You have been born anew,
not from perishable but from imperishable seed,
through the living and abiding word of God, for:
"All flesh is like grass,
and all its glory like the flower of the field;
the grass withers, and the flower wilts;
but the word of the Lord remains forever."
This is the word that has been proclaimed to you.
With its marvelously deep roots, up to seventeen feet on some American prairies, grass may seem more like a symbol of persistence and durability than futility. The Prophet Isaiah and Saint Peter could see only the living, green blades above the soil, that part exposed to wind, sun, rain and fire. They could not know that grass lives for centuries in the stable, moist darkness beneath the surface. Harvest, drought and fire are no more challenging than a haircut to deep-rooted grass. Indeed, life has taken deep root on our Earth, as has human life. Though neither is indestructible, they persist.
The question of futility appears in today's readings, first in Saint Peter's reminder that, "you were ransomed from your futile conduct, handed on by your ancestors...." and his allusion to Isaiah, "all flesh is grass." This may seem a harsh judgement of one's ancestors but the recently-baptized Christians, recalling the gods they had known and their fearful, sometimes contemptuous attitudes toward these gods, had to admit they were better off in the Church.
Secondly, we hear of futility in Jesus' grim prediction of his passion and death. As they journeyed toward Jerusalem with their confident rabbi, the disciples certainly had their doubts.
Finally, it appears in the feuding and fussing among the disciples as to who should sit at Jesus' right and left when he inaugurates his kingdom. With their narrow minded conceits, they are like minor characters in a play that shows little promise of going anywhere.
In our time, given our philosophy of existence as an individual's private experience, futility threatens those who suppose they should live forever. They think their successes are important; their achievements, lasting; and their failures, catastrophic.
Indeed the life of the "individual," uprooted from history with only tenuous ("virtual") connections to other people, is like rooftop grass which, as the psalmist says, may sprout in the spring rain but bears no seed in summer.
The Catholic has a different experience of life. Our Mass and Sacraments, rooted in a daily practice that spans millennia, teach us a different perspective. The Holy Spirit assures us that nothing worth doing can be accomplished by one person within one lifetime.
The best anyone can hope for is to echo the words of Jesus, "I glorified you on earth by accomplishing the work that you gave me to do." (John 17:4) and "It is finished!" (John 19:30); or Saint Francis on his deathbed, "I have done what was mine to do; may Christ teach you yours."