John 12:22-30, Fifth Sunday in Ordinary
One of the methods of prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola in the Spiritual Exercises is imaginative contemplation. The exercitant is asked to immerse himself into the Gospel scene using the imagination–seeing what the Gospel characters see and feeling feel. In using this method, the exercitant builds a relationship with God.
One day, during my Spiritual Exercises as a Jesuit novice, I was asked to imagine Jesus walking on water. I was almost drowning, when to my surprise I saw Jesus’ face. That face was a cartoon face from “Flying House” a Japanese anime I had watched every day as a kid. I felt devastated. I thought to myself, “Jesus isn’t a cartoon character!”. My prayers became dry and I had no desire to pray anymore.
In today’s Gospel Jesus said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.” This foreshadows Jesus’ self-sacrifice: a sacrifice that will lead us to eternal life. Through our baptism, our death will have salvific meaning, as we unite our deaths with Jesus’.
This does not only mean ‘death’ in the literal sense, but also any form of letting go, or dying to one’s self. As people, we can be quite biased or prejudiced but are unaware of it. Many times, we find difficulty letting go of ideas we have been accustomed to and refuse to see something from a different perspective. Like Jesus, we must die to ourselves and let go.
During my long retreat, I had become upset that my image of God’s face came from Japanese anime. I needed to abandon my stereotypes of how Jesus should look like. In a sense, I needed to let go and allow things to be. As soon as I did that, I was able to return into prayer feeling God’s grace. In retrospect, perhaps this anime face of God was a sign of my mission here in Japan.
What do we need to let go of? Is it anxiety? Anger? Resentment? What do we need to learn to accept? Can we accept the shortcomings of others as well as our own? Can we move beyond our stereotypes and try to get to know other people more? Let us reflect on this in today’s mass. Through the grace of this Lenten season, may we be able to let go that our lives may bear fruit.
*homily originally in Japanese, freely translated into English.