Take up the cross, and follow me

The Gospel reading for today’s Mass for the Friday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time is an appropriate one for a Friday, given the day’s significance as the day Jesus suffered and died.

Mark 8:34-37 “And calling together the crowd with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone chooses to follow me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.

For whoever will have chosen to save his life, will lose it. But whoever will have lost his life, for my sake and for the Gospel, shall save it. For how does it benefit a man, if he gains the whole world, and yet causes harm to his soul?

Or, what will a man give in exchange for his soul?

(Via Sacred Bible: Catholic Public Domain Version)

A key line in the Gospel excerpt, “If anyone chooses to follow me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” is the crux of recovery with a Catholic perspective. In drinking and drugging, or even just making daily choices and preferring our will to His, we refuse the Cross.

Taking up the Cross is in opposition to our own selfish desires as expressed in our self-will. Our instinct for self-preservation insists that we pick “self” first; the pain of the Cross goes against this. And part of the “contradiction of the Cross” is that we reject the self, we “deny ourselves” in order to be saved. In denying ourselves, we have to trust in Jesus.

And so we make a choice. We choose to follow Jesus, “The Way, the Truth and the Life,” deny ourselves and reject addiction. This becomes a cross as we naturally suffer without our addiction. (That we were suffering with it is obvious, but we typically focus on how it “helped” us cope.) We are denying our preferences, our “crutches” and our need to fulfill our base desires. Our mind and body scream, “Give us the drink!” But we reply, “No.”

And so we follow Him: Jesus Christ, the Divine Physician. In choosing to save our life through Christ, we lose the old one. It was nailed to the Cross. We live now by the Gospel and if we persevere to the End will find ourselves reigning with Him and the saints for all eternity.

There is a trade-off. In keeping our addictions, we “gain the world,” or at least our fantasized version of it. But we lose our soul. We do not become the person God made us to be. That one is buried in the addiction. The other trade-off is clear: giving up the addiction we recover who we were meant to be.

This better “trade-off,” that of denying yourself and becoming a disciple of Christ, is essentially the method Matt Talbot chose. If you are a regular reader of SoberCatholic, you know who he is. If not, a short bio tells that he was an Irish drunk who tried several times to become sober after running out of money to buy himself liquor. His friends, for whom he loaned money for booze in the past, didn’t help him. Shocked at this betrayal of alcoholic solidarity and brotherhood Matt tried the “pledge” which worked for a while. He found continued sobriety only after he transferred his love for the drink onto Jesus. Matt lived a life of piety and devotion. He died sober. His Cause for Canonization is open and they’re just waiting on the requisite miracles. There are links in the sidebar to help you learn more; the best one is The Venerable Matt Talbot Resource Center.

Matt gave up the drink in exchange for his soul.

What will you give in exchange for your soul? That’s a daunting question. And not an easy one to answer for most people. It is the question that starts the conversion process. Even if you were not consciously aware of it, when you began your conversion process upon attaining sobriety you started to answer that question. And you continue to answer it every day you are sober and continue to learn and live your Catholic Faith.

Know someone, perhaps yourself, who might like Catholic devotionals for alcoholics? Please take a look at my books! (Thank you!!)

"The Recovery Rosary: Reflections for Alcoholics and Addicts"

and "The Stations of the Cross for Alcoholics"