March 17, 2024

Dear brothers and sisters,

As we begin the Fifth Week of Lent, the Scriptures speak to us with profound depth and urgency. This Sunday, Jesus imparts to us a powerful truth: “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” (Jn 12:20-33)

This statement embodies the essence of our Lenten pilgrimage—a journey of self-emptying, surrender, and the promise of ultimate glory in Christ. Allow me to illustrate this truth with a poignant story.

In a stormy night in Philadelphia, a weary couple sought refuge in a small hotel. Despite the hotel’s full capacity due to town conventions, the manager displayed remarkable compassion. He offered them his own room for the night, prioritizing their comfort over his own.

This act of selflessness didn’t go unnoticed. Two years later, the manager received an unexpected letter from the same couple, William Waldorf Astor and his wife. Enclosed was a round-trip ticket to New York and an invitation to visit them. Upon arrival, Mr. Astor revealed a magnificent building—the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. He offered the manager the position of manager of this prestigious hotel, as a sign of his appreciation for the man’s kindness and selflessness.

This story, steeped in history, serves as a testament to the truth of Jesus’ words above: “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it produces much fruit”. The manager’s selflessness and sacrifice blossomed into an opportunity of a lifetime, illustrating that true greatness often arises from acts of genuine, humble service to others.

As we reflect on this story and Jesus’ powerful words, let us ponder: What sacrifices are we willing to make for the sake of others? Are we ready to let go of our own comfort and convenience to further God’s kingdom here on earth?

The Gospel metaphor of the “dying grain of wheat” speaks to the core of our Lenten journey. Jesus, through His suffering and death, brings life and liberation to a sinful world. Similarly, when we “die” to our selfishness and “rise” to new life in Christ by embracing crosses, uniting our struggles with His, we participate in His redemptive work.

Think of Mother Cabrini, whose noble sacrifices in her tireless service to the marginalized and forgotten in our own New York City still captivate the world. The fascinating movie about Mother Cabrini, currently shown in US theaters, beautifully portrays her life and mission, serving as a powerful testament to the truth of Christ’s teaching.

As we approach the passion and resurrection of our Lord, let us heed His words: “Whoever serves me must follow me… My Father will honor the one who serves me.” May our Lenten sacrifices bear witness to the spirit of selfless love that Christ calls us to embrace.

With my personal blessing,

Msgr. Cuong M. Pham