Today the Catholic Church celebrates the memorial of St. Gregory the Great, pope and Doctor of the Church. He was a prolific and influential writer as well as a good shephard to his people. He did much to help the poor and, even as pope, lived in monastic simplicity.
I find his comments on what it means to deny ourselves to be very helpful. I think when we hear word that speak of denying ourselves and taking up our cross, we hear them in a negative fashion, assuming they must mean suffering something very unpleasant. Gregory’s words explain Jesus’ words in a more positive and constructive way:
We abandon ourselves, we deny ourselves, when we escape what we were in our old state and strive toward what we are called to be in our new one. Let us consider how Paul, who said, “It is no longer I who live,” had denied himself. The cruel persecutor had been destroyed and the holy preacher had begun to live. If he had remained himself, he would not have been holy. But let the one who denied that he was alive tell us how it came about that he proclaimed holy words through the teaching of the truth. Immediately after saying, “It is no longer I who live,” he added “but Christ lives in me.” It is as if he were saying, “I have indeed been destroyed by myself since I no longer live unspiritually; but according to my essential being I am not dead since I am spiritually alive in Christ.
Denying ourselves, taking up our cross, means taking on Christ. Dying to all that is sinful – all that is not God in us – and allowing Christ more and more to live in us.
That doesn’t sound negative at all. It actually sounds rather attractive.