Thursday, February 26, 2009
Jesus said to his disciples:
"The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders,
the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed and on the third day be raised."
Then he said to all, "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?"
Maura Proulx Carpinello
At the beginning of the Lenten season, the Church gives us direction and an invitation. So many of us-and I am most certainly included here-choose some sort of self-given 'penance' for the season of Lent, giving up soda or sweets, perhaps attending Mass more frequently or doing something 'extra,' all as a way of bringing us to greater mindfulness. While sometimes the difficulty of saying no to an ice cream offer might make me think, more often than not, this denial does not bring me deeper into relationship with God nor does it encourage me to respond to the call to which today's Gospel invites us.
In this passage, Jesus offers us some fairly difficult guidelines by which to live. This lifestyle is certainly counter-cultural, a way of life that is practically antithetical to that which American culture encourages us.
In this passage, and in a special way throughout the season of Lent, Jesus invites us, in the words of Richard Rohr, along a "path of descent." Jesus invites each of us to deny the false self that encourages us to believe we are in control, that is guided by how others perceive us, and that seeks success based on status, power, and money. This is certainly not easy; Jesus describes what may happen to us if we choose to follow him-rejection and, ultimately, death. However, this counter-cultural lifestyle-when we come to embrace the identity we find when we recognize the presence of God within us-brings us closer to becoming our best selves, who we were created to be.
When we allow ourselves to let down our guard, release our fists tightly clenched in fear of losing control, and release the pressures of society, we move closer to living a more Gospel way of life. As we relinquish control, we can find a deep and abundant joy that no worldly pleasure or status symbol can provide.
As we enter into the Lenten season, this passage invites me to remember who I am as a child of God, recognize that I am not in control, and slow down my own pace of life. I may still decide to give up sweets, but I hope that the pattern of 'emptying myself' of sugar will serve as a reminder of this deeper invitation to empty myself of the false notions of identity I allow myself to follow.