“If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”
God respects our freedom which He gave us in our creation. He created us free to choose what is good. He did not create us as robots to manipulate us from afar. He will not stop us if we decide to turn against Him and choose evil. God will give us opportunities to reconsider our decision and repent, but He will not force us. “Cloistered virtue is no virtue at all.” But our freedom is earthbound. One day we will have to give an account to Him of how we used our freedom and then we will reap the appropriate consequences.
God respects our freedom; but after we accept His invitation, we need to conform to His terms of service.
First, we need to deny our self, our selfish, narcissistic love, our filautia.
The egotistical self love is the root of all passionate desires and evils because it turns our unnatural self love of our ego into an idol. We think of ourselves as the center of our surroundings, and we want the others to attend to all our desires and whims. We become very selfish, possessive and manipulative. St. John Chrysostom said long ago, “my own and your own is the root of all evil.”
We are invited to heal this selfish, unnatural love which is the result of our fallen human nature; to make it an unselfish love. God summarized His requirement of us in one commandment: “To love Him with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and to love our fellowman. This is the true meaning of “denying our self.” For in denying our egotistical self we find our true self, as God intended us to be.” Christ gave us His example to emulate to find true meaning in our life.
The second step, after curing our selfish, egotistical love, is to “take up our own cross.”
Christ carried His own cross and suffered on it to forgive our sins, to redeem us from the curse of the law and to grant us eternal life with His glorious resurrection from the dead.
All of us have our own cross which comes in various forms. We are invited to carry our cross patiently. He will not abandon us under the weight of our cross. God will give us His grace and strength to carry it and benefit from this pain and suffering. But we need to keep our faith and hope in Him and never doubt His ability to help us in any situation we find ourselves. In the Sacraments of our Church, He gives us His grace to assist us. We must be certain, that He will never give us more than we can bear.
The third condition in Christ’s invitation is to “follow Him.”
After Jesus restored Peter to his position, He told him to “follow Him!” Jesus is the “Way, the Truth, Life itself.” The first Christians were called the “followers of the Way.”
We deny ourselves and carry our cross for a glorious purpose—to imitate the life of Christ; to achieve victory over sin and death as the crucified and resurrected Christ achieved it.
Lastly, we do all this for our invaluable soul, for our salvation. Nothing in this world can be compared in value with our immortal soul. No one and nothing can redeem our soul, can save us, except for Christ. He accomplished that for us. He is our Savior and Redeemer. Only when we follow Him and do His holy Will we’ll find eternal salvation and meaning in our present life.
Fr. John P. Angelis