When I lived in Metro Manila, everything felt close. I squeezed between people on crowded jeepneys in traffic-choked streets. In that sprawling city, it seemed every possible space had something going on: laundry hanging, children running, music blasting, construction buzzing, tricycles darting - the city throbbed with life. But what really felt close to me were the people, constantly drawing me in with their incredible hospitality. “Pasok!” they would say. “Come inside!” Get closer. “Let’s eat!”
In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola introduces a meditation on the Incarnation and has us picture the Trinity looking with great love upon our world. He invites us to take it all in with the eyes of our hearts and imagine: some “[people] being born and being laid to rest, some getting married and others getting divorced, the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the happy and the sad, so many people aimless, despairing, hateful, and killing, so manyundernourished, sick, and dying, so many struggling with life and blind to any meaning. With God, I can hear people laughing and crying, some shouting and screaming, some praying, others cursing . . . “ 
It is from this place of beholding humanity that Creator God, in Her infinite love, hatches a wild plan and sends Jesus into our midst. In Jesus, God wants to be as close as he can get. Jesus is like someone recklessly in love, who wants to do what we do, eat what we eat, experience what we experience - his love takes over his life in a radical way.
I remember partnering with a community on a dump site on Manila Bay. One day, one of our staff members, offered to walk some of the children home. The children were so delighted to welcome him and introduce him to their families that they huddled around him, holding his hands and grabbing onto his clothing, whatever they could grasp: his cargo pockets, his shirt, just so that they could hold something too, so that every part of him was accompanied.
If Jesus’s life was centered on this incredibly close accompaniment, in today’s Gospel, we find him in a heart-breaking moment. Even more people want to see him - this time the Greeks - and they ask Philip and Philip tells Andrew and Andrew and Philip go together and tell Jesus and Jesus has had it. He summons the heart to tell them that his public ministry is over. He is wrestling with his impending persecution and death and he wants to leave his friends with two messages:
The first: Give your whole self in love and the second: God wants nothing more than to draw everyone to himself
So he uses an image that’s close to them: grain in a field, something they likely saw everyday:
unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just agrain of wheat;
but if it dies, it produces much fruit.
God calls us to be so full of life, we give our whole selves away in love. I know people like this: a mother who crossed all kinds of terrain and a border while she was pregnant to give her whole self in love for her family; the people who have shown up in this terrible pandemic at tremendous risk, to keep food on the table, to keep the most vulnerable community members alive, to keep our communities going. It’s a costly and painful love - but who would we be without it?
God wants to be in relationship with us more than anything:
In the first reading, the prophet Jeremiah speaks God’s desires about a new covenant, an even deeper commitment:
“ I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God,and they shall be my people.
No longer will they have need to teach their friends and relatives how to know theLORD.
All, from least to greatest, shall know me, says the LORD”
And Jesus promises to stay near us and says, “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”
God has this magnetizing love that will not rest until we are completely wrapped in him: all of our hopes and all of oursorrows, too. A couple of years ago, my cousin and godson, Tommy, was killed in a tragic accident. He was only 8 years old. Every year in November, my family and I remember Tommy and celebrate his life. We pull out his photos, tell stories and vow to cherish each other a little more. This past year, my daughter, who is four-years-old, asked me: “Mommy, where do we go when we die?” “Oh Sofia,” I told her, and I shared with her something I believe deep in my soul: “when we die, God takes us back home into his heart.”
This Lent, we are asked to take the long view with Jesus. Who would we become if we were at home in God’s generous and reckless love? How would we use our time? Our lives?
We all know what happens immediately after this story. Jesus, like so many good, innocent people, suffers violence, injustice, and death. We also know what grains of wheat become: bread for the journey and nourishment for each other, and we are called to that very transformation too.
1. quotations of the text of the meditation used here are from David L. Fleming, SJ, Draw Me Into Your Friendship: A Literal Translation and a Contemporary Reading of the Spiritual Exercises, St. Louis: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1996
Grace Salceanu is an educator and campus minister in the Bay Area. Her work has spanned co-directing global education programs in the Philippines and El Salvador, leading retreats, organizing spiritual formation for youth and adults in San Francisco, and teaching theology. She is a director of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.
Her other callings include being a mother to a vibrant 5-year-old and partner to her husband.
Spiritual lessons abound in both her professional and family life. She’s grateful for all the resilient, tenacious and dynamic people and communities who have formed, inspired, challenged and illuminated how God is at work in everything.
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