20171001: Homily on How to Deny Yourself

In this homily for the Sunday after the Exaltation of the Cross, Fr. Anthony talks about what it means to “deny yourself” and follow Christ and why doing it wrong can cost a man his soul.  Enjoy the show!

Check out this episode!

++++++++++

Homily notes:

Sunday after the Exaltation of the Cross
Galatians 2:16-20; Mark 8:34-9:1

Two weeks ago: (The Greatest Commandment) life has no meaning without a goal. Goals allow us to distinguish between what is useful and what isn’t; the right goal ensures that all our actions are virtuous.

Last week: (The Parable of the Talents) must always be working towards the goal; those that waste their time and energy (and other resources) don’t just waste what little they have … they end up losing everything.

This week restates these two lessons. Listen closely:

And Jesus called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (Mark 8: 34)

Do you see how this is just a restatement of the goal of “loving God and neighbor”?

The “self” that we must deny has to be properly understood or we will end up perverting the Scripture, pursuing the wrong goal, wasting our talent, and – as we are warned in today’s Gospel reading – losing our very soul/life. There are two main ways that the “denial of self” should be understood:

  1. The denial of the self as a sacrificial action. Why do you think that the Old Testament is full of sacrifice? In part, it is because doing something worthwhile requires giving up something else. If I am saving my money so that I can buy a new computer or go on a nice vacation, then there are things that I have to give up – to sacrifice – along the way. If I am going to follow God, that is to say, if I am going to love Him and love my neighbor the way He does, then that means giving up or “sacrificing” all the other goals that I might have pursued. This is only fitting and logical: when someone accepts a 9-5 job, they give up doing other things they might have done during that time. When a couple gets married, they give up both the single life and the possibility of marrying anyone else. When we commit ourselves to following Christ and serving our neighbor – the two Great Commandments – then we are sacrificing all the other things we might have done.

  2. The denial of self as commitment and hard work. When someone takes a job, they don’t just give up doing other things while they are at that job: they commit themselves to working hard to do that job well. When a couple gets married, they don’t just give up dating other people: they commit themselves to working hard to make their marriage joyful and productive. This takes constant effort; these people “deny themselves” to do their job well and to keep their marriages healthy. When we commit ourselves to following Christ and serving our neighbor, we aren’t just giving up all the other goals we could have committed ourselves to, we are dedicating ourselves to put real effort into living a life of love.

So why the big warning? Because today’s reading, like last week’s, comes with a big warning:

For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. (Mark 8: 35)

The bottom line is that you will waste and ruin your life if you pursue the wrong goals. Idolatry? Two masters? Temple? It’s all saying the same thing. Don’t waste your life. Live a life of virtue. Commit yourself to it, study how to do it well, and then work hard an sacrifice yourself for it. Parts of you will rebel – deny those parts. Other parts will enjoy it; this is the multiplication of your talents – take that joy and offer to God and share it with your neighbor … this is how you grow “into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21).

One of the ways that today’s reading can be misunderstood is to think that the “denial of self” means the denial of joy. Now I hope you see how ridiculous this is. Do not turn God into a monster: he is not trying to turn this world into a hell of misery but into a place where all his children have joyful life in abundance (John 10:10) – and He wants us to want and work for that, too.

The denial of self does NOT mean that we hate or neglect or selves; quite the opposite. This is made clear by the final verse we will cover in today’s homily;

For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul (life)?
(Mark 8:36)

Love of self means doing what is good for the self; pursuit of the wrong goals brings destruction to our lives. That is not love, that is something else. You know people who have destroyed their lives through the pursuit of power, or of laziness and self-indulgence, or of the approval of the wrong people, or through drugs … this is what Jesus means when He warns that you can gain the world but lose your soul. People who have lived for the wrong goal may well “gain the whole world”, but all that effort has been counter-productive; it has not brought abounding joy, it has not brought joy to others.

So now that you understand this command of Our Lord, the challenge is to make it your primary motivation:

Deny yourself. Give up your life and live it for the Good News of salvation that is guaranteed to bring joy to you and to this world.

Speak Your Mind