In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives us the key to succeeding in a life of discipleship with him.
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”
This simple verse offers us three simple ways in which we can fully chase after Christ and a life well lived with him.
For me, this first way in which we can chase Christ is one of the more confusing to assign meaning to. What does denying myself mean? Should I not do the things that make me happy? Should I change my name and become a hermit? Thankfully for us, the answer is no. Denying ourselves in the way Christ is asking us to is actually quite simple in word. Unfortunately it is one of those things that is easier said than done. How often have we made a complex to live out a virtue, separate from a sin, or even spend more time with God and nothing comes of it? To me this is the epitome of why denying ourselves is so difficult. We know it is good. We know it will make our life better. Like Peter though, when we are faced with temptation or human worries we “are not thinking how God does, but how human being do.” A great example of this is Lent. I have often made plans for denying myself pleasures, both good and evil in nature, but putting too much on my plate sometimes led to resolutions falling to the wayside. Likewise, denying yourself is not an overnight decision we can make: we learn to deny ourselves in the way Jesus is asking us to by first denying ourselves one thing. In work, I have always been told to pick 2-3 tasks for a day that I want to accomplish no matter what. If after completing these tasks I have more time and resources, then I can move on to the next, but I must first finish the tasks at hand. Likewise in our faith, we cannot expect to be a saint overnight. We must take time to reflect, see where we are, and then create an achievable plan for ourselves to grow. I have found it best to look for 2 things at a time that I can grow in. This prevents me from growing overwhelmed with the amount of work that needs to be done for me to achieve holiness. Oftentimes in these plans sacrifice and denial will come into play. This could come in the form of denying ourselves that last drink, that last word in an argument with family, or many other things. There is no right answer of what is the “right” thing to give up, but know Christ wants all of you. This means that all that we do, give up, and strive for is an offering to Him. Through focusing on 2-3 things at a time, achieving them and moving on, we will slowly grow in the ability to deny ourselves effectively like Jesus is asking.
Take Up Your Cross
Unfortunately, the Christian life is not one free of pain and suffering. Our own God was tortured, punished, and put to death for crimes that He didn’t commit. If our own God experiences pain and suffering, why would we think we should be exempt? God uses our experiences of suffering in a way that can deepen and purify our faith and love for Him. We’ve all heard that we must carry our daily crosses, but our carrying of the cross does not need to be an isolated internal struggle for us. Contrarily, Jesus actually offers to carry the cross with us to lighten our burden. Through inviting Jesus into the suffering, he directs our pain to the Father. Offering up our pain and suffering to the Father does a few things. First, it allows Him to more effectively heal us whether it be mentally or physically. Yes He knows what we may need for healing, but it is another thing for us to depend on Him for deliverance and not on ourselves. Secondly, it purifies our love for God. This is a difficult point and I know that. Our own personal suffering or the suffering of a loved one can make it hard to love God, and it’s even been the cause of some people abandoning their faith. Truly though, when we lean on God our love is deepened and we learn to completely abandon ourselves to Him. Through this abandonment, our hearts are transformed. We learn to give not only the big things to God, but all of the things. Our deeper love will lead to a more virtuous life and allow us to reach sainthood quicker.
One last point I would like to make is to look to the saints. Name one saint who hasn’t undergone some sort of physical, mental, or spiritual suffering. You won’t find one. Honestly, it may be difficult to find one who didn’t suffer from crosses corresponding to all three of those categories! I know that suffering is hard, and I know none of us want to do it, but know that you never walk alone.
Now this last point seems pretty straight forward, and honestly, it is. Doing all of these things that I’ve mentioned is great, but none of it means anything if we don’t decide to follow Jesus. This is an active decision that we all must make in our lives. It is no longer okay to halfheartedly live this Christian life. A life spent with one foot in the boat of God and one foot in the boat of the world, is one that needs realignment immediately. We must jump in God’s boat with both feet and prepare for everything that coincides with going on that journey with him. “I’m Christian, go to mass, and am a relatively good person, is that enough?” First, that’s all incredible! Secondly, no. This call to follow is not a call for mediocrity it is a call for sanctity! Let us be encouraged and fueled by the Gospels which teach us how to live our this Christian life to the extremes.