Not so long ago, a young man was hiking the Appalachian Trail in the eastern part of our country. The months-long journey is only advisable for the most skilled and strongest hikers. Leading up to his hike, the young man had purchased the lightest equipment available and had invested in the best hiking boots available. When the time came for his hike, he set out from Georgia. As he began his journey, he imagined what it would be like when he finished: he would look back five months later on the trail from a mountain top in Maine and exclaim, “The world is mine!” or, “I’m on top of the world!” or, something similar. But, a month into his trek, problems developed. A blister on his left foot which began as a small sore grew, and had become infected. Having no other options, the young man saw a doctor who prescribed antibiotics for the infection and warned him to slow things down. He could no longer hike long days, and he became disheartened as he saw his dream of completing the hike fade away.
Perhaps we can see a bit of ourselves in this young man’s story. We pray, we go to Mass, we even come to God when we are in need; yet, we tend to think that we are in charge, that we are the “masters of our destiny.” Often we make plans to “go it” on our own, relying on our own powers and resources, only to fall victim to our weaknesses and see our dreams fade away.
Like that young man, perhaps each of us needs to reduce our inflated sense of ourselves and acknowledge that, no matter what we may want, what really matters is our Lord’s will for our lives. Though we may start with big plans, eventually we must acknowledge our dependence on Our Lord and follow His plan for our lives, for this, and only this, is what’s going to lead to eternal life.
In the New Testament, we hear Jesus tell His disciples, “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 and that of the gospel will save it.” Jesus doesn’t disguise the fact that wholehearted obedience to God’s will calls for self-sacrifice and renunciation of the things that the world holds up as important. However, Jesus doesn’t leave us on our own to figure out what this means; rather, He gives us the perfect example of what it means to follow God’s will. Our Lord obeyed the will of His Father even, unto death, death on a cross.
Being called to follow this example, we must shed our own desires and our own self-centered goals, and so “die” to ourselves so that we may more perfectly unite our will to that of the Father and follow Christ as His disciples by serving those around us. After all, there is no better way to follow Our Lord than to give of ourselves freely, out of love for others. St. James, in the second chapter of his letter, makes clear that faith without works is dead. So, we must put our faith into practice if it is to be alive.
The commandment God gives us is to love others as He has loved us which, in most cases, means living alongside the rest of men and being their equals, giving ourselves to the service of our Lord in the world so as to make everyone know better the love of God. This is the vocation to which Our Lord calls us: to be models of His love to a world that couldn’t be more in need of it. In light of this reality, the question that we must ask ourselves is: Are we ready to try to make our lives a model and example of Christ’s love to those around us? Are we ready to be an alter Christus (another Christ), to all of those whom we encounter? I hope that we can answer this with a resounding “Yes!” If, however, we cannot, we must ever more fervently dedicate ourselves to the process of “dying” to ourselves so that we may be born again to a new life in Christ. For our Lord Jesus, obeyed in this way, even unto death on a cross, and God exalted Him. So too, will the crosses that we bear certainly lead to our own resurrection and exaltation in the gift of eternal life.
Daily we must ask our Father for the grace that we need to take up our daily crosses and follow Him as His disciples in spite of our personal shortcomings, and weaknesses; in this way, we’ll be witnesses of His love to those around us.