Deny Self So We Can Fill Self
“No one can really embrace the Christian asceticism mapped out in the New Testament unless he [or she] has some idea of the positive, constructive function of self-denial. The Holy Spirit never asks us to renounce anything without offering us something much higher and much more perfect in return … The function of self-denial is to lead to a positive increase of spiritual energy and life. The Christian dies, not merely in order to die but in order to live. And when he [or she] takes up his cross to follow Christ, the Christian realizes, or at least believes, that he is not going to die to anything but death. The Cross is the sign of Christ’s victory over death. The Cross is the sign of life. It is the trellis upon which grows the Mystical Vine whose life is infinite joy and whose branches we are. If we want to share the life of that Vine, we must grow on the same trellis and must suffer the same pruning.” (Thomas Merton)
The disciplines of the Church, especially during Great Lent, call us to deny ourselves through fasting, through changing our lifestyles, through increased prayer and almsgiving. These tools of self-denial are not meant to focus on anything negative (i.e. don’t eat certain foods), but on something positive – let us free ourselves so that we can focus more on the essential elements of life. We are called to open up ourselves to God! Self-denial is really a positive action which will open up our hearts and minds and lives to be filled with what is divine!
St Paul exemplified this when he wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” The great Apostle “denied” himself so completely that he died to self, he crucified his own ego, but with a great purpose - to allow Christ to be formed within himself. The ego of St Paul dies in order that the likeness of Christ is formed in him! This is the understanding of self-denial.
During Lent, we are called to focus on how we live each and every day. Do we allow our passions and desires to control us, these same passions and desires that are often formed by the influence and allurement of our consumeristic and materialist society, or will we struggle to “deny” our fallen passions, our sinful desires, our superficial pleasures, and replace them with something positive, Christ-like, and Spirit-filled.
Remember, our journey in life is discover into the “fullness of life,” a path that leads us to discover the greatest joy of our existence. Jesus Christ wants us to be filled with His presence and His eternal love. Yet, He clearly states “The way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” In other words, to discover our greatest joy in life, we must first learn to deny ourselves.
Inside each of us we have a battle between our dark, fallen selfish side and our other side made in the image of God. We are called to deny our fallen, selfish, self-centered side and allow the God-like, holy side to blossom forth.
And this means to break away from our American, consumer mentality which is always thinking “What can others do for me? What will God do for me? What can I get?” The Christ-centered mentality turns this question upside down by asking, “What is Jesus asking of me? How can I deny my own will itself, and put Christ’s will at the center of my life? What can I do for the glory of Christ?” Our ultimate prayer, which we say daily in the Lord’s Prayer, is “YOUR WILL BE DONE!” For Christ’s will to occur, we have to learn to deny ourselves.
Thus, today on the third Sunday of Lent, we hear once again the secret of an authentic life in Jesus Christ. If we want to be His true followers, then we have to daily crucify any false understanding that promotes a faith of self-centeredness. Unfortunately, we hear too many contemporary churches preach such a deceptive message. The true and only path in following Christ is one of self-denial.
“If anyone wants to follow me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and then follow me.” (Mark 8:34)
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