“How does one become a butterfly?" she asked. "You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.”
Gospel text (Mt 16,24-28):
Jesus said to his disciples,
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world
and forfeit his life?
Or what can one give in exchange for his life?
For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory,
and then he will repay each according to his conduct.
Amen, I say to you, there are some standing here
who will not taste death
until they see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom.”
Today, the Gospel clearly confronts us. It is absolutely radical in its approach, and it does not admit any half measures: «If you want to follow me, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me» (Mt 16:24).
Before loading our backs with “the cross”, the first thing we must do is to follow Christ. It is not a matter of first suffering and then following Christ... Christ must be followed from our Love, and from there we can then understand the sacrifice, the personal negation: «For whoever chooses to save his life will lose it, but the one who loses his life for my sake will find it» (Mt 16:25). Love and mercy may lead us to sacrifice. Any true love engenders, one way or another, some sort of sacrifice, but not all sacrifice engenders love. God is not sacrifice; God is love, and only from that perspective pain, fatigue and the cross in our existence, have any meaning, following the model of man the Father reveals us in Christ. St. Augustine said it beautifully: «When one loves, one does not suffer; but if one does suffer, the very suffering is loved».
When I was a boy, my friends and I often played a winter game in the snow. The leader would walk across a snowy field. The rest of us had to place our feet exactly into the leader's footprints without disturbing any of the surrounding snow. The one who followed the footprints most exactly was the winner.
Discipleship is much like that game. We are called to "follow in" Jesus' "footsteps" as precisely as possible (Mt 16:24). We go where Jesus goes and do what He does. Jesus goes to Calvary and His steps lead to the cross; we "take up" our cross (Mt 16:24) and go there too. Jesus denies Himself and washes the feet of those who will betray and abandon Him (Jn 13:4ff); likewise, we deny ourselves (Mt 16:24) and forgive and serve those who hurt us. Jesus prays long into the night (Mk 6:46ff); we are challenged to do that too.
A funny thing about that childhood game: when I followed the steps of the leader exactly, my feet didn't get cold because the leader had packed down the snow. If I messed up my steps, I got snow down my boots and I had cold feet. Discipleship is like that also. We only get "cold feet" about following Jesus when we get out of step in following Him. If we follow directly in His steps, we are protected and strengthened for that next step of discipleship.
In the ensuing events of our life, we are not to seek a divine origin to explain our sacrifices and shortcomings: «Why is God sending this to me?», but we rather have to find a “divine usage” for them: «How can I transform this into an act of faith and love?». It is from this evaluation how we are to follow Christ and how —certainly— we may acquire the Father’s merciful glance. The same glance which the Father looked at his Son on the Cross, with.
"Follow in My footsteps" (Mt 16:24).