If any one will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.1 It will be useful to make a few reflections on these words of Jesus Christ. He says, “If any one will come after Me;” he does not say, “to me,” but, “after me.” The Lord desires that we should come close after him; we must therefore walk in the same road of thorns and sufferings in which he walked. He goes before, and does not rest until he reaches Calvary, where he dies; therefore, if we love him, we must follow him even to death. And thus it is necessary that every one should deny himself; that is, that he should deny himself everything that self-love demands, but that is not pleasing to Jesus Christ.
Our Lord says further, “Let him take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” Let us consider these last words one by one. Let him take up; it avails little to carry the cross by compulsion; all sinners bear it, but without merit; to bear it with merit, we must embrace it voluntarily. His cross; under this word is implied every kind of tribulation, which is called a “cross” by Jesus Christ, in order that the name may render it sweet, from the thought that he died on the cross for love of us.
He also says, “his cross.” Some persons when they receive spiritual consolations, offer themselves to suffer as great things as were endured by the martyrs,--hot irons, piercing nails, and tortures; but then they cannot endure a headache, the carelessness of a friend, the ill temper of a relative. My brother, my sister, God does not ask you to endure hot irons, piercing nails, and tortures; but he desires that you should suffer patiently this pain, this annoyance, this contempt. A certain nun would fain go to suffer in a desert; she would perform great acts of penance; but yet she cannot endure such a one for her Superior, or such a one for her companion in her duties; but God desires that she should bear that cross which he gives her to suffer, and not that which she would herself choose.
He says daily. Some persons embrace the cross at the beginning, when it reaches them; but when it lasts long, they say, “Now I can bear no more.” Yet God wills that we should go on to endure it with patience, and even that we should bear it continually, even till death. See, then, that salvation and perfection consist in these three words, let him deny; we must deny to our self-love whatever is not right: let him take up; we must embrace the cross that God gives us: let him follow, we must follow the footsteps of Jesus Christ even to death.
Let us be persuaded that for this end God keeps us in the world, that we may bear the crosses he sends us; and in this consists the merit of our life. Therefore our Saviour, because he loves us, came into this world, not for enjoyment, but to suffer, in order that we might follow in his steps. To this end you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving you an example that you should follow his steps.2 Let us watch him, as he goes before with his cross, to point out the road by which we must follow him, if we would be saved. Oh, what a joy it is, in every trouble that befalls us, to say to Jesus Christ, “Lord, is it Thy will that I should endure this cross? I accept it, and will endure it as long as it pleases Thee.”
Many persons are delighted to hear one speak of prayer, of peace, of love to Jesus Christ; but they find little pleasure in hearing one speak of crosses or of suffering. These are satisfied so long as the wind breathes with spiritual delights, but if it ceases, and there comes some adversity or desolation, in which the Lord hides himself in order to prove them, and deprives them of their usual comfort, they leave off prayer, Communion, and mortifications, and abandon themselves to ill-humor and lukewarmness, seeking their pleasure from earthly things. But these souls love themselves more than Jesus Christ; while they who do not love him with an interested love, for the sake of consolations, but with a pure love, and only because he is worthy of hove, do not leave their usual devout exercises for any dryness or weariness which they experience, being content to please God; and they offer themselves to suffer this desolation even till death, and through all eternity, if God so will it. Jesus Christ, says St. Francis de Sales, is as kind in desolation as in consolation. Souls that love God find their comfort and sweetness in suffering; in recollecting that they suffer for his love, and say, “How sweet it is, O my Lord! to those who love Thee to suffer for Thee! Oh, that I might die for the love of Thee, my Jesus, who hast died for me!” All this, and still more, is claimed from us by Jesus Christ, who chose a life of pains, and a bitter death, without the slightest relief, for love of us; in order to teach us that if we would love him, we must love him as he loved us. Oh, how dear to Jesus Christ is a soul which suffers and loves! O divine gift ! gift, above every other gift; to love in suffering, and to suffer in loving!
O my Jesus! Thou alone hast been able to teach us these maxims of salvation, all contrary to the maxims of the world; and Thou alone canst give us strength to suffer crosses with patience. I do not pray Thee to exempt me from suffering; I only pray Thee to give me strength to suffer with patience and resignation. O Eternal Father, Thy Son has promised that whatever we ask Thee in his name, Thou wilt give it us.3 Behold, we ask this of Thee: give us grace to endure with patience the pains of this life; hear us for the love of Jesus Christ. And Thou, O my Jesus! pardon me all the offences I have committed against Thee, in that I have not been willing to suffer with patience the troubles Thou hast sent me. Give me Thy love, that it may give me strength to suffer all for love of Thee. Deprive me of everything, of every earthly good, of relatives, friends, health of body, of every comfort; deprive me even of life; but not of Thy love. Give me Thyself, and I ask no more. O most holy Virgin! obtain for me an enduring love for Jesus Christ, even till death.
1“Si quis vult post me venire, abneget semetipsum, et tollat crucem suam quotidie, et sequatur me.” -- Luke, ix. 23.
2“In hoc enim vocati estis. quia et Christus passus est pro nobis, vobis relinquens exemplum, ut sequamini vestigia ejus.” -- 1 Peter, ii. 21.
3“Amen, amen dico vobis: si quid petieritis Patrem in nomine meo, dabit vobis.” -- John, xvi. 23.