Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Our Lady Queen of Heaven Catholic Church
Lake Charles, Louisiana
August 10, 2016
Diaconate Ordination 2016
“[U]nless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat.” John 12:24
The 4th Century Roman Christian poet, Prudentius, tells us that the deacon, St. Lawrence, went to his martyrdom in 258 A.D. praying for the conversion of pagan Rome. The Emperor Valerian had issued edicts of persecution against Christians, which consequently brought about the death of Pope St. Sixtus II and four days later the ultimate sacrifice of St. Lawrence.
From St. Ambrose we hear the famous story of how St. Lawrence was bound and placed on a grill over a slow fire. According to St. Ambrose, he turned to his executioners and said with a cheerful smile, “Let my body be turned; one side is broiled enough.” After further torment over the flames, he again spoke, “It is cooked enough. You may eat.”
Indeed St. Lawrence embodied the “grain of wheat,” that food of which our Lord speaks in the Gospel for this Feast. “[U]nless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (John 12:24). It is this fruit that is eaten and feeds us still.
For the grain of wheat is the Lord Himself. He gives His own flesh up to death so that we might share it at His altar. Partaking of it, we have life, and sharing in it we learn the important lesson of identifying with Him. “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be” (John 12:26).
Our Lord gave His life for us. The grain of wheat died to yield much fruit. It was planted so that from the soil could spring new life, not just once but through the ages until our present time. Death and Resurrection—this is the lesson our Lord teaches us and the Paschal mystery that the Deacon Lawrence, as servant, lived.
Are you willing to live the Paschal mystery? Are you ready to follow our Lord as servant? This is the question that must be asked. Being a servant has implications. A servant offers himself completely to the will of the master. The servant works over and above the call of duty. Are you ready? It is not easy to be grilled alive, to be stretched over the slow fire of persecution, to face with humor even death to self.
Are you ready to be a servant? Servant is not a popular word in American culture. It is practically erased from usage. To call someone a servant today is considered virtually an insult. Yet, our Lord used the word to describe those who would be His disciples.
But if servant is outdated, so is dying to self. That something good could come from suffering and the offering of self has truly become almost countercultural in this mixed-up, confused and self-absorbed world.
Are you ready to be something different? To give your life as the ransom of the many? As I said earlier, Prudentius writes that St. Lawrence prayed for the conversion of Rome. From that time, pagan worship declined in Rome. Even St. Augustine recognized that St. Lawrence had left behind a significant witness. The grain of wheat had died to produce an abundant harvest. Where will the continuing witness of that martyrdom be in your own life? The answer to that question is hidden in God’s Will and in your willingness to cooperate with whatever He has decided for you. Be obedient, be open, die to self, and live as a servant.
Bishop Glen John Provost