Daniel Denecke 24th Sunday Cycle B, September 16, 2018
Dying to Self
It's amazing how when we look back on our lives, we can connect small moments and events that lead up to big events, like today for me. Back when Deacon Don was here at Immaculate, he had an evening session at which he handed out a paper about "dying to self". It was a short reflection on practicing selflessness. About that time I was meeting with a small group of men rooted in the Cursillo movement where we held each other accountable for putting faith into practice. One week I gave out some extras of the "dying to self" handout to the guys and soon forgot about it. One of men would remind me every once in a while how much comfort and consolation he would get from reading the handout. Reading it helped him to have peace and acceptance during tough moments. One time I asked if he could send me copy of his because I had lost mine and even forgot about it. Through a number of other small moments like this, all connected, all involving God speaking through the people in my life, I have arrived at this point of being a deacon, discussing the Gospel today where Jesus tells us to follow Him by "dying to our self".
It's difficult to deny ourselves
Looking back on the "dying to self" handout, I realized why I keep forgetting about it. It's a difficult challenge. One line read 'When you are forgotten or neglected and you don't hurt with the insult, but your heart is happy-that is dying to self'. Another read 'When you can take correction, when you humbly submit inwardly as well as outwardly, with no rebellion or resentment rising up within your heart-that is dying to self.' I've failed both of those at times. It's hard to control impulsive emotions in some of these situations. It helps to think of our suffering Savior and think, 'If Jesus did that for us, we can endure this suffering.' It also helps to know what happens when we think less of ourself and more of God and others: a life of meaning and happiness. It's a leap of faith but it has frequently been my experience that thinking less of my own wants, ultimately leads to goodness. Parents don't need to go far looking for sacrifice, it's built into the vocation. There are sacrifices followed by moments of great joy. This is true in different ways for married life and single life as well.
James challenges us to do more, to show our faith through action. How many times have we heard that? Exercise more, read more, pray more, work more, super size it, all you can eat, more homework, make more money. Formation for being a deacon was 'doing more' and it was challenging at times. Sometimes it threw my life out of balance. But two important pieces of advice made it possible for my classmates and I to succeed. The most important advice was to maintain and improve our relationships with God and with the people we love. It is the key element in getting back to balance when it gets too busy. The other good advice was the 'pruning' of my life. We all do many good things but we have to make sure we are doing what is best, what we discern the will of God is for our lives. I had to stop doing many good things to succeed, which I miss, like folk group and my men's group. But there has been consolation. There has been great joy and satisfaction in the coursework at the seminary. It is a very exciting campus right now with many new and returning excellent teachers, a world class theological library, and a sharp new education center with modern technology for the classroom of today. There has also been joy in ministering to the people of God. I look forward to more ministry now that my seminary studies are less intense. So the Christian action James asks us to take up does require sacrifice, but will result in a life of meaning followed by happiness that can't be found in material pursuits but can only come from above.
Five years ago, I had a hard time seeing my self giving homilies and moving from the music groups to the altar and out into other ministries but every small step has been with the affirmation and guidance of the Holy Spirit speaking through many of you. I count on you for help with discernment of what God's will is for my life. Thank you. I hope I can return the favor as we move on together through selflessness and the best Christian works for our lives, towards the truth of God.