Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me. Jesus calls us to do three things for Him in today’s Gospel, but three things which we probably all can agree are not easy things for us to do. They are, however, essential and essential to any and all vocations we are being called to.
Denying ourselves. Although self-preservation is a strong human instinct and perhaps in many ways important to everything we do; when we allow self-preservation to be what guides us always in life we quickly become selfish, self-absorbed, self-interested and before we know it, totally consumed with ourselves. Self-denial is not a burden but a freedom; freedom from focusing on ourselves and “emptying” of ourselves from sin (through confession among other ways) and through an increase in the acts of charity. Doing for others helps us to think about ourselves less. If we focus on God and what God wants for us, we will find that others come first. We will also find that who and what we are becomes clearer to us as we become more and more “vessels” or “instruments” of God and see the work we do for Him is what we find brings us happiness and peace in our lives even if things aren’t peaceful and always joyful around us.
Pick up your Cross. Often times we think that this refers to the obvious “crosses” of sickness, weakness or inadequacies. Of course, these are crosses we bear but we also bar crosses when we serve others too and these are important to the vocation we choose or God chooses us for. When we deny ourselves we prepare ourselves to discover what it is the Lord calls us to. When we pick up our crosses to follow, we take on the burden of service which is a yoke the Lord carries the heavy part of but some of it is ours. There is a burden of service but there is a great joy to be found in knowing that we are more configured to our Lord’s work and mission when we do.
And “follow Me”. These words are certainly words used by every Vocation Director because it is the call. These are the words our Lord uses when He invites ordinary people to Discipleship and to follow in His footsteps. They are the words that mark the call forward and we must allow these three invitations to be circular for us “deny yourself, pick up your Cross and follow Me”. We need to continue to find ways to empty ourselves of selfishness and self-interest or self-focus, joyfully and securely take up all the Crosses we bear with our Lord and continue day by day to follow Him.