Friday, 29 August 2014

Take up your cross

"If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. "

I've known parishioners elsewhere to get understandably cross at their clergy urging them to "take up their cross" and do more every year, especially as it seems to be the ones who do most who keep responding to the call to do even more. But there is surely something every one of us can do to follow Christ more closely.

"Self-denial" is, it must be said, a pretty unpopular notion these days. Humility is hardly the virtue of our age. And there's good reason for this: modern psychoanalysis and, frankly, a good dose of common sense shows that generations of repressed egos and the old English stiff upper lip lead to depression, self-hatred and often, sadly, to abusive and violent behaviour later in life. I don't think the young and (increasingly) not-so-young things throwing up on the streets and starting fights on Friday nights truly love themselves, for example. So we do have to be careful about encouraging self-denial.

The problem, it seems to me, is discerning between the true self and the various false selves that surround it, like rotten onion layers. The true self is the image of God in which we are all made. It is the spirit of Christ's self-sacrificial love which dwells within every single one of us and is just waiting to be released; the slavery which yields true freedom.

The false selves, on the other hand, are the puffed-up ideas of ourselves, the masks we wear for whatever reason as we try to live up to the demands of the outside world. The Christian tradition has a good word for these obfuscations and distortions of our true nature: sin. It's all too easy to fall into, but a hard habit to break.

Fortunately for us, we don't need to break sin: that has been done for us, by Christ on the Cross. What we do need to do is humbly acknowledge our sins and repent of them, knowing that God will forgive us. This is an essential part of preparation for the Eucharist, and if our general confession at the beginning of every Sunday service is merely lip-service, then we really need to think again. Repentance is the beginning of denying our false selves and growing to live in truth and freedom.

An excellent resources which you might use to prepare yourself for each Eucharist, perhaps the night before, can be found here: http://www.rcdom.org.uk/documents/EXAMEN.pdf

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