Self-Denial, the True Test of Religious Earnestness, Part 3

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Thee Minutes with Newman

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
by Fr. Juan Velez


Image of Jesus CrucifiedSelf-Denial, Part 3

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 .

Newman continues:

“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?


8 Comment(s)
  • Zane Posted September 24, 2016 9:59 am

    Thank you so much for these reflections.

  • Virginia Haddad Posted September 24, 2016 4:52 pm

    Thank you for this discussion. I think that in the haste of modern life we are often not very cognizant of the many, many choices we make each day and what goes into each choice.
    This discussion also brings to mind Plato’s Charioteer Metaphor from his dialogue Phaedrus. In short:
    Imagine a two-horsed charioteer, with one horse unruly and barely able to stay the course, and the other horse knowing what to do even without a whip or goad. The charioteer thus needs to master the unruly horse so that together with the better horse they may lead him to his destination. The less we bring the unruly element into control, the more we will struggle along the path.

    • Fr. Juan Velez Posted September 24, 2016 7:28 pm

      This is a good image, one of many the Classics have to offer us.

  • Barbara Wyman Posted September 24, 2016 8:34 pm

    So good. Sometimes it’s the “simplest” things that are the hardest …. getting to bed on time; not giving into distractions that take away from from healthy things, like spiritual reading. Thank you !

    • Pat Sharp Posted September 28, 2016 1:50 pm

      How true. Barbara. This morning as I awoke and as usual lay lingering in the warm, suddenly the thoughts of the post hit me and I hastily jumped out of bed – so hard to do –
      and bid good morning to the Lord.

  • Dan Hoffman Posted September 25, 2016 6:12 am

    This is both sobering and encouraging. Very encouraging.

    Dan Hoffman

  • Cecilia T. Gadenz Posted September 28, 2016 12:08 pm

    Great and useful reflection! It seems that Blessed Cardinal Newman, San Josemaria Escriva` and Saint Therese of Lisieux, even though born at different times, had a lot in common: “Do small things but do them with great love”! We need to keep trying every day and not get discouraged by looking at our own failures. Thank you for keeping us inspired!

  • Anne Killian, ofs Posted October 13, 2016 11:14 pm

    Thank you Virginia for recommending this blog!

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