“Deny yourself. Take up your cross. Follow me.” These words spoken by Jesus Christ to the young ruler in answer to his question of what he must do to gain eternal life form the foundation of our quest for salvation. All of us are challenged to step up in our lives and commit to becoming a convicted disciple of Jesus Christ. The true message of the Gospel is antithetical to the message of our culture in many ways. Were one to listen to some of the non-denominational preachers you would believe that there’s nothing more to do than “to accept Jesus Christ as your personal lord and savior and then live a good life in order to be assured of salvation”. As simple and good as it may sound, it simply is a huge understatement. When Christ said “Deny yourself” He meant to stop indulging yourself in physical and emotional activities that can produce only momentary pleasure; when He said ‘Take up your cross” He meant to embrace the suffering that you encounter in your life and carry its burden gladly; and when He said “Follow Me” He meant to walk in His footsteps throughout your life, including His footsteps up the hill of Calvary to His cross!
Everyone’s denial, everyone’s cross and everyone’s steps in life are not the same. What we are challenged to do is identify what those elements that are in our lives, embrace them and go ‘all-in’ to live our lives as Jesus lived His. Speaking in broadest terms, we Catholics have not been well instructed in how significant our life in our faith is. Too many Catholics still have their ‘catholicity’ as an ‘item’ on a weekly schedule – “It’s Sunday, that means go to Mass.” Jesus didn’t say, “I am one of the ways, I am a truth, and I am a life.” He said very clearly, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” He also didn’t say, “Pray on Sunday”. He said, “Pray always”. In the New Testament, we find over 20 passages that relate to Jesus Himself praying, or speaking about praying. He is God and He repeatedly took time Himself to pray! What more of an example could we want? He spoke plainly about how we are to be judged – in Matthew 25: 31- 46 there’s no mention of accepting Him as our personal Lord and Savior and trying to live a good life. He’s very clear about how we gain salvation – we have to end up with the ‘sheep’ and not with the ’goats’. His ‘sheep’ know Him and He knows them; they know His voice and follow Him. During this Advent season in anticipation of the birth of our Savior reflect on how you identify yourself-denial, your cross, and your steps in your life journey. Renew your efforts to more closely follow the example of our Lord and become one of His most faithful sheep. God bless you!
Pastor’s Points is a bi-weekly feature about faith, family, and life, from our pastor, Father James Flynn. It is published in our parish bulletins, as well.