Why should I?
What’s in it for me?
What will I get out of it?
Have those questions ever run through your mind when someone has asked you for help? Our society teaches us that we should never do anything for free. There should always be something in it for us whether it be money, or influence or even just emotional satisfaction.
However, we can clearly see how this selfishness has damaged relationships and families. When we put our own comfort before the needs of others, society begins to break down. Families cannot function because spouses are so busy pursuing their own interests that they stop communicating with each other. And once that happens, they cannot meet the needs of their children. We only have to look at our schools, our prisons and even our parishes to see the toxic effects. It is a downward spiral that drags all of society down with it.
In today’s second reading, Saint Paul urges us not to be conformed to this world in its selfishness. We are instead to be transformed by the renewal of our mind so that we can look at life in a different way, not from the perspective of our own needs and wants but from the point of view first of God and then of our brothers and sisters. We are to put the interests of others before our own. We are to make sure that the needs of our brothers and sisters are met before we take care of our own needs.
This mindset is absolutely foreign to our present culture. We are taught to put ourselves first and to let others take care of themselves. But imagine what our world could be like if we started to live the self-sacrificing love shown to us by Jesus. Imagine a world in which everyone had enough to eat because neighbor shared with neighbor. Imagine families in which mothers and fathers could work out their differences and raise their children to care for others. Imagine neighborhoods transformed because people began watching out for one another. All this could be possible if, through the grace of God, we could begin to live the gospel message of self-sacrificing love.
If a world transformed by love is going to be a reality, then it must begin with you and me. We can only bring it about by making the conscious effort to put the needs of others before our own. But how do we even begin? As always, it is Jesus who shows us the way. In today’s gospel, He gives us the antidote for our selfishness by telling us that we must deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him.
First, we must learn to deny ourselves. We learn from an early age that if we are going to accomplish anything, we have to learn to say “no” to ourselves. We cannot get our homework done unless we turn off the television. We cannot learn how to play a sport without sweating through practices. The same is true in our life of faith. To break the selfishness that locks our world in destructive competitiveness, we must learn how to say “no”. It starts in small ways by going without desert at supper or by not buying an extra pair of shoes that we know we do not need. Then we begin donating the money we save to help the poor. Going a step further, we miss a meal so that we can volunteer at a homeless shelter. Or we lose a good night’s sleep because we are manning the phones at a suicide hot-line. Before we know it, our small acts of self-denial are transforming us into saints.
Second, we must take up our cross. Each of us has a burden to carry. It could be sickness, anxiety, a challenging job or family members who constantly hurt us. It is natural for us to want to avoid difficulties and suffering at all costs. But Jesus teaches us to look at our life’s burdens in a new way. They are not there to punish us but to help us on the way to holiness. By accepting the burdens of our daily lives and offering them up to God out of love for him, in atonement for our sins and for the conversion of sinners, we grow in patience and in love. By realizing that Jesus is carrying our cross with us, our burden does not seem as heavy. Then we are not so overwhelmed with our own problems that we cannot reach out and help others to carry their crosses.
Third, we must follow Jesus. Our eyes must always be fixed on our Lord and Savior. He walks ahead of us marking a sure pathway forward. We learn from Him that we do not have to be afraid. We do not have to hoard money because He will provide for us. We do not need to have a big house and lots of clothes to feel good about ourselves, because He gives us the dignity of being called sons and daughters of God. Knowing that Jesus is always by our side frees us to care for others because we know He will care for us.
There is much that is wrong with our world today. All the problems we are faced with can overwhelm us and make us want to give up. While there are no easy answers or quick fixes, there is something each of us can do. We can attend to the needs of those around us, the people God has placed in our lives. By denying ourselves, picking up our cross and following Jesus we can begin to make a difference. At first, it may not seem as if there is anything in it for us. But we will experience the joy of bringing a smile to a tired woman’s face, the satisfaction of helping a neighbor make it through another day and the peace that comes with doing God’s will.