16 February 2007

Deny, take up, follow, repeat

6th Week OT (F): Gen 11.1-9 and Mark 8.34-9.1
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Serra Club and Church of the Incarnation


One voice, speaking to the crowd, says clearly: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Deny yourself. Take up your cross. Follow Christ. This is one voice, speaking with authority and grace, teaching those called to service how to be and do what they are being called to be and do. This is an instruction on saving one’s life. Here we have the adult directions on how to apply the salve of Christ’s one voice, one teaching to a life beset by the demands of our culture’s spiritual Babel. Cutting through the din, the smoke and mirrors, the lies and half-truths of this world’s religious marketplace, Christ’s single voice teaches a powerful truth: if you want eternal life, you must lose this life for his sake and the sake of the Gospel. How?

Deny yourself. This does not mean deny the existence of the Self. We are not Buddhists. “Deny yourself” means to refuse to yourself those things that tend to feed your disordered sense of yourself as the center of the universe. This means refusing the vice of selfishness—the bad habit of placing personal needs and wants above others’. This doesn’t mean starving yourself so that your neighbor might eat six times a day instead of three, but it does mean shaping your life around the imperatives of abundance and generosity: relieve suffering, replace lacking, repair damage and do all these out of your abundant blessings. To deny oneself is to dethrone ego, to topple the monument of Self and let others claim the riches of our lives just as we claim the riches of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.

We can lose our earthly lives for Christ and his Gospel by denying ourselves and by taking up our cross. Surely this means picking up some heavy burden and carrying it to our deaths. Surely this means gracefully bearing under the weight of some duty or command. Yes. Very likely. But keep in mind that the cross for Jesus was a tool of execution. The cross for Jesus meant death. The cross for us is a tool of salvation. For us, it means life. Not necessarily a care-free, duty-free, burdenless frolic, but it must mean both a weight and a freeing, to be loaded down and to be set free. What burden can you pick up to lighten your spiritual load? Think always in terms of your gifts—what am I good at? What brings me joy? What am I called by God to be and to do for others? What burden can you take on in service to another? Before you’re done here, your cross must be about self-emptying sacrifice and steady hope. If not, you’ve walked the way of sorrow for nothing.

Follow me! Come after me. Get behind Christ. Put the butt end of your cross in the rut his cross has left in the hard packed clay and walk with him. No caution. No hesitation. No caught breaths or startled wincing. Where can’t you go in the shadow of his cross, in the way of his footsteps, behind his broken body, following his trail of blood to the altar of Golgotha? Following Christ is more than being good. It is more than being comfortably charitable and nice. Following Christ is doing what Christ did. Being who Christ was and is and will be. Following Christ is ending up where he ended up—on his cross, disowned, dead so that others might live, but also assured of a new life, assured of an eternal life. What would you give in exchange for your salvation? What is your soul worth? Our Father gave us his only Son for our salvation. And He thinks our souls are worth the suffering and death of that only Son.

Those voices of our spiritual Babel chatter about nirvana or enlightenment or self-actualized potential. The one voice of Jesus says, “I call you my friends. And I will die for you. Come. Follow me.”

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