SELF-DENIAL AND DENIAL OF SELF
SELF-DENIAL AND DENIAL OF SELF
The term “self-denial” has always been synonymous with the season of Lent. We, therefore, hear so much of it at this time beginning with the liturgy of Ash Wednesday. People fervently undertake the works of self-denial to identify with, or understand in a small way the deprivations and sufferings Jesus went through for our sake. It could even be a gesture of participating in the passion of Jesus through the sacrifices we would be making. This is done in different ways:
Some do it by cutting down on food – they either skip a meal everyday or on particular days. Others do it by refraining from snacks. Still others do it by refraining from meat dishes (although that’s their preference) and adopting a vegetarian diet. There are many who give up certain pleasures of life (let the reader understand) at least during the season of Lent.
There are still others who donate money towards noble causes such as campaign against hunger and diseases.
Abstinence from foods and ‘certain’ pleasures of life have a bodily advantage but from a spiritual standpoint they greatly help in the mortification of the flesh and thus aid us in growing in holiness.
The teaching on self-denial becomes complete with the gospel reading from Luke 9:22-25 which the Mother church invites us to reflect on, on the Thursday following Ash Wednesday. In this gospel Jesus lays down the three part charter on discipleship. The first and chief of them is ‘to deny yourself’ and the others being ‘take up your cross daily’ and ‘follow me.’
Although, “Denial of self” and “Self-denial” appear identical they are different in some ways.
“Self-denial” means foregoing certain foods, pleasures, or possessions - giving up ‘things’ whereas “denial of self” as the term suggests is giving up of oneself including everything one has.
“Denial of self” means such complete submission to the will of God and the Lordship of Christ that self has no rights or authority at all. It also means that self abdicates the throne. It is to say “No” to ourselves and “Yes” to God.
“Self-denial” could be ‘seasonal’ i.e. only during Lent or a defined period of time whereas the word ‘daily’ used by Jesus in the scripture verse Luke 9:23 Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” suggests that “denial of self” is an ‘all-season’ requirement.
Denial of self encompasses self-denial.
One of the major obstacles to denial of self is self-preservation. Self-preservation is a basic human instinct because of which every human being will do anything to save his or her life. We see this in Job 2:4 "Skin for skin!" Satan replied.”A man will give all he has for his own life.” Jesus, too, is emphasizing this point in Luke 14:26 - "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters-yes, even his own life-he cannot be my disciple.”
Hence it is relatively easier to give up things than to give ourselves.
Denying ourselves is the fundamental law of admission into Christ's school. It is both the strait gate, and the narrow way; it is necessary in order to our learning all the other good lessons that are there taught. We must deny ourselves absolutely, we must not admire our own shadow, nor gratify our own humour; we must not lean on our own understanding, nor seek our own things, nor be our own end. We must deny ourselves for Christ, and his will and glory, and the service of his interest in the world; we must deny ourselves for our brethren, and for their good; and we must deny ourselves for ourselves, deny the appetites of the body for the benefit of the soul. (Taken from an old magazine)
Further, denying oneself is a consequence of true faith, not works or legal obedience that leads one forward into life "in Christ."
Therefore when we are hurt, rejected, sidelined, treated unfairly or even persecuted we must avoid lashing back in revenge or even hating those who inflict pain on us because we have forfeited that right by surrendering our will to the will of God. So instead of being angry we realize that we are called to forgive and even pray for our offenders even as Jesus did from the cross in His dying moments.
Even in the face of temptations we must refuse to gratify the desires of the flesh which is denial of self.
The would-be follower of Jesus mentioned in Mark 10:22 & Luke 18:23 failed in this test not because he was very rich rather because he could not detach himself from his riches. As far as denying the riches and luxuries of the world are concerned Saints Francis and Clare of Assisi are the best examples. They both belonged to wealthy Italian families and were enjoying the luxuries of life. But when they sensed the call of the Lord they left everything.
Jesus Christ remains the ultimate example of ‘denial of self’ as Paul tells us in Phil 2:5-7 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
Even though falsely accused and unjustly condemned to death He did not call upon the angels to destroy the enemy, on the contrary because He was in complete submission to the will of God He prayed as follows:
"My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done."
(He made this prayer thrice in the garden of Gethsemane.)
"Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."
Is Jesus asking for too much?
Would anything be too much for the One who laid down His life for us?
Perhaps the following anecdote will inspire us to think about it.
One of the most effective advertisements ever written appeared in a London newspaper early in the 20th century: The words were written by Sir Ernest Shackleton, the famous South Pole explorer.
"Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger. Safe return doubtful."
Commenting on the overwhelming response he received, Shackleton said, "It seemed as though all the men in Great Britain were determined to accompany us."
Shackleton's words remind us of Jesus' words in Matthew 16:24, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." The Lord was calling people to go with Him on a hazardous journey-the way of the cross. He issued that call after telling His disciples that He was going to Jerusalem to suffer and be killed.
Through the centuries, thousands have responded to Jesus' words by forsaking all to follow Him. But unlike Shackleton's expedition that came to an end, the Lord's work goes on and volunteers are still needed. He continues to call for those who will serve Him regardless of the cost.
What is my response?
To follow Christ we must let go
Of all that we hold dear;
And as we do deny ourselves,
Our gains become more clear.