Chapter Five: Self-Denial

White Oak Lake State Park, Bluff City, Arkansas

The Gospel of Mark, 9:13-15:

They came to Capernaum.  When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?”  But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.  Sitting down, Jesus called the twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

“I will resolve to give my entire self to Him.” 

This is the thought I offered at the conclusion of the last reflection as an expression of the deepest possible commitment I can make to the ideal of Metanoia and Penance.  If I embrace Penance comprehensively and successfully, it naturally leads to this pledge. 

This theme of self-denial then becomes the final thread from the first chapter of Love’s Reply that I wish to explore.  It is a close corollary to the definition of Penance found there, or perhaps it is better stated as a completion of that definition.  This extension pins down what necessarily follows from meticulously focusing my entire being on God.  A thorough embrace of Metanoia and Penance should in turn lead me to an ardent devotion to self-denial.

Here are some quotes from Love’s Reply that speak to this:

“The more man surrenders himself to redemption through Christ and subjects himself to the rule of Christ, the more he will forget himself and love God.  Yet this means that so much the more will he deepen and perfect the life of Metanoia, the life of penance, which will reach its fullness in the love of God unto utter forgetfulness of self.”

“The penitent, who knows full well that he is “weak and contemptible, corrupt and shameful, ungrateful and evil,” surrenders himself in his thankfulness wholly to God, that God may work in him the wonders of his grace freely and without hindrance, especially without any obstacle from the perverse, that is, the God-forsaking will of man.  When man no longer “holds anything back of himself for himself,” that he may belong wholly to God, the Lord “who has created and redeemed us, will save us by his mercy alone.”

“He who is possessed to the very depths of his soul by the love of God and by gratitude for everything that God has done in us and constantly does for us through his Son Jesus Christ, will come to contemn himself more and more, that the grace of God may be made perfect in him.  This conversion of man from self and from all concern for self, that thenceforth the Lord alone may work in him, this is that “Metanoia,” that penance, which Francis demands of us according to the teaching of the Holy Spirit, especially of the Sermon on the Mount.”

“The life of penance as the grateful response to God’s blessings means that with all that we have and all that we are we live wholly unto God in Christ.  Whoever undertakes the life of penance must absolutely and unconditionally forget himself that thereafter he may live for God alone.”

In the first and third quotes, note the use of the word “Love.”  If I recall the discussion in chapter two about the expansion of Love being the purpose of Creation, and if I find this argument persuasive, then I naturally want to understand and practice the concrete means that will help me participate in God’s plan.  Likewise with the passage from Paul on Love in the last chapter.  If I am to choose Love in the face of the challenges of the modern world, I must have a tangible departure point for the practical implementation of my choice.   

These quotes give me the means and departure point for putting my desire to Love into action.  Self-denial can be the demonstrable work I perform in response to my need to return God’s Love to Him.

If I think about this in the context of the closest relationships in my life, it makes perfect sense.  Love, for instance, calls me to a significant abandonment of self interest in my interactions with my wife, my children, my parents, or my siblings.  If my sole or main concern in those relationships were myself, then those relationships would not last.  My selfishness would quickly cause stress, strife, and strain.  The people I purport to Love would quickly grow tired of me and the relationships would disintegrate because my self-interest would demonstrate that my Love for them was not sincere. 

To Love correctly, I must be willing, in the words of the Scriptural passage that opens this reflection, to become “the very last” in order to become “the servant of all.”  To desire greatness is the opposite of desiring Love.

How much more then should this principle relate to my relationship with God? 

Salvation history demonstrates for me the complete nature of His self-giving.  His Love is such an overwhelming force that it causes Him to leave the blissfulness of Heaven and to descend to this plane and take on human form (Phillipians 2:5-8). 

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
         Who, being in very nature God,
         did not consider equality with God something to be used to
         his own advantage;
         rather, he made himself nothing
            by taking the very nature of a servant,
            being made in human likeness.
         And being found in appearance as a man,
            he humbled himself
            by becoming obedient to death—
               even death on a cross!

On the face of it, leaving the perfection of Heaven to be born in a stable and die on the Cross is non-sensical.  It is not something I would choose to do myself.  Especially not to ensure the redemption of a creature as wicked and undeserving as me.

This act of selflessness is awe-inspiring and deeply demanding.  We know by the anxiety of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane that it caused Him anguish.  Crucifixion is not something I would wish on my worst enemy, let alone on the One who Loves me with an abundance that I am incapable of comprehending.

