Jesus said to his disciples and all who could hear him: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk 9:23). We can best take up our cross daily by putting into practice the three pillars of Lent offered yesterday, which are almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. These disciplines aid us in resisting the temptations of pride, power, pleasure, honor, and wealth.
Giving ourselves some time to be still and to breathe deeply is a good way to begin Lent. From this place of letting go and just stopping from everything else, we can then pray about how we can put these pillars of Lent into practice for these next forty days. If forty days are too much, think about the next week, or even just today.
As we make steps to slow down and be still, it is also wise to be aware of our own resistance to doing so. Are we willing to see and acknowledge our own sinful inclinations? Are we indifferent or fearful of being present to those in need within our reach? Praying and seeking the help of God and being open to his guidance in all areas of our life will provide the stepping stones that will lead to our healing.
Returning to prayer throughout the day will help to establish a habit and rhythm of prayer. This often is accomplished best when we schedule set times to meditate on the readings of Lent, to be still and rest in the Lord before the Eucharist in adoration or present in the tabernacle, pray the rosary, walk or sit among the beauty of God’s creation, and/or spend some quiet time reading a spiritual book, or the life of a saint. It is also good to just be silent and still. While at work, it can be as simple as stopping for a few moments at set times, say every three hours, to take a breath, and repeat a verse or short prayer, such as, “God come to my assistance, Lord make haste to help me.”
Each day it is helpful to evaluate what we consume, what time and energy we expend, and discern, what we can fast from. Define the types of food that really aren’t healthy for us, what activities that we can let go of so we can devote more time to practices that empower, encourage, and lift up others as well as ourselves. We can fast from thinking, speaking, or acting in any way that is unkind, belittling, or demeaning.
When we put something in place that will help build a foundation for a closer walk with Jesus we are taking something out of our life that could lead us astray. Jesus guides us in today’s Gospel to take up our cross and follow him, meaning we are to discipline ourselves so as to free ourselves from that which enslaves us.
We can take up our cross today when we make time to pray, to be still, and follow God’s will. We can take up our cross when we fast from any negative, demeaning, or derogatory thoughts, words, or actions and instead be encouraging, hopeful, and loving. We can take up our cross when we embrace opportunities to give of our time, talent, and treasure to build up and provide access to those around us. We can take up our cross today and each day during this season of Lent so that we may know better the One who died on the cross for us, the One who gave his life for us that we might have life and have it to the full!
Photo: Jesus with the Cross, Mission San Luis del Rey de Francia, Oceanside, CA