“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 and that of the gospel will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? What could one give in exchange for his life?” (Mark 8:34-37)
Do you not know that to be a lover of the world means enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wants to be a lover of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose that the scripture speaks without meaning when it says, “The spirit that he has made to dwell in us tends toward jealousy”? But he bestows a greater grace; therefore, it says: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” So submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you of two minds. (James 4:4-8)
It is easy to read Jesus’ words about saving and losing our lives (Mark 8:35-37) and never ask the question: “What do these words mean for my life?” Of course, his words would inspire only fear in us if all we looked at were pain and loss. Praise God, then, that he wants to open our eyes to see a fuller picture of his plan of salvation. Jesus didn’t die just so we would lose our old lives. He died so that we could receive his risen life! Isn’t this what this grace-filled season of Lent is all about? We should look upon our journey this Lent with awe, wonder, and anticipation of the good things God promises. Why? Because our hearts can be cleansed and our minds made anew through the power of Jesus’ cross and resurrection.
This Lent, Jesus invites us to new life, not just in heaven someday, but here and now. We can exhaust ourselves by giving in to fallen desires and being a “lover of the world” (James 4:4). But if we do, we risk losing the treasure of the life God intended for us. As we come to “deny” ourselves and turn our lives over to Jesus, we are given a new and better existence.
Jesus isn’t asking us to deny ourselves every pleasure—that’s not the point. He wants us to deny the sinful drives within us that seek to control our lives. Through the Lenten disciplines of fasting, almsgiving, and penance, Jesus wants us to “Draw near to God” so that he will draw near to us (James 4:8). He wants us to turn our hearts to God so that the Holy Spirit can empower us to live according to the new life we received at baptism. Independence, unforgiveness, legalism, worldly approval, self-glorification, perfectionism: They only lead to unhappiness. These are the things that Jesus came to put to death in us.
Yes, there is loss through the cross and through self-denial. But what do we lose? Slavery to sin. And what do we gain? A cleansed conscience, freedom from patterns of sin, intimacy with God, and a rediscovery of who we are in God’s sight! Jesus longs to see us stop thinking we must gain victory on our own over the things that threaten our spiritual well-being. He longs to see us surrender our self-sufficiency so that we can receive the power of his Spirit to live a new life.
So make sure your Lenten plan also includes increased time for prayer and receiving the Sacraments (especially the Eucharist and Confession). Make it a point to fast not only from certain kinds of food but also from things like moodiness, anger, and a sharp tongue. For in the final analysis, Lent is far less about giving some¬thing up, just to prove we can do it, and far more about making ourselves more available to God. If all we do is avoid eating sweets or watching too much television— without taking the opportunity to seek out the Lord more deeply—we will have missed the primary purpose of this holy season.
Lent can be a season of deep transformation for all of us if we use it to draw near to God and look to him for our healing and deliverance.
“Father, show me what I must lay down at the foot of the cross so that I can become the person you intended me to be. I want to trust Jesus’ promise that whoever loses his life will save it. Lord, I want to know you more this Lent. Show me how to purify myself and draw near to you during this season of grace.”
Many thanks to The Word Among Us (www.wau.org ) for allowing me to adapt meditations in their monthly devotional magazine. Used with permission.
Questions for Reflection/Discussion by Catholic Men
1. Take some time to meditate and reflect on the Scriptures at the beginning of the article. What do you think God is trying to reveal to you through them?
2. The article begins with these words: “It is easy to read Jesus’ words about saving and losing our lives (Mark 8:35-37) and never ask the question: ‘What do these words mean for my life?’” How would you answer this question?
3. The article goes on to say that God “wants to open our eyes to see a fuller picture of his plan of sal¬vation. Jesus didn’t die just so we would lose our old lives. He died so that we could receive his risen life!” How would you describe the new life that you have received through Jesus’ cross and resurrection?
4. The article focuses on seeing Lent as more than just denying ourselves certain things. In particular, our Lenten plan should also include “increased time for prayer and receiving the Sacraments (especially the Eucharist and Confession). In what ways are these a part of your Lenten plan?
5. The article goes on to encourage us to “Make it a point to fast not only from certain kinds of food but also from things like mood¬iness, anger, and a sharp tongue. For in the final analysis, Lent is far less about giving some¬thing up, just to prove we can do it, and far more about mak¬ing ourselves more available to God. If all we do is avoid eating sweets or watching too much television— without taking the opportunity to seek out the Lord more deeply—we will have missed the primary pur¬pose of this holy season.” How would you describe the primary purpose of “this holy season”?
6. What steps are you willing to take to make your Lenten journey “a season of deep transformation” and a time of “healing and deliverance”?
7. Take some time now to pray that your Lenten journey would be all that the Lord desires for your life, your family, and all your loved ones. Use the prayer at the end of the article as the starting point.