Today's gospel reminds us that there are two distinct forms of suffering in life. The first is that suffering over which we have no control: the death of a loved one, physical illness, chronic conditions etc. St. Paul deals with this type and explains how they can be transformed when we unite them to the sufferings of Christ. But this is not the suffering in today's gospel.
Today's gospel reminds us that the death of Christ was as our Eucharistic Prayer says, a "death he freely accepted" In the gospel today we are told that we to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow him. We must not only carry it but we must freely choose to take it up.
It is the difference by sympathy and compassion. Sympathy comes when I feel for you in your pain. Compassion requires that I literally "suffer with (passio cum)" you. How many of us want to be thought of as compassionate people? How many of us want to suffer?
In many of our churches people bring in food on Sunday morning for the food pantry. It is a good thing to do. But there is no real compassion in it. It's extra food. When we give clothes to the clothing closet, we give the extra, what we don't want, or can't fit into any more. There is no pain involved in that. To reach true compassion means literally giving until it hurts.
Right now we watch the countries of Europe sturggling with the tension between the basic human instinct for self-preservation and compassion, a willingness to suffer to save others. Jesus tells us that before we can take up the cross we must deny ourselves. The word he uses here means literally to disown. To disown myself is to hand myself over completely. I no longer belong to me my life belongs to God. And truly following Christ means a willingness to sacrifice myself, suffer, to save people I don't even know.
Why would I do something so crazy? Because it's what Jesus did. He willingly suffered and died on the cross so that we might live. How are we as individuals and as a nation called to imitate Christ.? How much self-denial and suffering am I willing to experience for someone I don't even know?
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 and that of the gospel will save it.
How am I ready to lose my life?