What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? Take a moment to think about that. What does it mean to you to be a disciple of Jesus? Do people know you are his disciple? Is there anything more important than being his disciple? Certainly it is not a casual thing to follow Jesus faithfully. That’s why he gives us the conditions of discipleship in this Gospel. Jesus says,
“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.”
We cannot be his disciple unless we deny ourselves of things we want. If we give in to our every desire, we become slaves of our desires. The only way we can reach spiritual maturity is with great discipline.
First, we must have a discipline of prayer. So many times we have heard people say they don’t have time to pray; or they may say they don’t want to bother God with the small stuff. What is it that we think we can do without God’s help?
It is His love that sustains us and keeps us in existence. Prayer is not just asking God for what we need; prayer is also thanksgiving for all God has given us. Prayer is also about adoration, worship and praise. Prayer is our connection to Almighty God who is our Father and wants to have a personal relationship with us. It is especially in our prayer that God gives us insights that help us to discover His great plan for us.
A possible prayer routine would be to begin our day with prayer, pray before meals, pray when you get in your car, pray whenever you begin a new task or before you have a meeting or before entering into a conversation. Of course we have the divine office, the rosary and other devotions we are familiar with. We should pray at night before sleep; examining our conscience to reflect on how well we did as a disciple of Jesus. It is especially important to pray every day with your spouse and children. The most important gift that parents can give their children, is that the children know without a doubt that their parents love each other, their parents love them, and their parents love God.
It has been said that ‘no prayer means no faith.’ In other words, the measure of our faith is our commitment to prayer. If we want to deepen our faith we must pray more, read the Scriptures, read the lives of the saints, know what the Church teaches and why; and especially spend time with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. If we want to follow Jesus, we must spend time with him, just as we would with people we love.
Jesus says we must deny ourselves and take up our cross.
We all are going to have crosses to carry throughout our lives; they could be physical, financial, relational or any other difficulty. If we are going to carry these crosses with Jesus’ help we must turn to him. Our temptation when we are undergoing a trial is to escape for a time through alcohol, drugs, work, immoral relationships or by being impatient or rude with the people we love. Some people even become impatient with God if their prayers aren’t answered right away and they turn to card readers, astrology or other superstitions. Another temptation is to keep looking at our cross, whatever it is, and in our imagination it becomes bigger than reality, and we believe it is too heavy to carry.
When we undergo trials we should first of all look at Jesus on the cross and remember his promise. He said, “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest, for my yoke is easy and my burden light.” If we pray and keep our eyes on Jesus, he will help us moment by moment to carry our cross; it’s his promise. No matter how bad we have it on our worst day, there will always be someone who has it much worse and is still joyful because of their relationship with Jesus. Again, read the lives of the saints to see how God worked in the lives of those who loved him in a heroic way.
Those who are the happiest in this life and for all eternity are the faithful disciples of Jesus. Jesus promised an abundant life for those who followed him. He didn’t say it would be an easy life. He said, “…whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” In other words, the only way we can reach our potential for happiness is in relationship with him and the help of his grace that he makes available to us through the Church he founded and through her sacraments; especially reconciliation and the Eucharist. In this holy sacrament of the Eucharist, he gives us himself—body, blood, soul and divinity— so that we might be transformed into his faithful disciples, if we are willing to die to ourselves, take up our cross and follow him.
(Preached as a homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A.)