Yet He endured it.  This is the unfathomable measure of His Love and His Self-Denial.  This is the intensity of His desire to be with me in joy in Heaven for the fullness of eternity.    

The answer to such an example on the part of God requires an equally compelling gesture on my part.  I cannot, in return, love God moderately or incompletely.  I have no choice but to give everything I have in return in my own act of thorough self-denial.  To do any less would indicate the shallowness of my regard for my Creator.              

The good news is, because of the nature of the Creation proclaimed by God, my complete offering of Love to God does not deplete my store of Love.  Instead, my store of Love is multiplied by the Grace of God when I Love Him with all my being, and I acquire a superabundance of Love that I can then share with not only those around me who are most important to me, but also with the world at large.

The brilliance of Gods’ Design in the arena of Love cannot be understated.  It is inevitably underappreciated.  

_________________

Just as the theme of gratitude was drawn from the words of Francis’ prayer of thanksgiving in Chapter 23 of the Earlier Rule, so it is with this theme of self-denial.  In chapter three, I quoted the entire “Exhortation to Prayer and Thanksgiving.”  Here, let me emphasize the phrases that speak to this idea of total commitment as the ultimate expression of Penance, Metanoia, and a proper and complete turn toward God in a posture of complete self-denial.

With our whole heart, our whole soul, our whole mind, with our whole strength and fortitude, with our whole understanding, with all our powers, with every effort, every affection, every feeling, every desire and wish, let us all love the Lord our God …….

Therefore, let us desire nothing else, let us want nothing else, let nothing else please us and cause us delight except our Creator, Redeemer and Savior, the only true God, …….

Therefore, let nothing hinder us, nothing separate us, nothing come between us.

Wherever we are, in every place, at every hour, at every time of day, every day and continually, let all of us truly and humbly believe, hold in our heart and love, honor, adore, serve, praise and bless, glorify and exalt, magnify and give thanks to the Most High and Supreme Eternal God …….

Whole.  Every.  Nothing. 

Read the phrases above with special emphasis on these words.  How many times is each word repeated?  What does such forceful repetition mean about the message that Francis is trying to convey? 

Believe.  Hold.  Love.  Honor.  Adore.  Serve.  Praise.  Bless.  Glorify.  Exalt.  Magnify.  Thank.

Review this string of words and let the sequence reverberate through your being.

Again, what does such concentrated, determined, and passionate repetition say to me? 

If I hold Francis in high regard, what does this mean about the depth of Love that I must deploy in response to the prodigious, vast and unrelenting Love that God presents to me at every moment of every day? 

How profound, deep, and overpowering must my spirit of thanksgiving be if it is to mirror the words of Francis? 

How fundamental, essential, and vital must my Metanoia inspired change of heart be if it is to satisfy the call that Francis compassionately imposes upon me?      

If I were as talented as Francis, how many other adjectives would I add to the strings of words that begin with concentrated, prodigious, profound, and fundamental in the sentences above?

One of the most attractive things about the charism of Francis is his total embrace of self-abandonment.  It seems a bit strange, but the most striking feature of his self-denial is the complete joy that it brings him.  When I read the words above again, or better yet return to the full prayer in my second reflection, I need to be mindful of the notion of joy as I read.

Can I feel it?  Can I feel the joy that urged Francis to write with such passion about the deep gratitude he felt in response to the Goodness that God displays in His plan for the salvation of every soul that He Loves into being?

Do I find that joy infectious?  Does it cause my gratitude to expand and fill me with a deep need to set every worldly concern aside to dwell within that joy unceasingly, with my entire being focused on the goodness and generosity that Christ presented then and continues to present every time He descends from Heaven to become present in the world and once again fight for my salvation?       

_________________

The third quote above references the Sermon of the Mount.  This teaching by Jesus extends for three full chapters in the gospel of Matthew, five to seven.  Jesus speaks continuously the entire time.  He begins with the Beatitudes and covers many diverse and varied topics.

Here is one small passage that speaks to the topic of self-abandonment.  Note the word “devoted” and its connotations regarding complete self-denial: (Matthew 7:19-21, 24) 

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will also be.”

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

……………………….

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will also be.”

