The Life of the Cross

“May God bless you with a life of sacrifice, a life of struggle, maybe a short-lived life and a life denying your own desires and serving others?”

If someone gave you that blessing, what would you think? Would you consider such a wish a blessing, or a curse? A life of sacrifice, of struggle, of denying your own desires and serving others! Does this sound strange, or even offensive? How many of us would prefer, “May God bless us with a long, healthy, prosperous life – a life of comfort, fame and power!” This is what many of us want to hear and what the world considers success.

On this Third Sunday of Lent, however, we lift up the symbol of the Holy Cross and hear Christ say to his most intimate and dear friends, “Whoever wishes to follow me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” We know that Jesus loved his disciples, and wished the best for them, and yet, we do not see him ever promise his disciples a long life of health, wealth, comfort, fame or power. Instead, he says quite the opposite: “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.”

Why does he say this? What does it mean?

“To deny yourself” means to no longer have control over your own life; to no longer allow your ego direct your life; to no longer do what you want, but to always seek after the will of another! To deny yourself is a call of placing God’s desire before our own. God must become the center of our lives, not our own ego. How different this is compared to our modern worldview which preaches a me-first, individualistic life.

“To take up your cross” means to walk a path, not of comfort or wealth or fame, but to walk a difficult journey of struggle, suffering, pain and maybe even death. Again, the world would say this is crazy. Who wishes to walk such a path?

“To follow Christ” means to walk how Jesus walked, to walk where Jesus walked, to imitate his life in every respect. And yet, didn’t Jesus live his life for others? Didn’t he sacrifice his life for the entire world? Didn’t he willingly accept the path of betrayal, denial, humiliations, suffering, pain, and even death, in other words a path of the Cross? Was that foolishness?

It is interesting, when Jesus was preparing for his passion, getting ready for his trial and suffering, crucifixion and death, he prayed to his Father, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” Jesus believed that his suffering and death would be for the glory of God!

Christ could have come on the earth as a great and mighty king, with wealth beyond imagination and with power incomparable. Yet, Jesus understood that the way to glorify God was to accept the road of the cross, to show his unconditional love by sacrificing his life for the world.

This may all sound harsh and difficult. Some will surely think, “That doesn’t seem like a life I want to live.” That’s why St. Paul clearly stated, “The message of the cross is foolishness to the world.” And yet, for serious Christians, here lies the wisdom of God! We discover divine wisdom in the deeper meaning of self-sacrifice and of self-denial.

A life of self denial, sacrifice, and the cross isn’t meant to be a masochistic life, but a life which brings great joy, discovery, and even abundance. The Church teaches that the more we deny ourselves and give away, the more we will receive. When we learn to carry our cross and die to our egocentric ways, we will discover the purpose of life. It places a higher vision and the divine ideal of Christ-like love, sacrifice and service at the center of one’s life!

Ultimately, the Cross reminds us that life is not about ME! God doesn’t exist to serve and fulfill our needs. We were created with a different purpose – to seek out God and discover ways that lead us into deeper union with Him and the world around us. Union and communion with God demand a life of self-sacrifice and dedication to loving and serving others. This is the way of the Cross.

It’s fascinating for me to think that Jesus attracted disciples and followers with this message. He didn’t make false promises of prosperity and comfort. In fact, he brutally told the truth in His demands. If you follow me, you have to forgive others, even when they don’t deserve forgiveness. If you follow me, you have to love your enemies, even the difficult ones. If you follow me, you have to serve others, and place their needs ahead of yours. If you follow me, you have to live a life of the Cross!

Of course, we find comfort in knowing that the Resurrection follows the Cross. This journey of sacrifice will lead ultimately lead us under the reign of God, into experiencing the kingdom of God here and now! This type of life will help us discover a peace that passes all understanding and a joy unimaginable. Christ promises that He will be with us forever, and never abandon us in this life as well as in the next. He will help us carry whatever burdens that presently weigh us down and give us reprieve and rest. He will reveal to us the secrets of paradise and fill our life with its deepest meaning and purpose. He will adopt us as precious and beloved children, helping us discover our eternal heritage as beloved and cherished sons and daughters. He will help us live life as it was originally meant to be – full of divine love, knowing that we are loved by our Creator with an unconditional love, and called to share that same agape love onto the world around us!

Becoming Christ’s disciples won’t be walking the wide and easy path that most people walk in life. No! To walk intimately with Jesus means to walk an “other-centered life”, not a self-centered one; it means to walk a life seeking out the kingdom of God, not seeking out the kingdom of this world; it means denying some of our pleasures and passions and desires in order to replace them with something eternal and meaningful; it means accepting whatever cross God allows into our lives, and bear that cross with faith, with fortitude, with hope and with love, always remembering that through this particular cross we may discover God’s power in a new way, and may offer a unique witness of His love to the world around us.

So, as we reflect on the Cross this Sunday, let us think of the blessing: “May God bless us with a life of sacrifice, a life of struggle, maybe a short-lived life and a life denying your own desires and serving others?” Yet realize that this blessing is truly a blessing! It is an invitation from our Lord to discover the rich, abundant life full of meaning. Denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following Jesus need not be a frightful path. It is a narrow and difficult one to walk, it is the road less traveled, and yet it is the only path that leads us completely into His heavenly kingdom!

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