Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. Matthew 16:24
This was part our Sunday readings at Mass this week. There are any number of ways to reflect on Jesus’ words of caution to Peter in Matthew’s Gospel. The seminarian (priest in-training) at our parish decided to tell us about his personal experience of giving up his potential material success to follow God’s call. He seemed (to me anyway) to be holding himself up as an example of sacrifice. He could have so much more (wife, kids, home & hearth) but instead he’s going to be a priest. Of course because of my cynical nature I’m always a bit suspect of anyone who tells me how much they sacrifice; how holy they are; how worthy they are; etc., etc., etc.
I have been bothered by this message since Sunday. I can’t be a priest. Nor would I want to be. I’m kind of plodding along in my sinfulness as best I can. When I read Matthew’s Gospel and think about “denying myself” I don’t really think that Jesus is saying that I should give up all my stuff and live on the streets. And most of the priests that I know have comfortable housing, full-time cooks, housekeepers, gardeners and laundresses. That’s hardly sacrifice in my book. But I digress.
I’m unholy and I’m a mess most days but the message in Matthew’s Gospel for me is simple: Quit being so sinful. Stop being so selfish. Try to be more loving. Quit expecting more and giving less. Take up the cross of a crying baby in the middle of the night. Take up the cross of a disloyal friend or family member. Take up the cross of an angry customer or boss or employee. Take up the cross of a neglected/neglecting spouse. Take up the cross of a (nearly) unlovable teenager. Take up the cross of poor health. Take up the cross of financial hardships. Take up the cross of disappointments and heartaches. Carry those crosses and still love God. Carry those crosses and still love your neighbor. Carry those crosses and still love yourself.
And follow Jesus…