The Gospel answer isn't what we think.
Today’s readings can be found here. Read Fr. Epicoco’s brief reflections on the daily Mass readings, Monday through Saturday, here. For Sunday Mass reading commentary from Fr. Rytel-Andrianik, see here.
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Every time we read this passage, we face the same temptation: thinking that Jesus is eulogizing suffering. That is not the case. Instead, he is showing us a path that actually leads somewhere – because our greatest risk is to spend our life walking around in circles without ever finishing anything.
To deny ourselves means learning to be wary of the thoughts and feelings that destabilize us. We can fight them back with Jesus’ words. It is a bit like helping someone who is drowning: The person must cling to that helping hand and put panic aside.
In this sense, “denying oneself” means learning to obey something else that pulls us out of the darkness we fall into when we are trapped in our thoughts and emotions. Taking up one’s cross and following Jesus means dealing with our lives like Jesus teaches us to do. Life can be a minefield, but Jesus knows where you can walk through without blowing up.
Following Him means taking His words seriously. Today’s readings make it clear that without the Gospel we would surely get lost – and that is precisely why we need to keep Jesus at the center of our lives. It is not as if we are unable to understand Him. Jesus made himself understood by everyone and continues to make himself understood. We just need to learn to listen to Him a little bit better.
Father Luigi Maria Epicoco is a priest of the Aquila Diocese and teaches Philosophy at the Pontifical Lateran University and at the ISSR ‘Fides et ratio,’ Aquila. He dedicates himself to preaching, especially for the formation of laity and religious, giving conferences, retreats and days of recollection. He has authored numerous books and articles. Since 2021, he has served as the Ecclesiastical Assistant in the Vatican Dicastery for Communication and columnist for the Vatican’s daily newspaper L’Osservatore Romano.