Thursday, August 04, 2016

Losing Your Life to Find It

By Colleen O’Sullivan

Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?  (Matthew 16:24-26a)

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.

So much of our faith involves a paradox.  If you try to save your life, Jesus says to his disciples, you will surely lose it.  If you lose your life for Jesus’ sake, you will find it.  St. Francis of Assisi wrote that it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.  For Christians, death is the path to life, not just in the ultimate sense but in many situations, we encounter every day.

What we can let die is the belief that we are in control, that we are lords of our little universes. As we let go of that falsehood, little by little our faith in Jesus grows and leads us to a new and much better life.  That letting go is truly the work of a lifetime.  It doesn’t happen overnight.  It doesn’t happen without an inner struggle.

Jesus tells his friends that if we want to be with him, we have to take up our crosses and follow him.  Crosses come to everyone.  There’s no getting through life without suffering of some sort.  And I don’t know how people without faith make it through.  Because not everyone recognizes a cross as a cross to be borne.  If we’re tightly enmeshed in the belief that we are running the show and things should go our way, there’s almost no other reaction we can have to adversity but bitterness.  

On the other hand, we can look at our lives and the world quite differently if our lives are tightly enfolded in Jesus’ life.  The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola are about a prayerful interweaving of our lives with the Lord’s life.   Unlike the rest of us, Jesus always carried out his Father’s will.  But even Jesus had crosses to bear along the road to the Cross on Calvary.   He preached God’s word.  He lavished God’s mercy and compassion on those who encountered him.  He forgave sinners.  Still, he met enemies every step of the way, people who baited him and looked for ways to seize him.  He gave his disciples nothing but love, yet one of them became his betrayer.  Another denied ever knowing him.  Many of them deserted him during his hours of dying on the Cross.  Jesus didn’t become bitter.  He didn’t fight what happened; he simply endured it because it was his Father’s will.  And he never stopped loving us.

The next time a cross comes your way, turn to Jesus.  He will walk with you and help you to carry it.  He’s been there before.  He knows firsthand what suffering is about and he also knows that there can be no resurrection, no new life, without the death that precedes it.

When you have quiet time to pray today, look back over your life.  What crosses have you been asked to bear?  What have you given up to death and what new life have has been granted to you as a result? 

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