Friday, February 18, 2011

2/18/11 - Deny Yourself, Pick Up The Cross, and Follow Me

Mark 8:34 - 9:1
Jesus summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them,
“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?
What could one give in exchange for his life?
Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words
in this faithless and sinful generation,
the Son of Man will be ashamed of
when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
He also said to them,
“Amen, I say to you,
there are some standing here who will not taste death
until they see that the Kingdom of God has come in power.”

This passage is absolutely critical to spiritual growth.  It also can be very difficult to accept and truly understand. 

I spent years and years trying to talk myself into believing that self-denial really wasn't necessary.  What was important was that I had faith.  I believed.  I believed in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  I believe that Christ came to save what was lost.  I believed that the penalty for MY sins was death, and that He came personally to atone for them.  I believed all of this.

All that mattered was this belief.  After all, St. Paul said that we are saved by grace, through faith, and not through works.  He said that all sin and fall short of the glory of God.  That means that there's nothing I can do to earn my way into heaven.  So I should relax, rejoice in God, and be assured that I am saved.  I should strive to live as Christ taught, but it was impossible, and he'd understand as long as I tried.

Here's the problem with that line of thinking:  THAT'S NOT WHAT CHRIST SAID.  Christ said deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.

Why are these things necessary?   It has to do with walking away from our will, and giving ourselves over to God's will.  I could try and explain, but I'll defer to Pope John Paul 2:

Jesus does not ask us to give up living, but to accept a newness and a fullness of life that only He can give. The human being has a deep-rooted tendency to "think only of self", to regard one's own person as the centre of interest and to see oneself as the standard against which to gauge everything. One who chooses to follow Christ, on the other hand, avoids being wrapped up in himself and does not evaluate things according to self interest. He looks on life in terms of gift and gratuitousness, not in terms of conquest and possession. Life in its fullness is only lived in self-giving, and that is the fruit of the grace of Christ: an existence that is free and in communion with God and neighbor.

If to live as a follower of the Lord becomes the highest value, then all other values are given their rightful rank and importance. Whoever depends solely on worldly goods will end up by losing, even though there might seem to be an appearance of success. Death will find that person with an abundance of possessions but having lived a wasted life (cf. Lk 12:13-21). Therefore, the choice is between being and having, between a full life and an empty existence, between truth and falsehood.

As the cross can be reduced to being an ornament, "to carry the cross" can become just a manner of speaking. In the teaching of Jesus, however, it does not imply the pre-eminence of mortification and denial. It does not refer primarily to the need to endure patiently the great and small tribulations of life, or, even less, to the exaltation of pain as a means of pleasing God. It is not suffering for its own sake that a Christian seeks, but love. When the cross is embraced it becomes a sign of love and of total self-giving. To carry it behind Christ means to be united with him in offering the greatest proof of love.

Excerpted from Pope John Paul II's MESSAGE TO THE YOUTH OF THE WORLD,

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