By Father Richard Demetrius Andrews
M. Scott Peck wrote a book in 1978 titled "The Road Less Traveled"." The title is a quote of American Poet Robert Frost (1874-1963) who said, "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference." Peck's book was a New York Times bestseller and helped change the minds of millions who were shaped by the hedonistic 1960s and the self-indulgent 1970s. It was for me personally an eye-opener when I read it as a young adult struggling to find my way. I continue to recommend the book to people looking for meaning in their life.
One of the things I learned from Peck is that true discipline is the exercise of conscious choice to delay gratification, sacrificing present comfort for a future reward. He says elsewhere that this exercise of discipline is what propels us on the path of spiritual growth. However, "this awareness comes slowly, piece by piece. The path of spiritual growth is a path of lifelong learning. The experience of spiritual power is basically a joyful one." I realized that I was unhappy because I was exercising little if any discipline in many parts of my life and it was causing me to fall away from God. My life was beginning to spin out of control.
I began to learn what Jesus meant when He said in today's Gospel, "Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" in Mark 8:24 - 9:1 on the Third Sunday of Great and Holy Lent. I always wanted to follow Christ but I was confused by the conflicting messages coming from society. Our society, the world tells us to never deny ourselves. Everything around us is saying, "If you want it, get it; If you have the money, but it; If you feel it, do it." I didn't realize that following Christ required voluntary sacrifice and that meant losing my self-centered attitudes and behaviors.
This what Christ means by saying, "For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it." In other words, we must lose our life of hedonism and self-indulgence. If we lose that life, for the sake of Christ, we will save our true self-the one that carries God's image. This is the very purpose for why the Church, through the scriptures and the life of the saints, gives us three exercises to strengthen our soul. It's like a fitness instructor or a coach giving you three things to practice to get stronger, lose weight or improve your skills. Those three exercises are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. If we voluntarily practice these three things, we will improve our self-discipline and strengthen our personal spiritual power.
If we do not do these three exercises daily, we will not be able to do the other thing that Christ says is necessary in order to follow Him — that is taking up our cross. Our cross or crosses are the difficult unique circumstances of our life. They can be externally imposed by others or they can be internally oriented because of physical, mental, emotional illness or weaknesses of character affected by our family of origin. By taking up these crosses we mean to take responsibility for them and deal with them in a healthy manner.
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