In the Gospel reading for tomorrow
Jesus says, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." Commenting on Jesus words in his great work The Imitation of Christ
, Thomas à Kempis (c. 1380-1471) wrote,
There will always be many who love Christ's heavenly kingdom, but few who will bear his cross. Jesus has many who desire consolation, but few who care for adversity. He finds many to share his table, but few who will join him in fasting. Many are eager to be happy with him; few wish to suffer anything for him. Many will follow him as far as the breaking of bread, but few will remain to drink from his passion. Many are awed by his miracles, few accept the shame of his cross.
Many love Christ as long as they encounter no hardship; many praise and bless him as long as they receive some comfort from him. But if Jesus hides himself and leaves them for a while, they either start complaining or become dejected. Those, on the contrary, who love him for his own sake and not for any comfort of their own, praise him both in trial and anguish of heart as well as in the bliss of consolation. Even if Jesus should never comfort them, they would continue to praise and thank him. What power there is in a pure love for Jesus - love that is free from all self-interest and self-love!
Do not those who always seek consolation deserve to be called mercenaries? Do not those who always contemplate their own profit and gain prove that they love themselves rather than Christ? Where can we find anyone who is willing to serve God for nothing? It is surely rare to find a person spiritual enough to strip himself of all earthly things. And where can we find anyone so truly poor in spirit that he is free from being dependent on created things? Such a person is worth far more than the jewels brought from the most distant lands.
If one were to give all his wealth, it is nothing. If he were to try and make amends for all his sins, it is worth little. If he excelled in learning and knowledge, he is still far afield. If he had great virtue and much ardent devotion, he still would lack a great deal, and especially the one thing that is most necessary to him. What is this one thing? He must give up everything, especially himself, retaining no private store of selfish desires. Then, when he has done all that he knows ought to be done, let him consider it as nothing. He should not bask in any applause he may receive, but consider himself an ordinary servant. As it says in the Gospel, "When you have done everything you were told to do, you should say, 'I am an unworthy servant; I have only done my duty'" (Luke 17:10).
Many find the command, "Deny thyself, take up your cross and follow Me" (Matt. 16:24) too hard. But it will be much harder to hear that final word: "Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the everlasting fire" (Matt. 25:41). Those who hear the word of the cross and follow it willingly now, need not fear judgment. This sign of the cross will be in the heavens when the Lord comes to judge. Then everyone who serves the cross, who in this life made themselves one with the Crucified, will draw near with confidence to Christ, the judge.
Why, then, do you fear to take up the cross when through it you can win the kingdom? There is no salvation or hope of everlasting life but in the cross.
As Sadhu Sundar Singh (1889-1929) put it "If we do not bear the cross of the Master, we will have to bear the cross of the world, with all its earthly goods. Which cross have you taken up? Pause and consider."