NO TO SELF, YES TO GOD

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time  

            From an unknown source comes an article titled, “How To Be Miserable.” It says, “Think about yourself. Talk about yourself.” Use ‘I’ as often as possible. Mirror yourself continually in the opinion of others. Listen greedily to what people say about you. Expect to be appreciated and recognized. Be suspicious. Be jealous and envious. Be sensitive to slights. Never forgive a criticism. Trust nobody but yourself. Insist on consideration and respect. Demand agreement with your own views on everything. Sulk if people are not grateful to you for favors shown to them. Never forget a service you have rendered. Shirk your duties if you can. Do as little as possible for others.

            So, if you want to be miserable, think about yourself, talk about yourself. In other words, if you want to be miserable, be self-centered. But if you want to be happy, deny yourself and be other-oriented. This has a solid foundation on the teachings of the Lord. Jesus says in today’s gospel passage: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”

            Following Jesus demands, according to Harold Buetow, an “ascent of one’s soul into higher realms.” And this ascent begins with denying one’s very self. Because now our life has a new meaning and a higher purpose, we must say NO to self and YES to God.  The highest point of our ascent arrives when we take up our crosses, whatever they may be, out of the joy that follows upon love. Remember that, at the time Jesus spoke these words, the cross was the symbol of ultimate degradation.

            Then Jesus tells us something that is not simply good Christianity, but good psychology as well: “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” There is a difference between existing and living. The path to worldliness, and to spiritual destruction – which means just existing – begins with small steps: “I want this…I need that…I must get something for myself…I deserve everything…” “What’s in it for me? What can satisfy my needs? Who can make me happy? “I am too busy…I am too tired…I am not ready for anything serious.”

             Someone once bitterly wrote on the tombstone of another: “He was born a person and died a businessman.” If we substitute ‘human’ for our own title or position – doctor, lawyer, manager, owner, worker – we might ask ourselves whether we have spent so much time on unimportant things that we have become less a person, less human. In other words, we have to find out whether somewhere along the line we have lost ourselves.

            It has been reported that due to this pandemic, mental health problem has become as big as this crisis. Many people are going through depression, and the cases of suicide are alarmingly increasing. So, let us talk about mental health…I believe I am not oversimplifying if I say this: The mentally healthiest are those who have never stopped finding ways to lose themselves in other people – in caring for and serving them – for Christ’s sake. At the same time, we must balance this out with other parts of the Scriptures, where Jesus advises us to exercise our responsibilities. For example, to pay off our debts, to take care of our family, and to help make this world a better place to live in.

            It is a question of balance, as Jesus illustrates in his next momentous questions: What profit would there be for you to gain the whole world and forfeit your life? Or what can you give in exchange for your life? There are people who strive “to gain the whole world” at the expense of the most important things in life. In light of today’s gospel reading, the Lord is asking us: “Where do you put your values in life?”

            Choosing a life of faith and the salvation of our souls requires that we let go of many things in this world. Even if God were to bless us with much in this world, we must strive to live in such a way that we are ready and willing to “give it up” if it were beneficial to our eternal salvation, or the salvation of others. This is, indeed, hard. It demands a deep, personal, intimate relationship with God. It requires that we are convinced, on the deepest level, that the pursuit of holiness is more important than anything else.

            “What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” Tanong ‘yan ng Panginoon sa bawat isa sa atin! Ano ang sagot mo? Do not hesitate to make God and his abundant mercy the central focus of your life.

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