Painful Choices

Painful Choices

Twenty-Second Sunday of the Year. Fr John Orme Mills encourages us to make the hardest choice of all.

We all know that self-denial is a thing unavoidable in this world sometimes. Self-denial is one of the most basic facts of life, part of being human. Because our lives are not composed of infinite realisable possibilities, every time we make a choice of any sort we deny ourselves something.

To take an obvious example, a human being cannot enter a genuinely deep love-relationship with somebody and at the same time chase after every charming face that happens to pass by.

In today’s gospel reading Christ says: “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it, but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.”

God confronts us always with a choice. Meeting God means facing up to a choice. And, because this is a choice that involves the whole of their existence, most human beings spend most of their time running as fast as they can away from meeting God, doing everything they can to avoid having to face that choice.

Accepting the lordship of Christ surely means forgetting ourselves and, indeed, sharing with him day by day the pain of living in a world that chooses to reject him. Yet what is the point of it all — of self-denial of the sort Christ is asking for? What does it mean? Where is the end? In fellowship in his death, in his rejection — yes, in the ignominious rejection he predicts here, in this gospel passage.

Finding salvation is not a matter of winning points. Accepting God’s initiative, opting for God, means opting for what our society labels failure. This, of course, sounds depressing, but is it so really?

The famous German mediaeval Dominican mystic Meister Eckhart said in one of his sermons: “Since it is God’s nature not to be like anyone, we have to come to the state of being nothing (no thing) in order to enter in to the same nature that He is.”

As Christ stated in today’s Gospel reading: “Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it, but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.”

“For my sake”, notice. Dying to oneself, forgetting oneself, self-denial — this is, of course, completely meaningless and destructive and in fact phoney if it is seen as an end in itself, or even as a useful tool for us to succeed in doing something. The genuinely great martyrs made neither of those mistakes.

There was, we Christians know, a death that brought life into the world, and it is that death which we are summoned to enter — a death in which there is no darkness but only light, the light of resurrection.

Loss and failure are the things many of us most deeply fear.

Yet, if we can see our loss and failure within the context of the message that has been addressed to us in this gospel text — in other words, if we will only allow God to let us see them (if just for a moment) within the overall shape of the divine plan for humanity’s salvation — then we shall start to become free.

Readings: Jer 20:7-9 | Rom 12:1-2 | Matt 16:21-27

fr. John Orme Mills O.P. was a former journalist who, after joining the Order, edited New Blackfriars and was at one time Assistant to the Master of the Order in Rome. He died on 6th December 2010. May he rest in peace.