We have to be clear about this aspect of our Christian life. Yes, we need to suffer and die, just like Christ, who is the pattern of our humanity and the savior of our damaged humanity, suffered and died for us, for our sins.
In other words, we need to suffer and die with Christ, assuming the same reason and intention Christ had when he had to suffer and die for us. Only then can our suffering and death acquire a redemptive value. Only then can we be liberated from our sinful selves. Only then can we truly be identified with Christ.
We are reminded of this aspect of our Christian life in that gospel episode where Christ predicted his passion and death and moved forward to face it. (cfr. Mt 16,21-27) That was also when Christ told his disciples what they had to do to be able to follow him all the way to the end. And that is for them, and for us, to deny ourselves and to carry the cross.
We all know that suffering and death are unavoidable in our life. They are the consequences of our sins, starting with those of our first parents and then those of our own. But Christ has shown us how to deal with them so as to convert them into a way of our own redemption. And that is to suffer and die with Christ.
Remember what St. Paul said about death when it would happen to us with Christ? “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor 15,55-57)
For this to happen, we obviously need to meditate closely on the life and death of Christ. Everyday there should be some progress in our growing identification with him. Thus, we have to realize that our life should be a life of constant prayer and sacrifice, supported by an appropriate plan of life that would keep that lifestyle going.
It should be an integral part of our daily life to have some practices of self-denial and mortification. It could be in matters of food and drinks, in the way we use the things of our work, especially these days when we are strongly charmed by gadgets and other powerful technologies, It could be in the way we guard our senses, our thoughts, desires and intentions, our imagination, etc.
Of course, this life of self-denial and mortification is lived when we wage a life-long ascetical struggle, knowing how to handle our weaknesses, temptations and sin, and growing in the virtues. We need to convince ourselves that it is when we live this kind of life that we can attain true joy and peace even while here on earth. That may sound incredible, but we have the Christ’s clear words to assure us of this truth.
For this, we also need to adjust our ideas of what is true joy and peace. We often peg them according to worldly standards alone that give us only so much but cannot go the distance. Let’s remember that Christian life, in spite of its sacrificial dimension, is a truly joyful life.
We need to overcome whatever fear of suffering and death we have.*