(Mark 8: 34-38; 9:1)
In today’s Holy Gospel, the Lord clearly states what a person must do to follow Christ. That is, how one can be a true Christian.
The first words that the Lord said are “whoever desires…” (verse 34). The first and most basic requirement for us to follow Christ is the desire, the free will of every person. Jesus never forced anyone. He calls upon all people to come for rest; “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden, (with sufferings) and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). He invites, but does not make people come to Him. “The Lord desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4), but not in an oppressive way. Such freedom that God gave to us, His creation! Unlimited Freedom, in that people can do whatever they want, to approach or depart from Him; to hear His word or to despise Him.
Christ therefore appeals to those who really want to follow Him and says: “let him deny himself.” This is the second requirement to follow Christ. What does it mean to deny myself? Simply, to deny what is bad. The Apostle Paul urges: “you put off…the old man which grows corrupt according to deceitful lusts” (Ephesians 4:22). Egotism, vain aspirations, less fulfilling and sinful desires, and more that imprison us in our self-interest. So, I deny myself for another; and first of all for Christ. The Apostle Paul continues with his example: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). My own “desire” is submitted to the will of Christ. I do not do what I want, but I try to do what Christ would have me do, because I have absolute trust in Him. I may be wrong in my choices, but Christ is “the Truth,” Omniscient, and Infallible. By following Him, I am sure to always benefit.
But Christ, as we have heard, does not end with just this. He goes on to speak of a third condition: “and take up his cross, and let him follow me.” What does the Lord mean by this? To lift the cross that He raised to Calvary? He does not seem to speak of His own Cross, for there is no man who can lift the Cross of Christ. If we pay attention to the Holy Gospel, we will find that the Lord says “his (own) cross”; Jesus is talking about the personal cross that every believer is called to take up following Him. What can this cross be? It is the burden of the sorrows that each person carries; sadness, hostility, injustice, insults, family disagreements, contempt, slander, illness, the premature deaths of loved ones, deprivation, poverty, unemployment, being a refugee, or the loneliness of abandoning their own people. All of this varies from person to person. One can even reach the sacrifice of their life, as it happened with the Holy Martyrs of the Faith, who preferred martyrdom rather than deny their love and faith in Christ, Who first died on the Cross for us all. Our personal cross, therefore, says the Lord, must be taken up willingly with determination, patience, and without nagging, complaining, or despair. Let us be sure that the cross that God has given to each of us is within our ability to endure it, and we can carry it to the end.
In this way, we will gain the salvation of our soul, which is of greater value than all the treasures of the earth. Amen.