What does it mean to sell all we have, give up all we own, and pick up our cross to follow Jesus? I was thinking about this and it dawned on me that Our Lord didn't necessarily want us to sell our house and our car and go around with nothing but the clothes we are wearing. As with so many Gospels, there is much beneath the surface to be discovered.
Carrying the cross requires significant strength. Jesus had the Cyrenian to help Him, but we have Jesus to help us. Sometimes, giving up what we own is not a physical possession, but an idea that we stubbornly cling to. Perhaps it is a habit or weakness that we are attached to, and that attachment is what prevents us from following Christ, Who was completely selfless. It could simply be an attachment to ourselves, and so long as have any attachment to ourselves, we cannot completely follow Christ.
I jokingly refer to my husband as "my cross" and let's face it - some days this has more elements of truth to it than others. How I "carry" him can often depend on my level of patience on a given day. There is perhaps no better demonstration of selfishness than impatience. So, if I become annoyed at the same old things and let it affect how I speak to him and to the kids, I have, in effect, dragged the cross. Some days there are temptations to put the cross down. When that happens, am I any better than the young man who went away sadly because he could not sell all he owned?
St. Therese once observed that she lived the happiest life possible because she had completely given up her own will and wanted only that which God had willed for her. Would this be palpable, or felt happiness? Not necessarily. It is simply the peace that comes with knowing that the more we give up in this life, the greater our joy will be in Heaven, and the closer we are to union with Christ. As many priests and scholars have pointed out, Good Friday comes before Easter Sunday - no cross, no Easter Sunday.
How easy it is to make these observations, and how difficult it is to put them into practice. A priest friend of mine likes to say that Lent is a time for heavy lifting. Perhaps we can use these 40 days as a means of gaining the strength necessary to pick up that cross that we have placed in a corner and make our best effort to carry it. We won't have to carry it alone, but like St. Peter on the water when he began to sink, we need to keep our focus on Christ and the example He left for us.
What are some exercises we can do to give up attachment to self?
1. Don't argue back when accused of something
2. Ignore something someone has done deliberately in an effort to provoke us and say a prayer of thanks for the test they have provided
3. Become indifferent to what we are given or how we are recognized
4. Volunteer for a task that no one else wants to do
5. Let someone else take a seat of honor or prestige
6. Resist any temptation to become angry, whether through thought, word, or deed, at some injustice committed against us
7. Sit in the worst place or near the most objectionable person on the bus or in church, etc.
8. Immediately put any thought out of our heads that in any way glorifies us and do some small act of penance in reparation for thinking of ourselves in this way
9. Resist taking credit for one of our ideas when someone else proposes it as their own
10. Argue with no one. If an angry exchange does occur, seek out the other person as soon as possible and offer an apology or olive branch.