“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (Mk 8,34)
For sure, everytime we read these words, our Pavlovian reaction would be to be filled with dread. Who likes to deny himself, who likes to take up the cross, we would ask, if not openly, then tacitly. But Christ could not be more clear as to what would comprise as the formula to enable us to follow him, the pattern of our humanity and the savior of our damaged humanity.
He even put more forcefulness to these words when he said: “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the Gospel will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? What could one give in exchange for his life?” (Mk 8,35-37)
As is always the case in our relation with God and with religion in general, we need to have faith to be able to see the wisdom of this divine indication. Without faith, which by the way God gives us in abundance, there is no way we can follow this piece of divine advice which Christ tells us quite strongly.
To be sure, the self-denial asked by Christ is not of the kind that leads us to our self-annihilation. Far from it. It will rather lead us to our self-fulfillment. It is asking that instead of our own selves, we should have Christ as the center of our attention always, the very core and substance of our consciousness. He is actually everything to us!
In a sense, we have to learn to empty ourselves so we can be filled with the spirit of Christ, and turn our life into a life with Christ always. We have to be wary of our strong tendency to think that our life is just our own. We would be annulling a most basic truth about ourselves when we think that way. Our life is meant to be a life with Christ, with God.
Yes, our earthly life can be described as a matter of emptying and filling. That is, emptying of our own selves, our own egos, so we can be filled with God, with love, which is what is proper to us.
In whatever we do, let’s see to it that this business of emptying and filling is the underlying law and principle that is being followed. Failing in that can only mean failing in our ultimate purpose in life, no matter how successful we may appear to be in our work or social, business and political life, and in the other aspects of life.
We need to adapt and develop the relevant attitude and skills so we can turn this ideal into a working lifestyle. With Christ, we would know how to use our powers and faculties properly. We would have a clear idea of the real and ultimate purpose of our life here on earth. With him, we somehow would know how to cope with all the possible situations we can have here, including our problems, mistakes and failures.
The self-denial asked by Christ does not remove our involvement and engagement in our earthly and temporal affairs. It simply puts them in the right context and the right direction. We cannot deny that especially these days, we are exposed to many and complicated distracting elements which we have to learn to handle.
The self-denial asked by Christ frees us from unnecessary baggage. It improves our vision and understanding of things, and predisposes our heart to the real love which can only be a sharing in God’s love and, therefore, our true fulfillment.*