Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Mt 16:24).
Jesus invites us to deny our self-centered default position which places I, me, and mine, at the center of each our decisions. We can deny our self when we resist making excuses for our sins and come to a genuine place of sorrow for the pain we have caused God, our self and others. By acknowledging our sins and confessing them, we die to our selfish ways, and then we rise again through the power of Christ. Empowered by our humility and the strength of Jesus we are better equipped to resist those temptations when they rise again.
We are also in a better position to then take up our cross, which is to follow the will of God. Jesus showed us the proper orientation of surrender when he said at Gethsemane: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done” (Lk 22:42). Jesus followed his Father’s will to the cross and endured horrific suffering, excruciating pain, humiliation, and abandonment, to death and into new life!
Many a mother I have talked with has shared the struggles of labor, but also expressed the joy of giving birth; many of my students have been exasperated by the time and effort expended for an examination, a sporting event, art show, musical or theatrical performance and yet experienced the joy from the feat they accomplished; and how many times have you faced a challenge, trial, or cleared some obstacle and felt the exhilaration of overcoming the hurdle?
Taking up our cross and following the will of God means accepting a disciplined approach to our lives. When we follow God’s will, as opposed to our own solely, the difference is that we are not alone in our persistent effort. Seeking God’s will in the midst of our decision-making process and trials for our everyday physical as well as spiritual pursuits is the key.
In my mid-twenties, I entered the Franciscan Friars of Holy Name Province to study for the priesthood. In the year and a half of discernment with them, I contemplated from time to time about my ordination day. I often did not feel any joy. I enjoyed every aspect of my experience with the friars and the ministries I was involved in, but there was something or someone missing. I took a leave of absence and, at that time, I realized what was missing was having a family.
About two years later I met JoAnn, and her three children, Mia, Jack, and Christy. Six months after that we were married and seventeen years later, I was ordained to the permanent diaconate. This is the short version of the story. There were many crosses along the way, but in seeking God’s will throughout, the circle was complete!
The journey continues as the five of us face a new cross together. From the beginning of JoAnn’s diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, we have both prayed, not that our will but God’s will be done. Though this cross has been the heaviest, Jesus has born it with us and blessed us richly in our surrender. Self-denial, carrying our cross, and following Jesus is the path that leads to freedom for excellence, fulfillment, and joy in this life and more profoundly in the next!
Photo: Mia’s last visit July 4th weekend with Levi and Harley