This hearkens back to the last chapter and the discussion about the influences of modern culture and technology.  It seems that at every turn, modern culture is in my face, bombarding me with messages about all the earthly things I need to acquire to be happy.  Underlying all that messaging is the need to acquire wealth, because without wealth, I will not have the means to make the required acquisitions.  Without wealth, it would seem, happiness is impossible.  

The message of Jesus in the Beatitudes and the balance of the Sermon of the Mount is very different.  Modern culture would have me equate the idea of treasure to the idea of material possessions.  Jesus contradicts that message completely.  For Jesus, treasure is a spiritual matter. 

Which side of the argument I take says everything about who I am and where my priorities lay.  “I cannot serve both God and money.”  To regard treasure as a spiritual matter is to turn away from worldly sin and toward God with all my being.  Penance and Metanoia are invigorated when I choose spiritual concerns over material ones.  They are extended to self-denial when I repudiate my carnal side and adopt the life-securing message that Jesus speaks above. 

In the end, all the material treasure that the earth can provide is transitory and non-transferable.  My stay on earth is short.  My stay in eternity, whether it be on the blissful or the torturous side, is never ending.  It would be foolish of me to sacrifice the permanent joy of the everlasting for the temporary happiness of the fleeting.

That foolishness is clear as I write.  But as I live out my life, I am easily distracted, and my clarity is easily lost.  The pressures of the world around me are intense and relentless.  My constitution is weak, weary, and compromised by the sins that I have willfully and habitually allowed myself to commit.  It is easy for me to say that I wish to turn away from all worldly influences, but it is hard for me to adopt and achieve that desire and truth. 

This is why it is of primary importance that my turn toward Penance and self-denial be all encompassing.  The slightest slip has the potential energy to cause a cascade that threatens every gain I might make.  This can happen without my even realizing it.  I think all is well and suddenly I find myself back in the grip of old habits without understanding how or when the digression took place. 

I am not addicted to drugs or alcohol.  But I am addicted to worldliness.  

I am reminded of St. Augustine.  He wrote in his Confessions that his will did not seem to be his own.  The enemy had it chained, and he seemed to have two wills that directly contradicted one another.  One longed to be free and to serve God.  The other was content to remain chained and maintain his sinful status quo.  He expressed this division within himself by praying “God, make me chaste, but not yet.”  His obsession with the fleeting pleasures of the world was so intense that it took him years to acquire the means to deny his worldly addictions.  He was fully aware that his immortal soul was in jeopardy until he implemented an attitude of Penance and self-denial, but even this great saint had to struggle mightily to break the chains of the enemy. 

Like Augustine, I need to get over the hump.  I need to utterly reject worldliness, money and self-interest and unconditionally choose devotion to God.  My self-denial must be consistent so that the probability of slipping becomes less and less as the habit of holiness increases steadily.  And I need to do so sooner rather than later because, as Mark writes in chapter thirteen, “No one knows the day or the hour.  If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.  Watch!”           

The enemy, because he wants me to end up on the tortuous side of eternity, is working diligently to thwart me.  He is omnipresent in the modern culture, has had lots of time to practice, is indefatigable in his work ethic, and is very accomplished at what he does.  He is on his A-game, and he is remorseless in his pursuit of souls to enslave.

That would seem to make my position hopeless.  How can I possibly expect to defeat an enemy who is superior to me in so many ways?

The answer is that I cannot on my own.  Augustine needed help.  For him, that help came in the form of a voice calling him to “open and read.”  When he opened scripture arbitrarily and read it, the Word that God provided finally allowed him to triumph over himself. 

His example is mirrored in chapter two of The Anonymous of Perugia.  When Brother Bernard and Brother Peter, the first two followers of Francis, sought to join him, Francis took them to a church, and they asked the priest to show them the gospel: 

…. When the priest opened the book, they immediately found the passage: If you wish to be perfect, go, sell everything you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Opening up the book a second time, they discovered: Whoever wishes to come after me …..  When they opened they book for the third time, they came upon: Take nothing for the journey …..  When they heard this, they were filled with great joy and exclaimed: “This is what we want, this is what we have been seeking.”  And blessed Francis said: “This will be our rule.” 

Then Brother Bernard, who was rich, sold all his possessions …….. Brother Peter, on the other hand, who was poor in worldly goods, now became rich in spiritual goods.

Notice the words “treasure in heaven” and “rich in spiritual goods.”  Notice how they fit with the teaching of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount.

