George A. Sprecace M.D.,
J.D., F.A.C.P. and Allergy Associates of New
The Language of Love
ZENIT, The world seen from Rome
The Language of Love
Gospel Commentary for 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap
ROME, AUG. 29, 2008 (Zenit.org).- In this Sunday's Gospel we hear Jesus
who says: "Whoever wants to come after me must deny himself, take up
his cross and follow me. Because whoever wishes to save his life will
lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."
What does it mean to "deny" yourself? And why should you deny yourself?
We know about the indignation of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche
over this the request of this Gospel.
I will begin answering these questions with an example. During the Nazi
persecution, many trains full of Jews traveled from every part of
Europe to the extermination camps. They were induced to get on the
trains by false promises of being taken to places that would be better
for them, when, in fact, they were being taken to their destruction. It
happened at some of the stops that someone who knew the truth, called
out from some hiding place to the passengers: "Get off! Run away!" Some
succeeded in doing so.
The example is a hard one, but it expresses something of our situation.
The train of life on which we are traveling is going toward death.
About this, at least, there are no doubts. Our natural "I," being
mortal, is destined for destruction. What the Gospel is proposing to us
when it exhorts us to deny ourselves, is to get off this train and
board another one that leads to life. The train that leads to life is
faith in him who said: "Whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will
Paul understood this transferring from one transport to another and he
describes it thus: "It is no longer I who lives, Christ lives in me."
If we assume the "I" of Christ we become immortal because he, risen
from the dead, dies no more. This indicates the meaning of the words of
the Gospel that we have heard. Christ's call for us to deny ourselves
and thus find life is not a call to abuse ourselves or reject ourselves
in a simplistic way. It is the wisest of the bold steps that we can
take in our lives.
But we must immediately make a qualification. Jesus does not ask us to
deny "what we are," but "what we have become." We are images of God.
Thus, we are something "very good," as God himself said, immediately
after creating man and woman. What we must deny is not that which God
has made, but that which we ourselves have made by misusing our freedom
-- the evil tendencies, sin, all those things that have covered over
Years ago, off the coast of Calabria in southern Italy, there were
discovered two encrusted masses that vaguely resembled human bodies.
They were removed from the sea and carefully cleaned and freed. They
turned out to be bronze statues of ancient warriors. They are known
today as the Riace Warriors and are on display at the National Museum
of Magna Grecia in Reggio Calabria. They are among the most admired
sculptures of antiquity.
This example can help us understand the positive aspect of the Gospel
proposal. Spiritually, we resemble the condition of those statues
before their restoration. The beautiful image of God that we should be
is covered over by the seven layers of the seven capital sins.
Perhaps it is not a bad idea to recall what these sins are, if we have
forgotten them: pride, greed, lust, wrath, gluttony, envy and sloth.
St. Paul calls this disfigured image, "the earthly image," in contrast
to the "heavenly image," which is the resemblance of Christ.
"Denying ourselves," therefore, is not a work of death, but one of
life, of beauty and of joy. It is also a learning of the language of
true love. Imagine, said the great Danish philosopher Kierkegaard, a
purely human situation. Two young people love each other. But they
belong to two different nations and speak completely different
languages. If their love is to survive and grow, one of them must learn
the language of the other. Otherwise, they will not be able to
communicate and their love will not last.
This, Kierkegaard said, is how it is with us and God. We speak the
language of the flesh, he speaks that of the spirit; we speak the
language of selfishness, he that of love.
Denying yourself is learning the language of God so that we can
communicate with him, but it is also learning the language that allows
us to communicate with each other. We will not be able to say "yes" to
the other -- beginning with our own wife or husband -- if we are not
first of all able to say "no" to ourselves.
Keeping within the context of marriage, many problems and failures with
the couple come from the fact that the man has never learned to express
love for the woman, nor she for the man. Even when it speaks of denying
ourselves, we see that the Gospel is much less distant from life than
it is sometimes believed.
[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]
* * *
Father Raniero Cantalamessa is the Pontifical Household preacher. The
readings for this Sunday are Jeremiah 20:7-9; Romans 12:1-2; Matthew
(c) Copyright 1999-2018, Allergy Associates of New London, PC