In today’s gospel passage from St. Luke, Jesus declares: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself …”
For many years now, I have parenthetically added the observation (that is, “a healthy self”)—that is to say, then: not a scrupulous self, not a narcissistic self, not any kind of “sick” or deranged self. Makes sense when you think about it, doesn’t it? If one’s life has been all but erased by neglect or abuse by another or others, denying self will most render that person even worse off; such a person will most likely crumble under the weight of self-denial. Someone, for instance, who needs to “play the victim,” is just going to get that addiction fed by self-denial and feed the fire of “Oh, look how I suffer!” Jesus on the cross, in sharp contrast, was not about that, but was rather “the suffering servant,” taking upon himself the sins of us all, and with full confidence of his Father’s love, able to say to another,
“This day you will be with me in paradise.”
Growing up, some of us may have had the benefit of a family more functional than dysfunctional. On top of that, we may have had the blessing of good role-modeling and wholesome, well-balanced, faith-filled mentoring. Now, more likely, this would be a person who could effectively “take up his or her cross and follow.” I might add that scripture seems to bear out that none of the apostles, with perhaps the exception of John, was healthy enough spiritually to take up his cross prior to Pentecost. It is God’s own Holy Spirit that bestowed “the gifts” needed to become spiritually healthy, fortified apostles. It was only spiritually healthy, confident, wiser, and more balanced apostles (though not perfectly), that were ready to take the Good News to all corners of the earth.
In the Gospel today, Peter makes bold to profess that Jesus is “The Christ of God.” How about us? As a parent, as a friend, as clergy or minister, as just a new acquaintance, how do we come across as someone wanting to give witness to our faith? Are we taken seriously? Are we just perceived as sanctimonious or, maybe, just downright annoying? Some people seem to be able to naturally attract others to faith. Why is that? I would wager that those who naturally attract are those most comfortable in their own skin. They are people who are probably at peace with themselves in the knowledge of God’s love and mercy—and of the assurance of heaven. They have “healthy selves.” I believe that the parent who will most effectively influence a son or daughter who “has wandered from the faith” is the one who has a certain calm and peace about him or herself; in other words, parents whose lives make obvious the joy and advantage of belonging to and participating in a faith community are the most likely to communicate the value. Even if we do not see immediate results, this is the type of modeling and mentoring that can pay off long after we are gone. And that’s what we want. Isn’t it?