Both Augustine and Francis were caught up in worldly affectation.  Both had dreams of worldly renowned and worldly achievement.  Self-denial is prominent in both conversions.  It took time for each to develop the holy devotion that defined their lives in the end, locating them among the greatest saints the church has known.  That these two great saints had to evolve over time is of great consolation. 

God, through the ongoing presence of Christ and the same Word that saved Augustine and Francis, offers me continuous assistance to the same degree and measure that He offered it to these two great saints. 

As the Rule says, my human frailty makes conversion an ongoing process.  It needs to be pursued daily.  Francis and Augustine understood that and lived through it.  Their example means there is hope for me to reach the Light at the end of my journey. 

_________________

“Store up for yourself treasures in heaven.” 

Thanks to Disney and “The Pirates of the Caribbean,” I find myself thinking about treasure like a pirate.  I want to hoard some gold, place it in a locked chest, and bury it on a desert island somewhere against my future need.  In the modern sense, I want to put money in the bank or invest it in the stock market or a piece of real estate so that my long-term security is guaranteed.

But what are the practicalities of storing up treasure in Heaven?  Heaven does not have bank vaults or a stock market, so I have no way to store up anything material against the future needs of eternity.  If treasure in Heaven is a spiritual matter, how do I acquire and store it?    

Perhaps I should think of treasure in terms of my obligation to participate in God’s plan for the expansion of Love?  The Love that I produce when my relationship with God is active and robust is the spiritual treasure that I am asked to accumulate?  Every healthy step I take forward in this relationship can be thought of as a new deposit or an appreciation in value that increases my stores?   When I sin and regress away from Love, I make a withdrawal or the market falls and my account suffers a depletion?

If relationship and Love are the currency that defines the value of my stored treasure in Heaven, then self-denial is the work I put in to generate that currency.

I can easily identify the connection between toil and treasure on this earthly plane.  I understand from experience that the reward for work is income.  That might take the form of a paycheck, or a rent deposit (my wife and I own several rental properties), or maybe just appreciation in a market account or the value of a piece of property I own.  Whatever the source, the gain is related to the work and/or the resources I put in place.   

If this analogy is to hold in relation to spiritual treasure, then I also must deploy work and resources on that front.  The analogy might lead me to think that good works are sufficient to meet the need, but the truth goes deeper than that.  God knows if my good works are sincere or steeped in hollow human calculation.  If my good works are not underpinned by the proper attitude, they will not be efficacious.  The resource of Love must be their true cause, and they must be the by-product of a relationship with God grounded in the work of Penance and self-denial.

Recall this quotation from Paul on Love.

If I give away everything I own,
and if I hand my body over so that I may boast,
but do not have love, I gain nothing.

In chapter three I discovered that my will was insufficient to lead me to Penance.  I need to embrace gratitude for the Love of God before Penance becomes accessible.  Likewise, if I deploy good works, but my motivation is skewed by my human will, I have missed the point.  Instead, my good works must be generated by a deep foundation rooted in the fundamental Love described by this quote.  Earnest good works preceded by a commitment to the expansion of Love are an indicator of the deeper well-being of my soul.   

This deep foundation of stored and heartfelt Love can only develop if I have a productive, honest, and accelerating relationship with God.  Prayer, spiritual reading, and (perhaps paradoxically to an analogy of work) the simple act of resting in God’s presence often and absolutely are essential if my foundation is to be stable and permanent.  Practice of these disciplines requires me to set aside the worldly self-interest that inevitably distracts me from their implementation.  Relationship with God requires self-denial. 

In my life, I have reached the point where I have the flexibility to truly concentrate on this work.  I am fortunate to be retired even though I have not yet reached the typical age.  I am blessed to have a wife that is willing to allow me the flexibility and freedom to explore the ideas that I am writing about as she continues to work and support us.  This writing is itself an expression of the work required to consolidate the foundation of Love and relationship that I am seeking.  (I could be in the basement working on something worldly like my putting stroke instead.) 

The blessings of God are the source of my flexibility.  He has not set me free so that I can do whatever I please.  His generosity imposes what should be joyful obligations toward self-denial on me.  To knowingly embrace the freedom but reject the consequent obligation to strengthen my relationship with Him would be more sinful than anything that has gone before.  I know better.  I must get it right. 

The OFS Rule speaks to this in article eight:

Let prayer and contemplation be the heart and soul of all they are and do.

