Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
Yesterday, we wore ashes as a sign of repentance and humility, a sign of our joy in the promise of an eternal life that comes after a mortal life lived in loving service. Today, we take another step toward Jerusalem and our Easter morning by denying ourselves and taking up the Cross. And tomorrow and the next, if we will to continue on pilgrimage, we will deny ourselves and lift that Cross again, one more time and again and again. Daily denying self, daily bearing the Cross. If you will follow Christ, you must sacrifice Self on a cross. This is the unambiguous truth that Jesus teaches his disciples. What is not so clear about this truth is how we go about taking these necessary steps. We can want to deny self and take up the Cross. We might even know what it means to deny self and take up the Cross. But how do we will these steps and complete them? Let's start with two less practical questions: 1) do you want to follow Christ?; and 2) do you know what it means to follow him? As imperfect creatures made by Perfect Love, we are drawn to the perfection that Christ's death and resurrection made possible for us. To want to follow Christ is to surrender oneself to the desire for spiritual perfection that he offers. We deny self and carry the Cross when we renounce in word and deed anything or anyone who obscures or obstructs that desire.
Do you want to follow Christ? Do you know what it means to follow him? If you want to follow Christ, are you prepared for the consequences of taking up his Cross as your own? Giving your life in service to others for his sake is only the beginning. Dying on his Cross for the love of others is not the end. Before you can come close to sacrificing yourself in love, you will be challenged by greed to save yourself so that you might accomplish worthier deeds. You will be harangued by envy to compare your life to others and find yourself wanting. You will be scolded by pride to forget this following Christ business and get back to the business of making yourself indispensable at work and at home. You will be tempted by lust, gluttony, and wrath to indulge your passions b/c you have the right to express yourself freely w/o consequences. And lastly, sloth will whisper to you that all your sacrifices will bring you no joy, so why bother? All of these dark spirits will be set upon you as obstacles, obstructions. All of them will attempt to cloud your desire for spiritual perfection in Christ, and all of them will be victorious if you cling to Self and allow its survival instincts to rule you. Thus, Jesus says, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
Denying self and taking up the Cross does not mean hating yourself as a person, or hating your body for its weaknesses. Denying self means placing yourself first and last under God's love for you and then loving in turn as He loves you. It means surrendering yourself to His love and then living daily always and everywhere conscious that you are capable of love only b/c He loves you first. We fast, abstain, pray, and give alms during Lent as a way of practicing sacrificial love, as a way of making real our willingness to let divine love use us—body and soul—to spread out into the world, offering consolation and comfort to all those who roil in anxiety and defeat. When we do this—allow divine love control of our lives—we offer a irresistible challenge to the Self's survival instincts. And the seven darkest spirits rise up to point out the imminent death of Self. All the temptations we suffer are motivated by a single, ancient desire: I can be god w/o God's help. I, I, I. Self. Self must die on the cross of sacrificial love—given up in service to others—if you will to achieve spiritual perfection. That path, The Way, is open to us b/c Christ goes before us, clearing the dark spirits that obscure and obstruct our steps. Surrender to Christ, give yourself up to him, and then live in love as he loves you._____________
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