Friends, in today’s Gospel, Jesus lays down the conditions of discipleship.
A few verses before our reading, Jesus predicted his Passion for the first time. He will sacrifice himself in love for the other—and in this, he will come to deeper life and become a source of life to others. Ronald Knox talked about the sign of the cross this way: the first two gestures form the letter “I,” and the next two cross it out. That’s what the cross of Jesus meant and means.
In this scene, he gathers the crowd with his disciples and pronounces the formula for following him. We ought to be listening too with great attention: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” The path of discipleship is the path of self-sacrificing love, and that means the path of suffering.
Then the great paradox: “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.” Put that over your door, on the refrigerator, on your screensaver. There is no better one-line guide to the happy life.