And in article eleven:

Trusting in the Father, Christ chose for himself and his mother a poor and humble life, even though he valued created things attentively and lovingly.  Let the Secular Franciscans seek a proper spirit of detachment from temporal goods by simplifying their own material needs…….They should strive to purify their hearts from every tendency and yearning for possession and power.

And in article twelve:

They should set themselves free to love God and their brothers and sisters.

All are connected.  Penance, as “a change of mind, the complete and unceasing renewal of a man who tends to God with all his being,” leads to self-denial and “a proper spirit of detachment from temporal goods” and the ability to “purify my heart from every tendency and yearning toward possession and power.”  That detachment leads in turn to “setting myself free to love God and my brothers and sisters.”

My freedom is then fulfilled when “prayer and contemplation become the heart and soul of all I am and all I do.”  My prayer and contemplation enhance and deepen my relationship with God.  This improvement and acceleration of my relationship with God strengthens the foundation of Love that is the basis of how I approach my work of self-denial in the world, and it gives my good works meaning and staying power. 

In short, all of this together is what allows me to “store up treasure in heaven,” a treasure that God will keep safe from all earthly concern like “moths, vermin and thieves.”  When my treasure is located with God, it becomes unassailable by anyone other than myself.  Only by sin can I cause it to be depleted or destroyed. 

The quotes from Love’s Reply call me to submission and self-forgetfulness.  They encourage me to “not hold back anything of myself for myself.”  I am to “contemn myself more and more, that the grace of God may be made perfect in me.”  “With all that I have and all that I am I will live wholly unto God in Christ.  I must absolutely and unconditionally forget myself that thereafter I may live for God alone.”

Or, in the words of Francis, with my whole heart, my whole soul, my whole mind, with my whole strength and fortitude, with my whole understanding, with all my powers, with every effort, every affection, every feeling, every desire and wish, let me Love the Lord my God …….

All of it points to self-denial as the work that I am unconditionally called to.

I must turn and gaze at God in true Penance and become more and more enamored with Him.  I am weak, broken, and needy.  He is all Good, all Loving, all Merciful, etc., etc.  It should be simple to decide which direction to take and who to rely on. 

Desire for Him must arise in me and carry me forward in a direction where denial of self in favor of devotion to God becomes the focus of all my effort.  Even if that does not meet any traditional definition of work, I understand the path it puts me on, which culminates in a relationship with God that is joyful now while at the same time productive regarding the demands of eternity.  The transient happiness of earth will be supplanted by the permanent joyfulness of Heaven, which I can begin to glimpse even now. 

As God’s Creation, I am totally dependent on Him.  I realize that my true happiness lies not in anything that this world can give me, but instead in the Grace that He bestows on me as He sustains me moment by moment.  He works in me continuously, and as I wake to His Labor, “all concern for self” fades away.

I long for Him and Him alone as I relegate my self to the background.  I become focused on the true treasure of Love that Jesus asks me to aim for in the Sermon on the Mount.  When I make self-denial the work of the rest of my lifetime, I open my ability to Love as He wishes me to Love.

_________________

Today is once again Sunday.  A week has passed, and it is now the fifth Sunday in ordinary time.  Almost everything above was written before I read and heard the readings for this weekend, but once again, God speaks to me directly despite the improbability of the timing. 

Today’s readings focus on the calling of Isaiah, Paul, and Peter. 

In the first reading, note the exclamation point at the end, which is indicative of the joy that Isaiah is feeling at being called by God to do His work.  Yes, the work will be taxing.  It will take all that Isaiah has, at every moment of every day, to fulfill what God is asking of him.  Isaiah will need to deny himself everything a typical worldly outlook allows to properly answer the call of God.  But he does not hesitate, and even more, he is exuberant as he accepts the task.  I should be so excited and joyful as I consider the work of self-denial that I know I am called to.

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying,
“Whom shall I send?  Who will go for us?”
“Here I am,” I said; “send me!”

The second reading concerns the calling of Paul.  Paul was farther astray then either Augustine or Francis.  As he admits, he was actively persecuting the Church.  He desperately needed assistance for his conversion to take hold and Jesus answered his need directly.  In response, Paul sets aside every worldly concern and belief he had held up until that moment in favor of the relationship that Jesus invites him to.  Letting go of his entire previous self, he becomes an apostle of Christ.  This is exactly the transformation I seek.     

