Grace to you!
Drawing from the Lord’s message in Matthew 16:24-28, I share a couple of thoughts on self-denial.
More often, we are in situations where we would have to choose between our legitimate good interest and somebody else’s that is better for the common good. Other times, we would need to adjust or cut down our expectations or valid desires because it pleases the Lord. Many other times, we have to deal with our emotions and desires that aren’t in line with God’s will.
For those who are maturing in the spiritual life, there is more clarity as to the line between good and evil. Deeper life, interior life in Christ, purifies our mind, fostering spiritual clarity. So, responding to the grace of God, those maturing in the spirit tend to avoid unholy acts and desires more readily. But it gets tricky when it has to do with choosing between options that aren’t in themselves evil, but by doing them one wouldn’t be practicing Christian charity or living virtuously. Such calls for a lot of discernment and self-denial.
One realizes that the more we grow in the love and knowledge of the Lord, the more the demands of self-denial and sacrifice. I remember what a spiritual director told me when I was in high school: “If you are asking for the Holy Spirit, you are looking for trouble.”
I never understood the full import of this wise word from a wise spiritual director until the Holy Spirit started to redirect me to where I would rather not want to go. Similar to what the Lord told Peter (Jn 21:18), a time comes when someone else would dress you and take you to where you would rather not want to go. Good thing, though, is that the trouble coming from discipleship of the Lord is a joyful one, the way to glory.
No disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ finds it easy. When Peter tried to alter God’s plan by persuading the Lord Jesus against a prophecy of torments, cross and death (Mt 16:22), did he not get a harsh rebuke from the Lord, “Get behind me Satan”? (Mt 16:23).
Then follows a powerful message for all: “[The Lord said] If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?” (Mt 16:24-26).
Certainly, these words don’t sound sweet and gentle. They aren’t so nice for many of us who would want to avoid pain at all cost. Definitely, they aren’t a good gospel to speak to a consumerist society like ours.
Little surprise those who follow the Lord in this manner are few, very few. Good news is, those who do, find true joy, freedom and life after all. There is freedom in letting go certain things so we can thrive. There is freedom in enduring some discomfort.
Here are two keys to practicing self-denial. 1) Detachment. Let nothing be worth more than ultimate loyalty to God, and love of neighbor. 2) Embrace the cross. Some discomfort is good for your wellbeing. Offer every of your suffering and difficulties as a gift to God for many. All these by God’s grace.
Praying for the grace to willingly take up our cross, the sufferings that come our way, and offer them as our intentional sacrifice for the salvation of many. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Friday Week 18 Ordinary Time: Dt 4:32-40; Mt 16:24-28]
Fr. Maurice Emelu, Ph.D.
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on the bible readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.