"Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake
and that of the Gospel will save it.
What profit is there for one to gain the whole world
and forfeit his life?" (Mark 8:34—9:1)
As we prepare ourselves to enter into the season of Lent we should be especially mindful of the call to sacrifice and self denial.The Gospel readings these past days have offered us great clarity on what it means to be a true disciple of Jesus.
Though we are an Easter people, we are first called to embrace Christ crucified. We are to face the Cross.Our Easter joy and exalted Alleluia is properly celebrated and proclaimed by first being prayerfully attentive at the foot of the cross.
This is hard.
Denying oneself goes against the will of the flesh and human desire. "For desire is drawn towards three things: the pleasures of the flesh, vain self-glory, and the acquisition of material wealth....it plunges the intelligence into darkness and prevents it from looking towards the truth. He who has acquired a spiritual understanding of this truth will share, even here on earth, in the kingdom of heaven and will live a blessed life in expectation of the blessedness that awaits those who love God". ( St. John of Damaskos). Spiritual understanding of this truth that St. John alludes to naturally leads us to the reality of suffering.
Embracing suffering is not incredibly appetizing to us.We are not groomed by the culture to be self sacrificial in our daily lives. We are fed the Gospel of the world , a diluted message that promises fulfilment , but leaves us empty. We are groomed for material gain. The call to pick up our cross and follow is as hard of a reality for us today as it was in the time of Jesus. Many jeered at what He proclaimed, choosing instead their own way.
Our self denial must be ongoing. It is not an isolated moment or decision that we make. To take up our cross and follow Jesus is a perpetual consent to embrace the tribulation so that we may have true life. Jesus speaks to us of our eternal home in heaven , this reality may seem too difficult , too far away . But when we live as we are called by our Lord we begin to see this hidden reality before us. We shouldn't look or search for the elaborate miraculous moments, but live humbly surrendered and allow God to show us His glory in the most mundane and simple things of life. Our present life becomes imbued with great meaning , purpose, and joy when we take up our cross.
Our Lord affirms the call to true life, to authentic freedom, and to what endures forever. Our gaze though naturally fixed on the temporary is invited to look beyond. I vividly remember my first retreat at the Abbey of The Genesee. It was my first witness to the monastic life. To see these cloistered men beaming with radiant joy helped to confirm the reality of eternal life and our shared call to self denial.
Regardless of one's state in life, to live any vocation fully there must be the emptying of self.To endure in marriage self denial must be a part of every day. To persevere as parents , self sacrifice must be embraced. As a priest one must radically lay down their life daily. All of this is only made possible by loving patient endurance through suffering and eyes fixed on Jesus.
The Gospel today challenges us to evaluate our desires and what drives us. We are invited to recognize Who it is that truly fuels us. It is here we reflect upon whether our faith is rooted in fluffy sensory ideals or the reality of a crucified Savior who embraced his cross and shed His blood so that we may have Eternal life.(CC)