In our Gospel reading for today, after Jesus predicts His own Passion and death and resurrection, He tells His disciples what it means to be a disciple: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?”
When Jesus speaks about losing and saving one’s life, it seems that He is talking about the rewards of eternal life. But I think He is also speaking about our life here on earth.
We can be leery of giving of ourselves too much. We’ve seen people in co-dependent relationships; their sense of themselves dependent only on what others think. So they do what they do to win the approval of others. But that’s not the basis of “denying” oneself. For me, to deny ourselves is to deny that we are the center of things. Instead, we put God first, and we put Jesus’ command to love, first and foremost in our lives. And, as contrary to what seems obvious, when we put God and His command to love first, we don’t lose ourselves, we find ourselves!
When we give of ourselves in this way, it is from the sense of ourselves that we are children of God, loved by God to a degree beyond our understanding. When we give ourselves over to greed and selfishness, that is when we really lose ourselves; when we have sold our soul, so to speak.
In our first reading from Deuteronomy, Moses presents a choice to the Israelites: “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the Lord, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him.
May we trust in God and choose life!
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P., is the local superior of the Passionist Community in Birmingham, Alabama.