Last of all, as to one born abnormally,
he appeared to me.
For I am the least of the apostles,
not fit to be called an apostle,
because I persecuted the church of God.
But by the grace of God I am what I am,
and his grace to me has not been ineffective.
Indeed, I have toiled harder than all of them;
not I, however, but the grace of God that is with me.
Therefore, whether it be I or they,
so we preach and so you believed.

Finally, we have the call of Peter. 

Jesus is preaching at the Sea of Galilee.  He borrows Peter’s boat so that the Word can be clearly heard by all.  When He concludes He instructs Peter to move to deeper water and cast out his nets for a catch.  Peter, having fished all night unsuccessfully, is doubtful but he complies.  The result is a catch so large that the nets began to tear.  Peter calls for help from his partners and the catch is so numerous it fills both boats to the point of sinking.

Peter is astonished.  He drops to his knees and tells Jesus to depart from him because he is “a sinful man.”  Jesus ignores the sin and says,

“Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”
When they brought their boats to the shore,
they left everything and followed him.
  

Sometimes what calls to you in the gospels will not be a full story or a full verse.  Sometimes it is just a single word.   

As this gospel was being read yesterday at the Saturday vigil, I was not paying particularly close attention.  When I arrive at Church, I typically review the readings before Mass starts so I am familiar with them.  This gives me a little time to prepare, and it negates the need to read along as they are spoken.  I can just listen but even with this luxury, my attention often strays.  I usually find myself interpreting the words ahead of the homily, wondering if Father saw them the same way I did.  Will he speak to the message I found during the few minutes of reflection time I had, or will he have a completely different take?

Yesterday, when I heard Father say the word “everything” right at the end of the gospel, bells and whistles went off.  I had not made the connection before Mass, but now I was nodding to myself.  “Yes, this speaks exactly to what I have been writing about the last two days!” 

I was as joyous as Isaiah at this revelation, so I had to add that exclamation point!

I look back in this moment and feel jealous of Paul.  I wish Jesus would forcefully rap me upside the head and speak to me directly, out loud.  Well, it may not have been out loud, but He did speak directly to me at Mass.  He made sure I heard the word “everything” and that I connected it to my writing. 

The question is, can I respond with a complete embrace of conversion and Love as Paul did?

And then the gospel story.  I have already written about the stubbornness of Peter.  Just like me, he is a sinful man and, despite the call by Jesus, his sinfulness will not abate any time soon.  His conversion, like that of Augustine and Francis, will take time.  Like Paul, he will deny Jesus outright before he finds his way to the full embrace of Jesus that his initial calling foreshadows.

Even so, we can see that in the moment, his response is what it should be.  He, his brother Andrew, and his partners, James and John, immediately drop “everything” to follow Jesus.  The version in the first chapter of Mark has the same sense of urgency.  “At once they left their nets and followed him.”

Their discipleship was fresh and undeveloped.  They would make progress, regress, and make progress again until they became mature enough to embody the “change of mind, the complete and unceasing renewal that allows a man to tend to God with all his being.”  They were at the beginning of their journey of Penance, but at this beginning, they wholeheartedly embraced the work, the self-denial, that would be required for the promise of Penance to be fulfilled.

They left “everything.”  The followed “at once.”  They denied themselves the life they had been living in favor of a better life, a life where they would be in the presence of Jesus continuously, without regard for the things of the world they left behind.  In the end, the fullness of their commitment would be rewarded by a relationship with Jesus that made it impossible for them to deny the eminence of Love in the Creation plan of the Father.  Their wonder and joy would be complete even though Jesus would leave them much sooner than any of them would have expected or wanted.

Their selflessness gave them the wherewithal to endure even the death of Jesus on the Cross with the sense of mission they needed to guide the nascent Church to the growth that established it as a primary force for good in the world ever after.  Their full focus on Jesus, nurtured by his Word and perfected through the final trial of His Passion, gave their lives a meaning, focus and joy that still speaks to me to this day.

As they were called, so I am called.  Their vocation is my vocation.  I am called to live and walk with Jesus through the gospels just as they did.

In response, I have one question to answer.

Will I drop “everything,” deny myself completely, and will I follow Jesus “at once” on the path to redemption and salvation that He so Lovingly opens and makes possible for all generations by His Incarnation, His Passion, His Resurrection and His never-ending Presence?

How can I respond in any other way than to say with Isaiah, “Send me!”

Proceed to Chapter Six: Spiritual Poverty

Back to Chapter Four: Penance

2 thoughts on “Chapter Five: Self-Denial

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