Dying to Myself

by Father Brian J. Soliven on Sunday March 17, 2024

At the end of the day, we all want to be happy. It’s a universal truth that unites us all. The real dilemma is how to find this happiness and most of all, keep it. Oftentimes, this happy life feels like grasping a handful of sand; we feel it, we think we have a firm hold of it, but the harder we try to clench it, the faster it slips from our fingers, grain by grain. So we reach down again to grab yet more sand, only to have the frustrating cycle repeat over and over again. We never stop searching. Christianity, however, offers another mysterious, counterintuitive way forward. In the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus strangely says, “Amen, amen, I say to you (whenever Jesus begins with “Amen, amen,” he is signaling that what is about to come next is extremely important), 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. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.” (Cf. John 12:24-26). If we want to find and hold true, lasting happiness, Jesus tells us, we must stop looking for it. Rather, let go. Die to yourself. Seek me first. 

We see this dynamic in the life of one of Christianity’s greatest, most well-beloved saints, St. Patrick. Born in 387 in what is now Great Britain, to Catholic parents. However, he was not particularly devoted to his faith as a young man. He referred to himself in regards to his faith as “idle and immature.” This is all changed when at 16 years old, he is captured by Irish pirates during a raid. He was then taken back to Ireland as a slave for the next six years. From the outside perspective, Patrick should be utterly miserable. There is no semblance of happiness. Here is Patrick, utterly alone in a foreign land, where he does not speak the language, enslaved, and his parents are an ocean away. No one would ever willingly choose his situation. However, remember the words of Jesus Christ, “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.” In his suffering, God was there. 

As he worked in the field in that strange land, the Catholic faith of his youth suddenly began to catch fire. He realized he needed God for the first time. He repented and begged for the forgiveness of sins. He put to death his selfish desires and made a decisive decision to live for Jesus Christ from that moment on. He would enter the seminary shortly after his escape from slavery and return to the people who once enslaved him. But because God’s providence is never lacking, Patrick learned the Gaelic language of Ireland and proclaimed the Good News of Jesus Christ in their own tongue. Within a generation, Patrick would convert that entire Island to Catholicism. For the next 1500 years, Ireland would be a spiritual powerhouse, sending missionaries across the world. All of this happened because one young man “died” like a grain of wheat. You and I must do the same. Then we will find that lasting happiness we’ve been desperately searching for.