First The Seed Must Die

Fifth Sunday of Lent


Early into my ordination to the priesthood, I came to a painful crossroads. Some of you have heard this story before, but many may not have. So here goes. I was 3 years ordained a priest, recently transferred to a parish in the East Village in Manhattan NYC, a 13-year member of a worldwide brotherhood of professed religious men whose work was in education and youth ministry, facing significant uncertainty about where my life was headed, getting little support from the people I knew and loved, wondering if God had abandoned me. Actually I was just not hearing God’s voice lately, not feeling God’s presence. And I was severely unhappy. I understand now I was going through a rough patch, feeling overworked and underappreciated, just another expendable cog in the massive wheel of the large Catholic high school that was my first assignment as a priest. Oh, just one tiny detail I didn’t mention. Six months prior, I acted against a directive of my religious superior and walked out of a voluntary residential therapeutic placement in St. Louis because I was convinced it was not the solution for me. That set the stage for a turbulent six months. So there I was a few years after ordination, totally miserable, seriously considering just leaving everything behind, catching a Greyhound to the west coast, telling no one, and never being heard from again. But I decided I would do one last thing. I called mom. I was anxious at first, half-expecting her to tell me to suck it up and just do as I was told. That, by the way, was exactly what my religious superior said when I called. Nope. But to her credit, mom opened her arms and welcomed me home.

It’s been an uphill climb since, but I have regained a sense of purpose working in this diocese. Also I am healthier and stronger for it. I never would have imagined giving up the only life I knew, and the vocation I was convinced I was called to fulfill. And if God had turned away in my moment of darkness and misery, I may have disappeared out west, and these last 20 years would have unfolded very differently. Early into my ordination as a priest, I came to a painful crossroads. I am grateful God didn’t let go.

“Unless 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.” I bet no dying, rotting grain of wheat ever imagines that new life could emerge from it. And many of us can tell a story of some version of dying and rotting, and a miraculous awakening to a glorious new beginning. Whether we know it or not, we have shared in the Paschal Mystery of the Lord Jesus, our very own collision with Gethsemane, Calvary, and the empty tomb.

“Jesus learned obedience from what he suffered;” we hear from the letter to the Hebrews, “and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” Our faith tells us that God is at work in our lives. And the cross will always be close. But there is only one path to Easter, and it goes through Good Friday and Calvary. If we trust that new life awaits us beyond the cross, we can let go of fear.

The prophet Jeremiah spoke of God forging a new covenant with Israel, placing his law in the hearts of his people. We are Jesus’ disciples, the new Israel, and God has made his covenant with us. If we embrace the cross and its demands, our faith will give us confidence. God will never allow us to stray. God will always bring us home to him.

Rolo B Castillo © 2018