Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:27)
“…cannot be my disciple.” These are harsh words for the followers of Jesus, then and now. Jesus gives us two choices: carry your cross and come after me—or don’t; be my disciple—or don’t; live with me forever—or don’t. Two choices. Seen through the eyes of faith the choice is obvious, a no-brainer.
Then why do so many, and even so many Christians, seem to be making the wrong choice?
“Carry a cross? Now? Can it wait until after the game?”
“Be your disciple? Sure! I’ll give you an hour every Sunday. You’re welcome.”
“Live with you forever? Wow! That would be great! Come back when I’m on my deathbed and we’ll talk.”
Frank Sheed in his book Theology for Beginners says:
“As a body, we hope to go to heaven, which means spending eternity with the Blessed Trinity, and we expect the experience to be wholly blissful; but in the prospect of spending an hour with the Blessed Trinity here below, there is no anticipation of bliss.”
So many of us are like St. Augustine before his conversion, who prayed: “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.” Yet he was converted. Our gratitude can never come close to thanking God for the unfathomable mercy and patience he grants to sinners. What hope this gives us for ourselves and those we are praying for! St. Augustine and St. Monica, intercede for us! Beg the grace of conversion for all those we are praying for and for all sinners! Pray that all will finally make the right choice.
I have been reading the book, The Fulfillment of All Desire by Ralph Martin. The book draws on the wisdom and experience of the saints on the path of holiness. He makes this statement in the first chapter:
“Holiness isn’t an ‘option’. There are only saints in heaven; total transformation is not an ‘option’ for those interested in that sort of thing, but is essential for those who want to spend eternity with God.”
Total transformation is essential. Period. Ralph Martin goes on to point out that we must aim high to enter heaven. If we aim for purgatory and miss—well, there just isn’t a good backup plan if you miss purgatory. Aim high. And you can’t aim higher than total transforming union with the Trinity.
I found Ralph Martin’s book a few years ago after attending the annual retreat of the Brothers and Sisters of Penance of St. Francis, where we were graciously blessed to have Fr. Thomas Dubay as our retreat master. He spoke on the universal call to this transforming union through contemplative prayer, which is beautifully outlined in his book, Deep Conversion, Deep Prayer. After hearing what Fr. Dubay had to say, I thirsted for more. That is what led me to Ralph Martin’s book, which in my opinion is a must-read for all Catholics who wish to grow in holiness. One of the gems I gleaned from these experiences is that if you aim high there is no need for a backup plan. If you really desire this union more than you desire to cling to what is standing in your way, God will grant it to you. You will become a saint, for his mercy desires to give you this gift far more than you could ever desire it yourself.
St. Therese of Lisieux and all the saints who walked the way of perfection learned and taught that total trust and confidence in God was the secret to holiness. Self-reliance is death; self-abandonment is life.
One thing that gave me great hope in listening to Fr. Dubay at the retreat was that in living faithfully the Rule of the BSP, the penitent has a great head-start on the path of self-renunciation so necessary to transforming union. Devotion to the sacraments and time spent in prayer foster the deep conversion of heart that God desires from all his children in order that the words of Jesus may be fulfilled: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” (John 14:23)
St. Teresa of Avila teaches that there is no reason why a person who is living a good Catholic life can’t progress all the way to “spiritual marriage” in this life. Then what is stopping us? Our bridegroom awaits. What will we choose? Brothers and sisters, let us choose the cross. Let us choose discipleship. Let us enter into the life of the Trinity. It is the fulfillment of all desire, most especially God’s desires for all of us.
“I set before you life and death…Choose life.” (Deuteronomy 30:19)