Shortly after January 1 gyms get really crowded. There is the rush of people who have made the resolution to get in shape, or to lose weight. Others were given a membership. Still others may be accompanying someone to offer support for them as they start a new routine themselves. But there is no escaping the fact the gyms get more crowded right after the first of the year. And the novice might even think this spells success for the gym as they will be able to count on more people in the gym, and hence more profits. But for those who know, it will not last.
Put simply it is because getting in shape is not easy. If it were, we would all be in perfect shape. But it is hard. It takes work. It is about the constant level of commitment to make good choices. It is easier to sit on the couch, even when we know that such a choice might not be good for us. Is there anyone, really, who does not know that we should exercise? We might disagree with what type of exercise is best, but it is rare that people do not understand that exercise is good for them. Ironically, even doctors and nurses, who see the impact of not being in good shape also struggle with being faithful to exercise and making good choices, even when the choices are significant.
In today’s first reading, Moses says this: “Today I have set before you life and prosperity, death and doom.” This seems like the type of choice that is a no brainer. Why would anyone not want life? Why would anyone reject prosperity? Yet even a short reading of the adventures of Moses in the books of Exodus and Leviticus show that time and again the people did not choose life and prosperity. Why would the reject life?
It is the same reason that people do not stay faithful to the gym. It is not easy. Some fail at the gym because they try to do way too much, feel too sore the next day, and give up. Others are not attentive to creating routine and before they know it, they have not been to the gym in weeks. Still others simply do not want to go to the gym and would rather accept their current situation. Some even realize that they do not need to be at the gym, that they can do healthy things like changing diet and going for a walk each day. But for too many, I suspect it is the difficulty in sticking to this new routine.
The same can be true in the spiritual life. Jesus tells us in today’s gospel that the pathway to spiritual health is through the cross. We have to examine our lives and die to those things that do not lead us to become closer to Jesus and to his Church. In short, it means that we have to live like Jesus lived. That is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, to follow him in living the way of life that proclaims the Kingdom of God is in our midst.
But we do not want to take up our cross. It is far easier to give the homeless a dollar than it is to engage the homeless person in conversation. Or, worse yet, to give the homeless that dollar without asking why the person is homeless in the first place. It can be far easier to give up chocolate not because it is the removal of something from our life that keeps us from following Jesus, but rather because it is an easy exercise of willpower that we know we can do. And it makes us feel better.
Like choosing life, taking up my cross or even remaining faithful to exercise, good choices are hard sometimes. The beauty of a relationship with Jesus, he starts with us where we are at, and encourages us to take that first step to getting to know him better, to seeking deeper meaning, fulfillment, deeper connections to other people.
Today is the second day of Lent. Maybe you have already broken your Lenten promise. That’s ok. Breaking your Lenten promise is not a sin. Maybe like some people at the gym, you picked so many things you got overwhelmed. Maybe you simply forgot. Whatever, the solution is the same. Get up and start again.
Remember that in taking up our cross and choosing life we never do so alone. First and foremost, Jesus is always with us. Always. Even if we do not always recognize his presence in our life, he is still there. And if we surround ourselves with good people who desire our growth into a better person, into this deeper relationship with Jesus, if we ask Jesus to come into our hearts and souls, if we ask him for grace, for help, then indeed we will see that all the possessions in the world can not at all compare with the life Jesus wants to have with us.