To Die So As Not to Die

In yesterday’s Gospel from St. John, Jesus tells his disciples that “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat” and that those who love their lives lose them, but those who hate their lives in this world preserve them.

Or, as Fr. Dale Korogi put it more simply in his homily at Christ the King yesterday: We need to die before we die, so that when we die, we don’t die. Get it?

It is actually quite easy to understand as soon as we realize that the death we are asked to undergo before we die is not a physical sacrifice of our lives like that of Jesus on the cross. Rather, Fr. Dale explained, we are invited to die to our false selves and embrace the poverty of being human.

His explanation reminded me of Thomas Merton’s description of the false self. For Merton, the false self “is the one who wants to exist outside the reach of God’s will and God’s love – outside of reality and outside of life.” The false self sees itself as separate and apart from others and from God, as a completely self-sufficient unit.

Merton believed that all sin stems from the assumption that this false self “is the fundamental reality of life to which everything else in the universe is ordered.” It is this false self that must be abandoned in order to us to live as we are meant to live. It is this false self that we must die to so that we may live fully human lives – and “preserve [our lives] for eternal life” (in the words of the Gospel).

Fr. Dale ended his homily by quoting an excerpt from Robert Frost’s poem, The Gift Outright. The lines he quoted are worthwhile to reflect on in the context of yesterday’s Gospel:

Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,

Possessed by what we now no more possessed.

Something we were withholding made us weak

Until we found out that it was ourselves

We were withholding from our land of living,

And forthwith found salvation in surrender.

Such as we were we gave ourselves outright
.

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