“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 will find it.” Matthew 6:24-25
How many times have we heard these verses read at mass and have put this into practice or even know how?
Denying yourself is such a foreign statement in the world we live in. We are constantly being saturated by comforts. Comfort foods of all sorts. Cushioned seats and thick mattresses. The barrage of products “to make our lives easier” is easy to get caught up in. Even cars open the doors with a click of a button. We live in a no effort society. Everything for convenience, comfort and ease. How can we learn self-denial when we are so spoiled in this culture of “please me first?”
By doing things with great love. St. Therese of Lisieux, often known as the Little Flower, is a doctor of the church for her “Little Way” to holiness. She did small things with great love. For instance, she did the dishes even when it wasn’t her turn. She denied herself the extra slice of cake for dessert that she really wanted. She did so many small things that nobody really noticed, but God did. She denied herself the comfort of doing what she wanted whenever she wanted for love of God and love of neighbor. These little actions of the will are great actions in God’s eyes. In this way, we are taking up our cross and following Him. God, in His love and mercy makes our crosses so light even though we think they are mountains.
Ponder on the love Jesus has for us that He allowed Himself to be beaten, ridiculed, abandoned by his closest friends, bloodied beyond recognition and dying a most horrific death. Could we even suffer just a small cross for love of Him?
Our crosses include allowing someone in the grocery line to go in front of us even if we have to leave in a hurry. Picking something we least like to eat instead of our favorite food. Helping someone despite the long list of chores we have to do. Cancelling your plans to go to the movies to see the movie you have been waiting for when you receive a phone call from a friend in need. Pushing aside your schedule to sit and talk with your children.
“So shall the last be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.” Matthew 20:16
Performing small acts with great love for God and neighbor teaches us self-denial. Suddenly, we start to desire to deny ourselves by thinking for instance, “How can I show great love to my husband?” I really don’t want to cook dinner tonight but he was so looking forward to that favorite soup I promised to make him. Instead of doing what I want, I can make him the soup and offer this little good deed to God.
The joy of putting others before ourselves gives us great joy and even a greater desire to do more. Thus, those “little” things can become paramount. We can start to reach higher heights of holiness by learning to raise the bar of self-denial with acts of fasting (bread and water only, water only or skipping a meal or any other forms of fasting. Fasting from the internet for example). We can perform acts of mortification. (an example of this would be to sleep without covers or take a cold shower).
In this way, we learn to embrace our crosses so that when God allows suffering or hardships to come our way, we are prepared to deny ourselves and take up this cross in order to follow Him, who in His mercy, will help us carry it anyway!!
“Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” Matthew 11:28