Self Denial

Felix Sanchez is a runner from the Dominican Republic. At the London Olympics 2012, he won the gold medal in the 400-meter hurdles. He did it with the memory of his late grandma on his mind. The win was his second career gold at age 34, (in fact he is the oldest gold medalist so far) and the Dominican Republic’s first medal of the 2012 Games. He ran with a photo of the two of them pinned beneath his race bib. On his yellow spikes he wrote “Abuela” – Spanish for “Grandmother.” Those shoes carried him to sure victory in 47.63 seconds. After reaching the finish line, he pulled out that picture, placed it down on the track, knelt and tenderly kissed the image of the woman who raised him.
Sánchez won the 400 hurdles at the 2004 Athens Olympics. Four years later in Beijing, he woke up on the morning of his preliminary round to the news that his grandmother had died. He thought about dropping out but decided to run, and he wound up with the 22nd-fastest time of 25 finishers. “I ran terribly. I cried the whole day” he recalled. “After that Olympics, I made a promise that I was going to win a medal for her.” And he did it with with style! He separated himself from the pack down the stretch, so far ahead that he could start celebrating early, sticking out his tongue as he crossed the line and letting out a scream.
When he stepped atop the podium for the medals ceremony, he became emotional while the national anthem of the Dominican Republic was played and its flag raised. It also started to rain. He later said: “It just made me feel like my grandmother was crying tears of joy. She was proud of me.”

Felix Sanchez trained for four long years to win this gold for his grandma. He had to struggle and deny himself so much for the sake of Olympic glory.
In today’s Gospel (Mk 8:27-35), one of the things Jesus taught and stressed to his disciples was the idea of a Suffering Messiah. He accepted Peter’s affirmation that he is indeed the Messiah. But as Messiah, he will suffer and die. Moreover, his disciples must also follow this way of the cross. “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Jesus’ disciples, then must learn to deny themselves.
There are 3 reasons why Jesus insists on Self Denial
1.      It is Necessary
Self denial is a part of life and it involves self emptying. It requires a painful dying to one’s personal liking after the example of Jesus. Though he was God, he emptied himself and took the form of a slave. In the Holy Family Retreat House run by the Redemptorists in Busay, Cebu, I came across a quotation which goes: “He who must give light must endure burning.” For a candle to give light, it must die. It must burn and spend itself until its last wax. Burning is its only way to give light.
Yesterday, we celebrated the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. St. John in his gospel recounts that Mary was standing at the foot of the  cross. Her presence there was an icon of faith and love. She had deep faith – despite the great suffering and pain of Jesus she believed that the Father knows best! At that moment she was an epitome of love. She certainly was crying but no anger and hate in her heart. And looking up to heaven she would make a sigh of loving offering of her most precious Son sharing his suffering for the salvation of the world.
2.      It is a Daily Process
Self denial involves a slow and constant process. As it is said “nothing worthwhile comes easy.” So it is to be configured to Christ. Michaelangelo was a great Italian renaissance artist. One of his masterpieces is the Pieta, made of  Carrara marble which he sculpted for one year from 1498-1499. This famous work of art depicts the body of Jesus on the lap of his mother Mary after his crucifixion. To complete this work, the artist has to work patiently and slowly to chip off the design from the big mass of marble. It is the only work Michaelangelo signed because after its completion someone remarked that it was the work of a rival sculptor. So he carved  his name on the sash running across Mary’s chest if only to point out the difficulty of creating such a classical work of art only to be attributed to someone else. A sculptor, a painting even book writing needs time, patience, discipline and a daily dose of love. Certainly love is the deepest reason for self denial in view of a greater good.
3.      It is the Path to Greatness
Athletes become champions only by conquering themselves. They put in tremendous amount of effort, practice and discipline to master their sport. Self denial is the main ingredient to greatness in any endeavor. If the Airforce can say: no guts, no glory; the Marines can say: no retreat, no surrender; the Army can say: no pain, no gain. The Christian can also say: no cross, no resurrection!
Following Christ is a constant challenge which requires faith and love expressed in our willingness to deny ourselves. In the end, the Father will also shed loving tears of joy for us and will be standing proud of us.
Disclaimer: This section of the website is a personal creative writing of the author and does not necessarily reflect the official views, opinion, or policies of the Salesians of Don Bosco – Philippines South Province. For concerns on the content, style, and grammar of this piece, please contact us.

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