Jesus called together the multitude and his disciples, and said unto them, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it.
The Lord had already taught that to be his disciple it was necessary to detach oneself from material goods; here he asks for a deeper detachment: the renunciation of what one is, of one's own self, of one's innermost self. But in the disciple of Christ, each surrender carries with it an affirmation: to stop living for myself, so that Christ may live in me. Life in Christ," St. Paul writes to the Christians of Philippi, "for whose love I have sacrificed all things," is a true reality of grace. Christian existence is an affirmation of life, love and friendship. I have come," Jesus tells us, "that they may have life and have it to the full5. 5 He offers us divine filiation, participation in the intimate life of the Most Blessed Trinity. And what hinders this admirable promise is our attachment to our self, to our comfort, to our well-being, to our own success.... That is why mortification is necessary, which is not something negative, but detachment from self in order to allow Jesus to be in us. Hence the paradox: "to live one must die": to die to oneself in order to have supernatural life. If you live according to the flesh, you will die; if by the spirit you mortify the deeds of the flesh, you will live.
If any man will come after me.... To respond to the invitation of Jesus, who passes by our side, we need to walk step by step, to make continuous progress. It is necessary to "die a little each day", to deny ourselves: to deny the old man that we carry within us, those works that separate us from God or make it difficult for us to grow in his friendship. To walk towards the holiness to which the Lord has called us, it is necessary to subdue the disordered inclinations, the passions, because after original sin and personal sins they are no longer properly subject to the will. To progress in the pursuit of Christ we must be masters of ourselves and direct our steps in a certain direction: "We are like a man leading a donkey; either he leads the donkey or the donkey leads him. Either we govern the passions or they will govern us". When there is no mortification, "it seems as if the "spirit" were shrinking, becoming smaller, until it remains a dot.... And the body enlarges itself, grows larger and larger, until it dominates. -St. Paul wrote to you: "I punish my body and enslave it, lest, having preached to others, I myself should be reproached".
St. Paul himself points out to us another motive for penance: "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and I complete in my flesh what is lacking in the Passion of Christ for the sake of his body, which is the Church. Was not the Passion of Christ alone sufficient to save us? -asks St. Alphonsus Liguori. There is no doubt that nothing was lacking in its value, and it was fully sufficient to save all men. Nevertheless, so that the merits of the Passion may be applied to us, we must cooperate on our part, patiently bearing the labors and tribulations that God sends us, in order to become like Jesus.
We are the first to benefit from this participation in the sufferings of Christ when we follow him with generous mortification; moreover, the supernatural efficacy of penance reaches our own family, especially those most in need, our friends, our colleagues, those persons whom we wish to bring closer to the Lord, the whole Church and the entire world.