Self-Denial: If any man would come after me, let him deny himself.

Self-Denial: If any man would come after me, let him deny himself.
A Spiritual Reflection by Fred Schaeffer, OFS


In the 21st Century, most people have lost recognition of the need for self-denial and have even lost the knowledge of right vs. wrong.

Let us go to Mark, Chapter 8:  
“And he began to teach them that the Son of man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.  And he said this plainly. And Peter took him and began to rebuke him.  But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter, and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not on the side of God, but of men”.” And he called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:31-34)


For those who have an ardent desire to love God, self-denial is not just a watch-word, it is a way of life.  In 2014, the Holy Father, Pope Francis, explained that in order to be an authentic Christian, we must follow the path of Jesus in denying oneself, taking up the Cross and practicing humility. “And this style will save us, will give us joy and make us fruitful, because this path of denying oneself is there to give us life,” he said.


Thomas Merton, 1915–1968, wrote: "Christian self-denial is supposed to help us find perfect happiness by leading us rapidly to the fulfilment of our supernatural destiny.”


Catholics are aware that self-denial is needed but it is a subject that is whispered rather than shouted, because it takes a lot of effort. When one is faced with a temptation, this effort is needed immediately, right now, and if the practice of self-denial has been on the back-burner for some time, the effort to put it into use is often weak. If self-denial isn’t the first thought when faced with adversity, who knows what will happen. So, at a time, when there is no immediate question that strong self-denial is needed, ponder this subject and familiarize yourself with your attitudes what you would do when faced with a challenge where self-denial is urgently needed. Then, when that moment comes, you will be ready to do the right thing.


An example comes to mind in the “boy meets girl” department. When we meet a beautiful person, of the opposite sex, many think of sex first, and the integrity of the person, last. Satan is always trying to undermine our resolve to be chaste, as Christians must be, we are always faced with this challenge. That’s where self-denial comes in. We need to deny thoughts of temptation that drive a wedge between us and God. We cannot permit the temptation to get the upper hand. If we are always in the habit of denying improper behavior, it isn’t so hard to remain chaste.


If we wish to follow Jesus in our lives, self-denial has to be part of the equation. We have to learn to master ourselves, that is, to tame our desires and follow Jesus no matter what. People meet and are attracted to one another all the time, but self denial will keep us from over-reaching and over reacting. People who lead chaste lives, as we all should, are less likely to over-react to new meetings, new relationships that call for caution and prudence. I met a woman recently to whom I felt attracted. After a couple of weeks, there came a point where she was always in my thoughts. That is not healthy, for when a person thinks of nothing else, important matters (prayer, meditation) are pushed to the background. The reaction to meeting and relating to others must be proportional to our spiritual life. And once I had my thoughts under control, I became less anxious about the person I met, and we even became good spiritual friends. 


Self-denial isn’t the easiest concept to write about, but it is an essential practice if we are to remain friends with God, and practice chastity required of us. By practicing self-denial, we allow God to increase in us. “He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:30


Fred Schaeffer, OFS.    July 7, 2018

Also read:  Holy Chastity in Our Lives. (






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