This year for Lent, I decided to avoid typical Lenten reflection collections. Instead, I've taken up a 16th century book which was often recommended by St. Francis De Sales, my confirmation saint. The book is called The Spiritual Combat by Lorenzo Scuploi, who was actually a contemporary of De Sales. Scupoli was a member of the Theatine Order, whose specific mission it was to return the clergy to its original calling (to instruct on morality & spirituality) & to call the laity to the practice of virtue.
I'm choosing to read the book at my leisure. The Spiritual Combat consists of 66 short chapters at 123 pages. But the focus of my Lenten devotions is contained in the 2 separate works included at the end: The Supplement (to The Spiritual Combat) & Of Interior Peace (also known as The Path of Paradise). I split up the two works according to the days of Lent, up to the Triduum. There's one reading for each day from The Supplement, Sundays excluded. Sundays, there are 3 readings from The Path.
I've covered 4 readings thus far. As I dig into the various parts of the book, I'm kind of taken aback by the strong language of self denial. We don't often hear about self denial in our culture. No, we hear about self love, self worth, self-promotion. We hear about all the wonderful rights we can claim, not only as human beings in general, but as the royal children of Almighty God. I think the author's take strikes me because its quite obvious we've drifted away from what Jesus actually called us to. We can quote Him as often as we like: "Deny yourself, take up your cross & follow Me". But I don't think the implications actually sink in for most of us. I know they certainly didn't for me. The cross? Its just figurative. Following Christ? Sure. I can do that. Following somebody is easy. But there's more to following than I thought. Just because He died for me doesn't mean I get to escape the cross of self-denial. Where did we get the idea that He did it all so we wouldn't have to? Just because He said "It is finished"? Like Inigo Montoya in the Princess Bride once said, "I do not think it means what you think it means".
When we think of following someone, we tend to understand that they are the one blazing the trail. They have the proverbial machete, they have the navigational know how. They're supposed to make it easier for us & for others to come after them. All we have to do is stare at the back of their head & listen to them banter a little. Maybe we expect there to be some pack animals in tow or an entourage of locals to carry our supplies. But I don't think Jesus called us to follow Him like that...
Maybe we think of Jesus as a kind of Predecessor or Benefactor- because of His sacrifice, we can enjoy this or that blessing. We don't have to suffer like He did because He set us up to live a more profitable, comfortable life. Now, the call to follow Him might mean we maintain daily devotions or enter into some kind of ministry opportunity in honour of His influence on our lives. We say "Thank You for saving us" as if His life, death & resurrection happened thousands of years ago (which, of course, it did). But Jesus was not just a blip in history... He's not some past event. He lives & calls us to follow "as long as it is called Today".
Do I live like He's truly present in my life or do I follow an ideal born in antiquity? Is Jesus just an historic figurehead? Do I cling to an antithetical interpretation of true salvation? Or do I deny myself, follow Him & take up my cross like He did?