Self-Denial, the Test of Religious Earnestness, Part 3
by Fr. Juan Vélez
Jesus bids us to take up our cross daily. We must be careful, however, of the danger of self-deception by doing things for our own praise. Self-denial in daily life is the chief duty and test of whether we are living as Christ’s disciples and are on our way to heaven.
Three Minute Reflection
Granted that we wish to fulfill Christ’s words to take up our cross, Newman asks: “In what sense do we fulfill the words of Christ? Have we any distinct notion what is meant by the words, ‘taking up our cross?’
We accept that a person’s faith is known by his works. Self-denial cannot be an occasional act, a kind word or a casual prayer It must be a continual practice – taking up the cross daily. In the world ‘great men’ are those who perform impressive feats, but the Christian lives self-denial throughout the day. According to Newman, for the Christian –
“Self-denial which is pleasing to Christ consists in little things. This is plain, for opportunity for great self-denials does not come every day. Thus to take up the cross of Christ is no great action done once for all, it consists in the continual practice of small duties which are distasteful to us.”
Newman also points out that self-denial consists in overcoming one’s defects, and that everyone should determine where his weak points lie. He says:
“His trial is not in those things which are easy to him, but in that one thing, in those several things, whatever they are, in which to do his duty is against his nature. Never think yourself safe because you do your duty in ninety-nine points; it is the hundredth which is to be the ground of your self-denial, which must evidence, or rather instance and realize your faith.”
St. Josemaría Escrivá also opportunely cautions: “Don’t say: ‘That’s the way I’m made… it’s my character.’ It’s your lack of character: Be a man.”
Others may mistake our character defects but we know them, and we must pray to God continually for the grace to avoid faltering .
“Oh, that you may have the wisdom to care little for the world’s religion, or the praise you get from the world, and your agreement with what clever men, or powerful men, or many men, make the standard of religion, compared with the secret consciousness that you are obeying God in little things as well as great, in the hundredth duty as well as in the ninety-nine!”
Let us consider thus where we are lacking in the full measure of obedience to God: often they are the small defects influencing our whole being and judgment. Through the habit of daily self-denial we will be readier to address moments of anger and passion when we are caught off guard. We will grow in self-mastery and be pleasing to God, and be prepared also to give up innocent pleasures, live our schedule, rise on time, and practice mortification at meals.
The Scriptures exhort you and me: “But thou, O servant of God, flee these things, and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness” (1 Tm 6:11).
In doing so let us keep in mind the words of St. Thérèse of Lisieux: “The smallest actions done for His love are those which charm His Heart.” What can you and I do today to please him?