What is the first thing you think of when you hear the phrase, "deny yourself." It may be the thought of not eating your favorite dessert, or not buying that new gadget that everyone has to have, or it may be driving the old car until is dies from overuse. However, this is not what the Lord is talking about in the Gospel today in reference to what He means by denial.
Jesus tells us we must deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him if we wish to be His disciples. It is not just a denial of material things, but anything that may be getting in the way of our relationship with Him. We complain a lot! We grumble when things do not go our way. We get upset over some of the silliest little things. Yet, if we pray and ask the Lord for help in overcoming our sinfulness, when a cross does come into our lives we cannot be surprised that we will begin to see the hand of the Lord in it. The cross becomes a source of purification and reparation for us. A blessing, that is right-a blessing. The cross, or denial of ourselves in this life, is the source of all wisdom and love. We as Christians must understand this. Through denial of ourselves, especially sin in our lives, we begin to experience love-the love of God-that brings us peace in our souls. The peace and joy we all want and need, which helps us to know how much God loves us personally.
I say this often in the confessional to someone in need of knowing how much God loves and forgives them-" I tell them that if they were the only one in the whole world needing forgiveness, Jesus would have died on the cross just for them", that is how much He loves you-that is how much He loves us! So denial of ourselves for the Christian is not so much a giving up of anything as it is more of gaining the true meaning and understanding of the cross in our lives, what truly will bring us lasting joy and happiness. To gain the world, some think, will bring them happiness, power, respect, fame, and riches. Yet, the truth is if these folks were honest, they would tell us that worldly gain is empty and shallow if God is not a part of their success, or in their lives.
The cross, a source of shame, became the source of everlasting glory. Since the truth is such a great part of our Catholic Faith, why do we complain when crosses come our way? We should welcome the crosses in our lives. They help us to share in the suffering of Jesus so as to one day help us to share more fully in the glory of everlasting life. We prove our love for the Lord when we lose our lives for His sake. Yet, what we lose, He tells us we will find. Not one thing we do for the love of the Lord or for anyone will ever go unnoticed or unrewarded. How then can we in some small ways perhaps practice this denial our Lord talks about? Well, you may be doing it already. It is much easier to tumble our of bed without a prayer-but you still pray. To eat without asking God's blessing is a cinch-but you still take the time. Getting up and going to work is not easy-but you do. Dozens of times a day, a mother must forget her own weariness and comfort to do something for her loved ones. Both parents give-up many things to provide for the health and happiness of their children. You boys and girls would often prefer not to go to school-but you still do. Perhaps, that is your little cross.
Everyone of us, at least at times, would much rather do something different from what we must do at the time. These are the little crosses Jesus is talking about. Christ did many things that were difficult. He carried many little crosses before He carried the big one. He even prayed that He might not have to carry it. Yet, He ended his prayer, if we remember, not My will Father, but Yours be done. He showed us how to do the will of the Father, no matter how difficult. We must trust Him to help us carry our cross.
Why not take all our little crosses, the big ones too, and drop them into the Chalice of the Precious Blood of this Holy Sacrifice of the Mass today. Then all of us, priest and people, can offer them to God as our greatest gift. Jesus asks us to carry our cross, to make sacrifices in our lives for love of Him, for our families, and for our neighbors. If we do, we will find peace and happiness. We will then be living the wisdom of the cross, and practicing the denial Our Lord wants and expects from us. Just what He is proclaiming to us today in the Gospel!
We thank you, O Lord, and we praise You, for by Your Holy Cross You have redeemed the world! Help us all to carry our crosses for love of You because of Your love for us!