Mark 8: 34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
Some catholics i know interpret this very basic tenet as a justification for the suffering we are all bound to experience in our life as a Christian. Self-denial would mean embracing our pain, our misery, rejecting the nice things in life. For only in suffering do we find glory.
i myself thought this way. i was 'suffering' denying myself the pleasures of enjoying sex because it was a sin. And my misery was going to be my ticket to heaven.
but now, as i think about it more, i begin to wonder if this is really what it means. Are we really doomed to a life of misery on this earth? Isn't Jesus also telling us that we should be happy? But how could we be happy if happiness meant self-indulgence?
i've now shifted my point of view to believe that Jesus, that God desires happiness for us. He wants us to be happy. Because when we are truly happy, we also become truly self-less. Think of your happiest moments. Aren't these spent in the company of people you love, enjoying it with them? And those moments of self-denial, of suffering, aren't we the most self-centered beings as we are caught up in the pain, in the hurt?
Having said that, i reason now that I believe Jesus doesn't refer to self-denial here in its broadest context. Reading the line through, and the other verses related to it, I feel the Jesus is telling me that this self-denial, this taking up of the cross will happen if and when I will have to face up to my faith. When I am on trial because of my belief in Him, I must be prepared to deny my self, deny my freedom, deny my chance to enjoy life as I tell the judge and the jury that yes, I believe in Him. Yes, I am a Christian, a Catholic. And if by admitting it, I am condemned to severe penalty (the cross) or even death, I will have to embrace it lovingly.
I will ultimately lose my very self. But I will have gained my right to be called a Christian because I was not ashamed of Him, of telling people of my faith even when the consequences could include death.
But even Jesus doesn't wish for that to happen to us. He taught us to pray with that verse 'and lead us not to the test'. He wanted us to keep on praying that this test, the temptation to renounce him will never happen to us. Because He knows that such will be a terrible thing to experience. And we might fail.
So even as we pray constantly not to be led to that test, we must be ready and willing to deny our selves if and when that moment comes, accept the penalty, the consequences and truly be his follower.
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