacation. Signing up for the program means giving up many of the perks of the much-anticipated winter break. Sleeping late is out of the question; wake-up time for St. Joseph’s Mission is typically 6:30 a.m. Taking a nice, long, hot shower is not an option – not when twenty-plus people are sharing two bathrooms, as we did for several years when we stayed at a volunteer house in Violet, Louisiana. For some of our students, signing up for St. Joseph’s Mission means forgoing ski tips with friends or Caribbean vacations with family.

To be sure, volunteering for St. Joseph’s Mission means giving up many of the creature comforts and personal freedoms that we are used to. Somehow, however, the volunteers are enormously happy. They describe their days on St. Joseph’s Mission as “life-changing,” and they volunteer for multiple years in a row. Further, I know that many of you have participated in similar mission trips with you parishes or with your universities. The pattern is invariably the same: We give up a great deal – time, creature comforts, our personal space, and a good bit of our own “freedom.” Nevertheless, each participant – without exception – freely admits that he or she has gained so much more in return. I suspect this somewhat paradoxical turn of events can be attributed to what Saint Pope John Paul II calls “The Law of the Gift.” “Man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself,” John Paul II writes, “can fully find himself only through a sincere gift of himself.”

Truly, “unless a grain of wheat fall to the ground and die, it remains a single grain. But if it die, it will yield a rich harvest.”

Thank you – all of you – for choosing to make a sincere gift of yourself. Thank you for choosing to live a life that is both generous and generative. As we celebrate Easter, let us always remember the rich harvest that will be ours through the grace of the risen Lord!

“Unless a grain of wheat fall to the ground and die, it remains a single grain. But, if it die, it will yield a rich harvest.”

On behalf of all my Marianist Brothers,

Bro. Stephen