In our Gospel today, we hear something that can be very disturbing. Jesus says, Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. If I were trying to attract someone to follow me, I wouldn’t choose that as an invite!
When Jesus tells us to take up our cross and follow him, he is not saying that suffering is a good thing for its own sake and we should look for it. But difficulties, stress, and suffering are an inevitable part of every life. Jesus is saying, when we embrace these aspects of life with the right attitude and for the right reasons, they can have life giving value.
For example, it is stressful to be a parent of a newborn, waking up many times during the night to a crying baby. Or being patient with a rebellious teenager. But when we can embrace these crosses with the right attitude, much good comes about. Another example is confronting someone who is treating others with prejudice: while it might be uncomfortable, it is necessary to help bring justice to our world. Or how about deteriorating health and mobility as I age? I can fight it and be miserable, making those around me miserable or I can embrace it and make my environment more positive.
Maybe the clue is in the words “deny self.” When we put ourselves in the center, when we are thinking about “poor me,” we are not denying ourselves and taking up the cross. But when we can put others in the center, then we are taking up the cross, as Jesus did, and (to go back to our examples above) we raise wonderful children, we help our world be a more just place, and we create a pleasant living environment for those around us AND FOR OURSELVES!!! As Jesus added, whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it. In a sense, it is like, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”
I invite us to reflect this week on how well we do at embracing the difficulties of life. Do we let them drag us down? Or are we able to embrace them with an attitude that brings life and peace to ourselves and those around us? God bless.
Church sign of the week: The world is divided into people who think they are right.