2/19.1 Truly following Christ implies practising a life of mortification and being close to the Cross.
If each of Christ’s actions in his earthly life have redemptive value, the salvation of humanity culminates in the Cross. It is to this climactic point that all of Christ’s life on earth is directed. I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how I am constrained until it is accomplished! So He said to his disciples on the road to Jerusalem. He revealed to them his overwhelming desire to give his life for us, and He gave us an example of his love for the Will of the Father by dying on the Cross. It is on the Cross that the soul finds its full identification with Christ. This is the deepest meaning of acts of mortification and penance.
To be a disciple of Our Lord one needs to follow his measured words of advice: If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. It is not possible to follow Our Lord without the Cross. Jesus’ words are relevant in all ages, since they are directed to each and every man, for he who does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. To take up the cross – the acceptance of sorrow and of the contradictions God permits for our purification, the costly fulfilment of our duties, Christian mortification voluntarily accepted – is the indispensable condition for following the Master.
What would become of a Gospel, of a Christianity, without the Cross, without pain, without the sacrifice of pain? asked the Servant of God Paul VI. It would be a Gospel, a Christianity, without Redemption, with no Salvatio; a Redemption and Salvation of which – and we ought to recognise it here with unmitigated sincerity – we stand in absolute need. The Lord has saved us with the Cross; with his death. He has given us hope again, the right to life ... It would be a valueless Christianity which would not be of use in our reaching Heaven, for the world cannot be saved except with the Cross of Christ.
United to the Lord, voluntary mortification and passive mortification acquire their deepest meaning. They are not directed primarily to one’s own perfection, nor are they a way of patiently bearing the contradictions of this life. They are a participation in the mystery of the Redemption.
Mortification can appear to some to be a sign of madness or of stupidity, some kind of relic left over from earlier epochs which no longer fits in with or is inappropriate to the progress and cultural development of our twentieth century day. It could also be a sign of contradiction or of scandal for those who have forgotten about God. But none of this should cause us surprise. St Paul had already written that it is a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles. And in the very measure in which Christians lose sight of the supernatural meaning to their lives, they fail to understand that we can only follow Christ through a life of sacrifice, juxta crucem, beside the Cross. If you don’t deny yourself, you never will be a soul of prayer. And St Teresa adds: To suppose that He would admit to his close friendship pleasure-loving people who want to be free from all trials is ridiculous.
Although the very Apostles themselves, who followed Christ when He was acclaimed by the multitudes, love him deeply and are ready to give up their lives for him, they do not follow him to Calvary – for, not having as yet received the Holy Spirit, they are weak. There is a big difference between following Christ when this does not require a great deal from us, and identifying ourselves totally with him through the tribulations, great and small, of a life of sacrifice.
The Christian who journeys through life systematically opting out of sacrifice, who rebels in the face of pain, distances himself from holiness and happiness, which are found beside the Cross, very close to Christ the Redeemer.