Luke 9:23-25 ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, that man will save it. What gain, then, is it for a man to have won the whole world and to have lost or ruined his very self?
Fr. Mattingly says:
Many souls who strive for holiness do not wish to enter upon the way of the cross, the way of suffering. They would like to be saints, but with a sanctity that is comfortable and easy. And when God tests them with some painful affliction of spirit, or persecutions and calumny, or any other cross that, if well carried, would lead them to the heights of sanctity, they draw back and abandon the way of perfection. Perhaps they have even reached the point where they asked God to send them some cross, but it is evident that what they wanted was a cross of their own choosing and, when they did not find it, they considered that they had been deceived and gave up the road to perfection.
It is therefore necessary to decide once and for all to embrace our own personal cross as God wishes to allow in our lives: sickness, persecution, calumny, humiliation, disappointment -- whatever He wishes and in the manner He wishes. The attitude of soul must be one of a personal Yes, a total abandonment to God without reserve, a complete acceptance of His loving providence.
At this point I’d like to offer you what are often considered, in the spiritual life, to be the first two stages a soul will pass through on the road toward perfection, as regards the mortification of the flesh:
The first stage is faithfulness to our daily duties.
The second is a cheerful resignation to whatever crosses the Lord sends us.
First, acceptance of our daily duties.
Some people will daydream about accomplishing incredible, world-changing, eye-popping things for the Lord while at the same time neglecting even serious daily duties such as an honest 8-hour day of work, or avoiding critical household tasks. Do you have some desire to take upon yourself greater bodily penances for the sake of souls? First, make your bed each morning. Do you wish to make great sacrifices, heroic sacrifices, notable sacrifices in service of God? First, embrace your 8-hour work day. Stop wasting time at work, cutting corners, clocking out early, and complaining about the difficulty of your daily tasks.
Too many people say: Send me out on mission, Lord! Make me into a saint! Give me some great task to help build your kingdom! And then, when the Lord asks them to cheerfully fill out some Excel spreadsheet for their job, they shirk their responsibility and log onto Facebook, or else they do fill it out, but begrudgingly and mindlessly. Poor soul! You will never again recover that opportunity to encounter Jesus underneath that little cross, and you will never be a saint!
Jesus, save us from our fickleness and inconsistency! Save us from our pride that hides under desire of doing great things, yet flees from little duties of the moment. The Lord says that he who is faithful in small matters, is also faithful in great ones. And he who is dishonest in very small matters, is also dishonest in great ones (Lk 16:10).
St. Josemaria Escriva says:
"Your big cowardices of the moment correspond -- it’s very plain -- to your little cowardices of each day. You have not been able to conquer the big things, because you did not want to conquer in the little ones."
The second stage in overcoming our flesh -- our horror and fear of suffering and of the cross, is a joyful acceptance of the crosses God allows into our lives.
There is a story of a man who was passing through a particularly poignant time of suffering in his life. He complained incessantly to God, not a faith-filled cry for help, but an angry cry. The Lord appeared to him and showed him a room, full of crosses. In it were large crosses, small crosses, wooden crosses, metal crosses, paper crosses. The Lord told the man --- since you are unhappy with your cross, please choose any of the crosses in this room. If you wish to remain my disciple, you must have a cross of some kind, otherwise you cannot imitate me… but go ahead, I’ll let you choose which one. The man walked around for a while until he was confident he had found the smallest, most pitiful looking cross in the whole bunch. It was about three inches tall, made of cheap wood, held together by a staple. He took it off the wall and handed it to Jesus who took it in His hands and said… funny you should choose this one, because this is the one I already gave to you.
Friends, we must be convicted, convicted, convicted! -- that every cross comes from the loving hands of God! Bury that truth so deep in your mind and heart that nothing can touch it.
St. Francis de Sales says this:
“The everlasting God has in His wisdom foreseen from eternity the cross that He now presents to you as a gift from His inmost heart. This cross He now sends you He has considered with His all-knowing eyes, understood with His divine mind, tested with His wise justice, warmed with loving arms and weighed with His own hands to see that it be not one inch too large and not one ounce too heavy for you. He has blessed it with His holy Name, anointed it with His consolation, taken one last glance at you and your courage, and then sent it to you from heaven, a special greeting from God to you, an alms of the all-merciful love of God."