Thursday after Ash Wednesday
(Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Luke 9:22-25)
When Jesus speaks of taking up one’s cross in the gospel, we usually think of accepting the hardships that are part of every person’s life. Even the rich get sick. Even the famous suffer heartache. We want to bear with disease and anxiety with the same patience and courage that characterized Jesus as he headed toward Jerusalem.
But when the gospel speaks of the cross at the beginning of Lent, another idea comes to mind. We think not so much of the trials thrust upon us as of the penances taken on voluntarily. We search for ways to deprive ourselves – perhaps from some food or drink that we enjoy and from the rest or entertainment that we defer in helping others. Certainly in our age of instant gratification such behavior appears bizarre and even masochistic to many, but we know differently. We understand that such sacrifice conforms us more to the one whom we not just admire and follow but who gives us salvation.
How does this happen? Jesus allowed his persecutors to torture him out of love for us. We show a parallel love by denying ourselves. It is the same spiritual motivation that people show in sympathy actions – a wife giving up wine in support of her alcoholic husband or even a union showing solidarity with another that is on strike by calling a work stoppage. Also self-denial makes us morally stronger, again like Jesus. We exhibit control over our sensual appetites as well as the capacity to better appreciate their fulfillment on the day of glory.