Our western society enjoys many perks: we have ample food, clean water, relative safety, toilet paper. And although these things, and more, are good, we can become complacent and forget about the human vocation. God did not make us for comfort in this life; He made us for glory in the next. “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”
Finding our life in this world means we stop searching for life in the next. We settle for things that are limited and will eventually die: pleasure, wealth, power, and fame. The Lord reminds us of this. He wants us to order our lives properly by ordering our loves. “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.” No one, not even our families, deserves our love more than Jesus Christ. Why? Because He is alone satisfies our restless heart. As St Augustine says, “for you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Jesus Christ alone can give us the life that is both boundless and unending.
And yet, finding eternal life demands something that any hearer in Jesus’ day would cringe at: carrying our cross and following Him. The cross was, and is, a symbol of death. It was the worst punishment the Romans inflicted on criminals. It was usually reserved as a tool to deter rebellion and insurrection, as was the case with Spartacus. For the Lord Jesus to say that we are unworthy of Him unless we carry our cross means that we are not worthy of Him unless we accept the instrument of our death and shame. This is what it means to die to self: to let go of everything that stops or slows us down from loving God first in our life.
This is impossible on our own. But notice the Lord’s command: “take up their cross and follow me”. He Himself has taken His cross. The Lord never commands us to do something He Himself is not willing to do. And this is both comforting and terrifying. It is comforting to know that the Lord has trod this path and will accompany us along the way. But it is also terrifying because to reject His grace, to reject His help, means that we have no one to blame but ourselves for our sins and, if we are obstinate in our sins, damnation.
Clinging to this life means we prefer this temporal life to the eternal life Christ offers. But to recognize that there is more to life than pleasure, wealth, power, and fame and so live for Christ Jesus means that we accept what He offers us: eternal beatitude through the cross. Certainly, things in this world are good. But they are good only insofar as they do not hinder us from the Good God who died and rose for us. Because to cling to this life is a death sentence; but to embrace the cross, the altar on which we offer ourselves as He did for us, is to choose everlasting life with Christ: “for if we have died with Him, we shall also rise with Him”.
Joseph Yuson – St. Joseph Seminary, Edmonton, Alberta
Fot. Samuel Mcgarrigle/Unsplash.com