In the Cathedral church you will find the or iginal high al tar underneath the great mosaic of the Immaculate Conception and the façades of the original two side altars beneath the mosaics of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and St. Joseph. The façades of all three altars are adorned with various symbols: the right side for St. Joseph, the left side for the Virgin Mary (in most churches the left altar was dedicated to her even though the mosaic is of Jesus), and the high altar for the Lord Jesus. On the far right of the high altar’s façade you will notice the symbol of a butterfly. Some among us may find this an odd choice of decoration but the symbol is very appropriate since the butterfly points to resurrection. A caterpillar is transformed through what is a “death,” essentially, into a beautiful new reality.
The Lord Jesus gives us the image of the grain of wheat in this Sunday’s Gospel reading, telling us: 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. This image used by the Lord points to his own impending death and resurrection which the Church remembers as the Paschal Mystery.
This mystery [Paschal Mystery] is central to who we are as disciples because if we would live with the Lord we must also be willing to die with and for him.
This theme is not new for us, either in our shared life of faith nor in this year’s Lenten journey. Consider each of the Gospel selections that we have heard proclaimed during this holy season; each in their own way touch on the Paschal Mystery from dying to temptation to ultimate transfiguration through the Cross to allowing the temple of our own selves to be formed anew by Jesus to the grain of wheat that must die to itself to produce fruit.
While the butterfly on the high altar may be a somewhat hidden symbol to many, there are other things right in front of us all the time that point to this need to die to self that we may notice, such as the use of candles and flowers. When I was in the seminary, my instructors in liturgy always impressed on us the need to use wax candles and real flowers around the altar of sacrifice as small reminders of the Paschal Mystery as both of these die to themselves in order to give something: the candles diminish in order to give light and the cut flower is dying while giving the gift of its beauty. These are subtle but constant reminders for us to allow the power and grace of the Lord’s death and resurrection to work in our lives.
More than just looking for reminders of the Paschal Mystery, we are called to live it out each day in our own lives.
Discipleship calls us to die to self, to die to self-centered and self-seeking attitudes and behaviors.
This dying to self is accomplished through cooperating with the free gift of God’s grace made available to us through prayer, meditating on the Scriptures, good works, the Sacraments, and in other ways. Like the grain of wheat, when we cooperate with God’s grace and die to self, we are renewed and our truest selves are revealed. Let us seek the grace of God now and always to help us to die to ourselves and the old life of sin so that the Lord Jesus might raise us up and begin to transform us now into a new creation, the fullness of which is yet to be revealed.
Father Christopher House is the Rector-Pastor of the Cathedral and serves in various leadership roles within the diocesan curia, specifically Chancellor and Vicar Judicial.