Si quis vult post me venire, abneget semetipsum, et tollat crucem suam, et sequatur me. Qui enim voluerit animam suam salvam facere, perdet eam: qui autem perdiderit animam suam propter me, inveniet eam.
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.
Matthew 16: 24b-25
It’s not quite as fun as it was all cracked up to be. In the end, there were no blessings for being free – if by free you mean, “You ain’t the boss of me.” For all there were were more things left to wander about and the distinct paranoia of our modern world, the Fear of Missing Out.
We have only one job in all of this. What if one job is more like watching bread rise than being Katy Perry’s Fireworks?
At the middle of the Rosary there’s the Mystery of the Carrying of the Cross. It’s come to me lately that that’s really all there is: this is the only part of Our Lord’s Passion we’re asked – nay, commanded – to emulate. Yes, we’re to die with Christ, and yes, we’re to be baptised, and yes we’re to eat this bread and drink this cup, but the only part of the Passion we’re told, specifically, to repeat, each in our individual life, is this one thing: Carry the Cross.
This is Christianity: carrying the cross.
It’s not about “finding my passions” or “doing what I do best for God”. It’s not that “Jesus has a plan for your life” (and he does, but he’s not going to show you…). You have free will, you have choices to make. Wake up in the morning and carry the cross.
This passage is very Psychological. Reading these verses, you might remember another translation that asks “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world if he lose his soul.” The greek word is ψυχή psyche, used over and over:
For whoever wishes to save his psyche will lose it,
but whoever loses his psyche for my sake will find it.
What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world
and forfeit his psyche?
Or what can one give in exchange for his psyche?
Psychological – not in the sense of modern mental onanism that tries to find the “me” in all this and “fix it”, but rather in the classical, Christian sense. You have a Psyche. It’s not the “soul” living in you like the Platonists and the Gnostics taught, nor is it the Mind like the Greeks imagined: it’s your very self. You are a union of body and spirit, of Matter and Eternity. Your Psyche is this presence of place and time that is your fulcrum into the Cosmos. You. We are not souls living in matter, but rather matter living in souls.
And if you try to hog all the stash, you will die.
We are created in the image of God whose entire being is self-emptying, kenosis. Not self abnegation, but emptying AS self. This is what God IS. And so are we… unless we miss the point.
So very much of our modern world is about finding my me-ness, and being that. Well, guess what, your me-ness is about giving it away. Literally, that’s what we call Love. Wiling the good of another until you sacrifice all of you for it.
Jesus says that when you find it and be it, you will die.
But when you give it away… then you actually live.
What if the very thing you thought was your me-ness was a black hole that sucked in everything and everyone until there was nothing left but a yawning maw of pride and bullied corpses of your enemies? Then you die.
What if the very thing you thought was your me-ness was only skin deep, was driven by hate, was a sociological and unscientific construct that had nothing to do with either biology or history. What if it made you push away everyone and everything in the name of a dream of some sort of revenge of the underdogs. But you could only love people like you. Then you die.
What if in the end, all you had left was your few treasured possessions and an illimitable sense of you’ll never catch me! Then you die.
Me is not in the getting, the having, the experiencing, the sexing, the dancing, the working, the pain-avoiding, drug-taking, fear-filled-zombified thing the world calls “life” and “reality TV”.
There’s no me there at all.
We’re going to die so fast that we don’t have time to wait to give it all up. Take up the cross and walk. This is the me that we are each offered.
St Paul takes if further than Jesus, telling us to offer our bodies as sacrifices too.
And in the end, where there is nothing left but the divine and eternal life that is the very act of kenosis enfleshed in each of us – at that point when we are surrounded by so much joy that we don’t miss our toys and our games – at that point we say with Jeremiah, “you seduced me, Lord, and i let myself be seduced.”
But it will not feel that way here, now – or, maybe not for the next few centuries. For if you speak out the World of YHVH today, you will – like Jeremiah – feel as though you’ve been sucker punched. To actually preach the Gospel in word and/or deed is to step out of the world and to actively critique it. To Love in the fullest sense, in the Gospel sense, anyone at all is to will the Good, the True, and the Beautiful into their lives – even if they don’t want it. (Yes, there are good, better, and best ways to do this, and they vary with the person… but to not do it at all is so much not-love as to be hate.)
And to love like that – to pour out your life, your heart, your soul, your art, your job, your whole being in love for another person – is to find life, is to be life, is to be the image of the Father, of whom the Son is the Icon, and by whom we are made to share this eternal outpouring with the world. And when we do that – and the world spits it back into our face, or our friends leave us in disgust and hatred, then we will say with gusto, faces buried in our elbows, bitter pints of IPA on the table, “Lord, you seduced me… but I let myself be seduced.”
As Catholics, we know that Jesus doesn’t promise us success or victories. We know there are no full wallets in the Kingdom of heaven. We know that there are no full bellies, no full closets, and no full mouths. But there are full hearts pouring eternity into each other.
We may not yet have our bodies on the line, but soon, it is possible, that we shall.
And then it is us who must love beyond life itself. Willing the good of all – even when they don’t want it. We have only to walk away from Love to die… but we are seduced into living instead. This is who we are. Christians are the ones who will die to show they love their murderers, to embody the love they feel for whomever is in front of them. Before of a society that will offer a pinch of incense to any Caesar that promises to liberate them from any sense of obligation, we will throw ourselves under the bus, jam the gears like so many Luddites, and stuff our bodies into the air vents to seal out any poison lest anyone else die. We are seduced. We can only love more.
We must make our bodies, our minds, our pride, our sense of self, an offering all to Christ in his person and in the person of our neighbor. The ever living Christ is as near to us as one seat over on the bus, the shopping cart in front of us at WalMart, the door just down the hall.
That’s when we are finally loving, we will have psyche then. Each and all of us.
We are seduced.
Into carrying the cross daily out of service: We don’t want them to have to go too far when they need a place to nail us up.