In today’s gospel reading at Holy Mass the Lord Jesus tells each of us: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”
Pope Benedict XVI, commenting on this passage in the context of a Mass for Priestly Ordinations three years ago, had this illuminating observation to make:
I would like to underline a second element of today’s Gospel. Immediately after Peter’s profession, Jesus announces his Passion and Resurrection and follows this announcement with a teaching concerning the journey of the disciples, which means following him, the Crucified One, and following him on the Way of the Cross. And he then adds with paradoxical words that being a disciple means “losing his life” – but in order to save himself fully (cf. Lk 9: 22-24). What does this mean for every Christian, but what does it mean for a priest in particular? Discipleship; yet we can safely say: the priesthood can never be a means of achieving security in life or of acquiring a position in society. Anyone who aspires to the priesthood to enhance his own prestige and power has misunderstood the meaning of this ministry at its root. Anyone who wishes above all to achieve an ambition of his own, to attain success for himself will always be a slave to himself and to public opinion. In order to be esteemed, he must flatter, he must say what people want to hear; he will have to adapt to changing fashions and opinions and will thus deprive himself of the vital relationship with truth, reducing himself to condemning tomorrow what he had praised today. A man who plans his life in this manner, a priest who sees his ministry in these terms does not truly love God and others but only himself and, paradoxically, ends by losing himself. The priesthood – let us always remember – is based on having the courage to say “yes” to another will, in the awareness that we are growing every day, that precisely by conforming to God’s will, by “immersing ourselves” in this will, not only will our own originality not be obliterated, but on the contrary, we will penetrate ever more deeply into the truth of our being and our ministry.
While these words apply especially to priests, they also apply to everyone, as the Holy Father says.
How often do we face situations where we must decide to stand with our Lord – to uphold what our faith teaches and what we firmly believe – in the face of those who disagree? How often are we tempted to back down, to say what people want to hear, or even to flatter?
Let us not be slaves to ourselves – or to public opinion. Today, during our prayer, let us renew our commitment to following the Lord in the truth, taking up our cross each day and following him on the path of discipleship!