March 3, 2022 –
Thursday after Ash Wednesday
“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
There are three steps to Jesus’ counsel in today’s Gospel passage. Jesus explains to us: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Each of the three steps within this counsel is necessary to entering into the mysteries of Lent. They are like three legs of a stool: if you remove one leg, the stool will not stand.
Many Christians are willing to make sacrifices during Lent: they are willing to deny themselves chocolate, or television, or even Facebook! But Jesus says that to follow Him, we have to deny ourselves much more: each of us has to deny his very self. But what does this mean?
We can’t answer that question until we understand how we define the human self. For many of us, our self is self-defined, because we believe in what the culture around us tells us about being a “self-made man”. To experience deeper conversion in our lives, we have to allow God to define the terms of our lives.
But denying one’s very self is only the first step. The second step is for the Christian to take up his cross “daily”: not just during Lent; not just once you’ve got life figured out; but “daily”. Crosses can come into our lives from many different places: from our own foolish mistakes, from the evil choices of others, or from the loving and merciful will of a Father who knows what is best for us. There are many situations in our lives as Christians that allow us to bring about goodness into this world, if only we are willing to bear our crosses daily.
The third step of the Lord’s command is to follow Him. That is to say, we should recognize where the first two steps are leading us. If we deny our very self, and take up our cross each day, then we are headed with Jesus to Calvary. That’s where Jesus will lead us, if we follow Him. We do not need to be frightened by this, because if—like Our Blessed Mother and the Beloved Disciple—we walk with Jesus to Calvary, He has promised that we will experience the joy of His Risen Life, a life which is deeper than any suffering, and everlasting.