Being a Christian is easy. As long as you pray everyday and go to church you will never have struggles and everything will be peachy. But wait, did Christ not say in John 15:20 “Remember the word I spoke to you,* ‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.” But, I always thought that if I lived a good Christian life then I would be blessed with an easy, successful life?
How many times in our lives have we heard that same expression? Live a good life, follow Christ, and you will be blessed. What we tend to forget is “blessed” does not equal easy or luxurious. My brothers and sisters, Christ tells us, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24).
So, what does it mean to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Christ, and how do we learn to do this in our daily lives?
1) Deny yourself (Faith)
This is a difficult phrase because it is counter-intuitive to how we, as humans, act. We are creatures of comfort. I believe praying for the virtue of Faith helps us learn to deny ourselves. Throughout history you can see in every Saint’s story that they, first and foremost, had to learn to deny themselves in order to serve others. Serving others before ourselves is something we learn in life and is not something we are born with. We must constantly make the daily choice to put others before ourselves, especially when it is most difficult. Our Faith, as a gift of the Holy Spirit, helps us to accomplish this by showing us how we are to act, even in difficult moments. With a strong gift of Faith we can show true compassion for our fellow brothers and sisters. Self-Denial is the outward facing component of our Faith, where we put others before ourselves, as Jesus did.
2) Take up your cross (Hope)
I hate suffering and I hate struggling in life; time after time, falling to the same sins. Going to confession over and over with the same problems can become disheartening. This, however, is a tactic of the devil to get us to believe we can never change and that we should just give up. We are called to pick up our cross on a daily basis no matter how many times we fall. The spiritual gift that helps us pick up our daily cross is that of Hope. To have Hope means to remember God’s promises to us: I will never leave you, I will never forsake you, I am always with you, do not be afraid (Deuteronomy 31:6, Matthew 28:20, Isaiah 41:10, John 17:9-11). There are so many versus in the bible telling us that God is with us and to not be afraid. The weight of our cross can be heavy at times, but Christ is there at every moment and we must have Hope and Faith in Him. Every time we fall, we must get up, dust ourselves off and continue the journey. Christ is calling us to follow Him; to take up our cross – and He knows we cannot do it alone.
3) and follow Me (Love)
To follow Christ is the pathway to Heaven. By following Christ’s footsteps in our daily lives we will start to see a change in our hearts. The spiritual gift of Love is what Christ calls the greatest gift. True, unadulterated and never-ceasing love is the rock of our Church and the root of our Faith. Love, at its purest form, is comprised of total self-giving and has the ability to produce life; both in the physical sense and the spiritual sense. When we truly Love someone we are willing to lay our life down for them as Christ did for all of us. It is no wonder this is the area of our lives where the devil loves to attack the most – our hearts, and the things we Love the most. When Love becomes twisted because of sin it takes away freedom and it becomes focused on ourselves. This is why Christ calls us to follow Him each and every day. So that we may Love as He has Loved us. To show that each and every person, no matter what struggles they have, nor how big and heavy their cross, that they are not alone. We are called to be like Simon and help all those we encounter with Love. It is by no mistake that Christ established a Universal Church and that EVERYONE, no matter if they know it or not, belong to it. One person is not above another and one person’s struggles are no worse than another’s. We must learn to see each other as family; as brothers and sisters in Christ, and to Love one another.
We are in the Season of Lent and it is never too late to start over – to make a change. Christ is waiting for each and every one of us. To show us Faith, Hope, Love, Compassion, and Mercy. My brothers and sisters, if Good Friday was the end of the story we would have a right to be distraught, upset, and angry…but it was not the end. Easter brought with it a chance of new life…of redemption and mercy. Christ conquered death so that we may live. It is never too late to Love and to be Loved by the One who is Love.
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24).
I love all of you and am praying for you!
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