The synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) each quote Jesus speaking about denying oneself. However, Luke phrases things with a slightly different twist. Luke added a word to the sentence. And to me... it makes a lot of difference. What's the word, you ask? - "daily" -
Yep... one simple, five-letter word makes all the difference. In other words, denying oneself is not a one time thing... neither is carrying one's cross. It's a daily decision. And, I don't know if anyone else notices this, but it's not really negotiable, either. So... not only does one have to deny oneself constantly... and carry their cross... there's no "ifs, ands or buts" about it.
You might wonder what brought me to these reflections. It's not often that I begin my blog with a brief exegetical statement (yep... I'm even making up new words...)... Well, I'm glad you asked...
It seems to me that before this week I'm not sure that I ever really understood what Jesus meant. No, that's not right. It's not that I didn't understand. It's just that I hadn't ever really lived it... or understood it from a practical perspective. What does that mean day in and day out? What does that mean in the context of religious life? I suppose you could say that I came face-to-face with the fact that academic or theological knowledge/understanding doesn't mean much of anything until you really examine whether you are living the reality.
Before people start wondering... no... I'm not carrying some heavy burden. Nor am I going through some difficulty. I'm just honestly looking at myself... hearing this call to deny myself... "knowing" (from an academic perspective) about the vows... and saying, "Are there things in my life that don't live up to this?"
The vow of obedience, in my understanding, is a call to listen and respond to God's promptings. It is the humble realization, also, that I may not be able to figure that out alone. God speaks through the people in our lives. That's a fact that I'm sure many wouldn't argue. And so, in community life there is shared discernment. I can no longer make decisions as if I'm a singular, autonomous person living her Christian life on her own.
Now... that's all well and good in theory until a person is challenged. And yes... I am challenged - daily (in a good way). I should have learned this lesson long ago: things don't always happen the way I want them to. Duh. But the thing is... the vow of obedience (again in my limited understanding) is a complete denial of self will. It's not my will that matters. I've known that for a long time. It's just a lot more difficult when my will doesn't seem to match God's.
I find myself saying to God at times... "But God, I really want..." or "God, I can't do that/ not do that/ give that up/ go here..." And sometimes I hear myself praying, "God, why would you want such-and-such? Wouldn't you rather x-y-or-z??" As if God will one day say, "You know, Nicole, you're right." *smile*
On Wednesday of this week I went to the 12:15 Mass at St. Mary's Univ. because we don't have a community Mass on Wednesdays. As I was praying before Mass began, a song refrain came to my mind... and it wouldn't go away. "Father, I put my life in your hands." It's from John Michael Talbot's rendition of Psalm 31. That became my prayer. To put my life... my will... my all... in the hands of God.
I'm sure there are other times in my life when I've made some form of that statement my prayer. But this time I think it was different. It was as if I wasn't the one controlling the words. They were welling up within me without much thought on my part.
But, that was Wednesday... and as is written in the 9th chapter of Luke's Gospel... denying oneself and taking up one's cross is a daily thing...
And so... my journey of self discovery and "God discovery" continues. And what an interesting (and quick!) road it's been so far. I can hardly believe that it's already October. I understand that as an indication that things are going well. And, indeed, I believe things are going very well for me here.
Thanks for checking in. Feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
With many prayers,