Monday, January 22, 2007


1. Even though it may not have been put into practice very much, contempt for riches had been taught by some of the ancient pagan philosophers. Nobody before Christ, however, even thought of demanding self-renunciation as well. Self-denial might seem to be a degradation and almost an annihilation of human nature. It might appear quite impossible. Nevertheless, Jesus has said: "If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and followe me." (Mt. 16:24)

Would God have commanded us to do something impossible? Certainly not. As St. Augustine says, our divine Redeemer did not order us to do anything impossible, but to do whatever is perfect. Perfection is admittedly difficult, but it is not impossible. Should we answer Jesus Christ's command in the same way as the disciples did on one occasion: This is a hard saying. Who can listen to it? (John 6:61) No, our reply must be that which St. Peter gave when Our Lord asked reproachfully: "Do you also wish to go away?" (John 6:68) We must repeat with Peter: "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast words of eternal life, and we have come to believe and to know that thou art the Christ, the Son of God." (John 6:69)

2. Let us examine carefully what is meant by this self-denial. It makes two main demands on us. Firstly, we must renounce all those lower impulses and desires which besiege the soul (I Peter 2:11). This means that we have to control and discipline our passions. Since original sin has corrupted our nature, these passions must be restrained and conquered, and then directed towards good objects. Our passions must be changed into virtues. This is a hard task, to accomplish which we must employ both natural and supernatural means.

But we cannot stop at this. The second requirement will cost us even more. We must renounce our own ego, our own will. How can we do this? We must no longer desire whatever is pleasing to us, but whatever is pleasing to God. Our will must cease, as it were, to belong to us in order to become the will of God. Is it the will of God that we should be sick, or poor, or humiliated? Thank God for it. Does He desire to give us consolations or honours or success? Thank Him for this, too. Desire nothing else but what He desires. We are no longer ourselves. Our will is completely absorbed in the will of God. This is not a degradation of human nature; it is its sublimation. Self-renunciation makes it possible for God to live and act in us. Anyone who reaches this goal can say with St. Paul: "It is now no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me." (Gal. 2:20)

3. This denial of ourselves to the extent of identifying our will with the will of God produces in us a profound peace. The Saints scaled this height and found there that tranquility of spirit which led them to rejoice in martyrdom and dishonour. It was this peace of soul which made the dying St. Aloysius Gonzaga smile and say: "I am happy to be going." It was this which enabled the saintly Cardinal Fisher, when he was going to the scaffold, to behold a light which does not fail and say: Commit to the Lord your way ... He will make justice dawn for you like the light (Ps. 36:5-6). This, too, is why the "Imitation of Christ" tells us that nobody is so free as he who knows how to deny himself.

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