In the Gospel Reading, Jesus says that anyone who wants to be his follower has to deny herself. She has to take up her cross daily. But how do you do this?
You might think that denying yourself requires you to give up any desires of your own and just accept whatever God sends. If God wants you to live, you are happy to live. On the other hand, if God wants you to die, you are happy to die. Anything whatever that happens is fine with you.
But if anything whatever is always fine with you, you will never have a desire that is frustrated. Nothing that happens will ever cause you sorrow; nothing will make you weep. You will be content with anything whatever.
This is to try to deny yourself by having no desires of your own, in fact, no self of your own at all. But, then, how could you count as crucifying yourself? You can’t crucify a self you don’t have. And so this can’t be the kind of self-denial Jesus is calling us to when he tells us to take up our cross daily.
If we take Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane as our model, we see a different kind of self-denial.
In that prayer, Jesus asks God to let the cup pass from him. Jesus has a desire of his own. Anything whatever is definitely not fine with him.
He wants to live. He does not want to die.
But Jesus finishes his prayer this way: “not my will but yours be done.” He wants God’s will to win out over his own will, if his own will and God’s will are in conflict. He wants his own will to be frustrated if it has to be frustrated in order for God’s will to be done.
So here is what Jesus’ prayer teaches us. To deny yourself requires first having a self to deny. It requires having desires for ordinary good things, for life rather than death. But it also requires trusting the love of God and wanting God’s will to win out over your own, when God’s will is opposed to yours.
This self-denial is compatible with frustration and sorrow; it allows for tears when you lose the good things you wanted and your desires are denied. But if you crucify your self in this way, then your sorrow and tears come with trust and love for the Lord who carried his cross for you.
**From Saint Louis University