Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 30
Self-denial and Freely Taking up Our Cross Becomes a Way of Christian Living, a Language Which Expresses Our Love for God and for One Another.
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” – words which our Lord gives us today, words of guidance in the life of faith we are each called to embrace.
Have we ever asked ourselves what it means to “deny” oneself? And why should we deny ourselves? We know that much of society today prides itself on feelings of self-indulgence and relativistic thinking – that all truth is relative, a “what feels good” mentality which tends to separate ourselves from the reality of Divine Truth.
Denying ourselves of anything which could diminish our feelings of personal success or happiness is rejected by many as absurdity. And yet, it is the words of Saint Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians which awaken within us a need to accept the very idea of personal denial, for he writes, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself…”
Years ago, I remember reading a story about the Nazi persecution during World War II. There were many trains full of Jews traveling from every part of Europe to the various Concentration Camps, which were designed as camps of extermination. The Jewish people were induced to get on the trains by false promises of being taken to places that would be better for them; when, in reality, they were being taken to places for a genocide of the Jewish people – what was described later by many as Hitler’s idea of ethnic cleansing.
It happened that, at some of the stops, some people who knew the truth would call out from different hiding places to the passengers: “Get off! Run away!” Being confronted with the reality of what was going to happen, some did succeed in escaping from the trains. Most, however, sadly did not!
The experience which the Jewish people faced was a most difficult one, which I pray history does not repeat against any ethnicity! But it does, in a way, express something of our own situation. The train of life upon which each of us is traveling is also headed towards our own deaths. About this, at least, there are no doubts.
As the old axiom states, “There are only two certainties in life – death and taxes.” And, we are already paying taxes, so, there is only one certainty left. On a day known only to God, our own mortality is destined to end!
What the Gospel is proposing to us, when our Lord tells us to deny ourselves, is to make sure that we are riding on the right train – to get off the one which leads to eternal death, and to board the train which leads to eternal life. For the train which leads to unending happiness is faith in the God who says to each of us: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”
Jesus teaches us today, “What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” When we look at the word “denial” through eyes of faith, denying ourselves is not a word or a concept of negation or refusal; but, rather, it becomes a word which allows us to be accepting and open to life, to beauty and joy. Denial also becomes a process in which we begin to learn the language of selfless and self-sacrificing love.
For our Lord was teaching His disciples in today’s Gospel about what denial was all about. Peter, in his human nature, albeit meaning well, for he just declared that Jesus was the “Christ, the Son of the living God”, found it very difficult to accept that the Eternal Father, in His great Love for all mankind, would send His own Son to become a sacrificial victim.
Peter’s protest, though spoken in good faith and out of sincere love for his Master, sounded to Jesus like temptation, an invitation for our Lord to save Himself, while it is only in the very act of the selfless Love of Jesus losing His life that each of us would, in turn, gain life!
And it is in the example of Jesus’ living and dying for each of us which then gives meaning to the words, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
Just as Peter, so, too, did Jeremiah have difficulty with understanding God’s will, which we find in our First Reading today. But even in the midst of misunderstanding and not wanting to accept what God was asking of him, His Eternal Truth was like a “fire burning” in Jeremiah’s heart.
And this same fire was burning in the Heart of Jesus, for He also could not contain it, in spite of the rejections and persecutions which He knew He had to undergo. He knew that He had to deny Himself for the sake of all mankind of every generation, from the moment of Adam’s creation to the moment the very last infant will be brought forth into this world!
Jesus, in His act of self-denial, so that He might become the Sacrificial Lamb out of Divine Love for each of us, gives us the example for our own denial. As Saint Paul tells us today in his Letter to the Romans –
“I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”
Pope Emeritus Benedict once said in an address he made back in 2008, “…to complete the work of salvation, the Redeemer continues to draw to Himself and His mission men and women who are ready to take up the cross and follow Him. Just as with Christ, it is not optional for Christians to take up the cross; it is rather a mission to be embraced out of love.”
Self-denial becomes a way of Christian living. Self-denial becomes a language which expresses our love for our Creator, our Savior and our Sanctifier. Self-denial becomes a way by which we can become Christ-like in our relationships with our fellow brothers and sisters.
May our very lives be an expression of the words we find in today’s Responsorial Psalm, “O God, you are my God whom I seek; for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts.” It is in this thirsting that we call upon His Most Holy Name. It is in this thirsting for God’s Loving Presence that we seek and shall find eternal life!
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”
A cross which leads us to our Savior’s Love and Mercy is the only cross which matters; it is the only cross for which we should truly reach out and embrace, just as our Lord embraced His!
For it is in our self-denial and the taking up of our cross which shall ultimately place us on the path which leads to life – eternal life!
May God bless you, God love you, and may God always keep you. †
Please Comment, Like and Share, and Suggest to your Facebook friends – to spread the message of God’s Merciful Love.
Por favor Comente, Le Gusta y Comparta, y Sugiera a tus amigos en Facebook – en difundir el mensaje del Misericordioso Amor de Dios.
Scripture for the Day
- “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.’” (Matthew 16:24)
- “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)
- “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26a)
- “What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life?” (Matthew 16:26)
- “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:25)
- “I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2)
- “O God, you are my God – it is you I seek! For you my body yearns; for you my soul thirsts.” (Psalm 63:2ab)
- “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps.” (1 Peter 2:21)
- “I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me.” (Philippians 4:13)
Prayer for the Day
“Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding, and all my will,
all that I have and all that I possess.
“You have given them to me;
to You, O Lord, I restore them; all things are Yours;
Dispose of them according to Your will.
“Give me Your Love and Your Grace,Saint Ignatius of Loyola
for this is enough for me.”