Take Up Your Cross and Follow Me – Lent 2024


In our modern world, we’ve lost a bit of meaning in Christ’s command for his disciples to “take up your cross and follow me” because we don’t have the same understanding and experience of crucifixion as the Apostles. In this talk, John Leonetti helps us better understand these words of Christ in their fullness and helps us apply it to our lives.

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Reflective Study Guide Questions

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his lifewill lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?

– Matthew 16:24-26

1. Meditate on the verse from Matthew above. What stands out to you most in Christ’s words? What might God be trying to say to you through them?

2. Jon explains that the type of crucifixion Christ suffered was meant to be the most painful and most humiliating forms of execution. How do you think this affected the disciples’ understanding Jesus’ command to “Take up your cross and follow me”? How does Jon’s explanation of this brutality affect your understanding of this call?

3. In what ways do you succeed in taking up your cross and dying to yourself? Where do you fail? How can you challenge yourself in this area?

4.  What might dying to self look like in your life right now? Think about your family, friends, or faith community. What needs do you see there? In what ways can you fill that need?

Text: Take Up Your Cross and Follow Me

In the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Luke 9:23 , the conditions of discipleship. “Then He said to all who were with Him, anyone who wishes to follow me must deny himself. Take up his cross daily and follow me.”

What Are We Called To?

I’m Jon Leonetti, back here at the Pray More Novena Lenten Retreat. That might be the most striking, biblical phrase, if you will, that has come over my life. I remember hearing that at mass one day, that very gospel reading, and I remember it hit me. And not often does that happen, you know, not often do the Gospels kind of hit me. I’ve got a Ten, eight and four year old. They hit me, but they’re not the Gospels. Anyway, no, that, that hit me because I remember thinking to myself, “That’s it. That’s the condition of discipleship.” You know, what are we called to in our Catholic faith? More than anything, we’re called to be disciples of the Lord Jesus. Right? I mean, that’s what it’s all about. It’s discipleship. And sometimes I think discipleship can become like a buzzword in our faith. We can’t let it be so discipleship, what Jesus Christ calls every single one of us into. And here’s the relationship, here’s the condition. It’s on the cross. Jesus says, “Anyone who wishes to come after me must deny himself. Take up his cross daily and follow me.”

A More Painful Outlook

You know, I don’t think the apostles and His disciples that were following him all around, I don’t think that they heard it the way we hear it today. You know, we hear that and we think, “Oh, okay. Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ. And we sit down and go about our day.” When they heard this, I think their jaws would’ve dropped because they knew what the cross was, crucifixion. It was the most gruesome form of death that the Romans could inflict. If anyone is understood or studied the Romans, you know that they had many ways of torture and execution. In many ways, they were scientists, they were meticulous. But the cross, the cross was the most painful, it was the most excruciating. In fact, that’s where we get that word, “ex crucis” out from the cross, because that’s what the crucified would’ve had to do, is push themselves out from the cross just to breathe. It would’ve been a constant pumping of their legs just to take their next breath. They could breathe in, but they couldn’t breathe out. All the while they were suffocating, and they were drowning of their blood from the inside. The reason why it was such an excruciating form of death is because it was the one that took the longest. It was the one that was the most humiliating. It was the one in which they would make you carry your cross up and then hoist you naked on the tree. And it was the one that was the most painful.

You know, St. Paul was beheaded and he was beheaded as an act almost of kind of a mercy killing because he was a Roman citizen. The Romans wouldn’t put their own citizens on trees. It was that embarrassing for them. That’s why kind of that mercy killing for St. Paul was seen as a quick death. But Jesus, Jesus wouldn’t go through the quick death. Jesus would hang on that tree, and He would do so for three hours. Now, the goal, Caesar’s goal was to get you on there for to hours. They would actually station guards along each of the crucified, because the crucified would be begging bystanders to throw rocks at their heads or stick spears in their hearts to end their lives. And the, the people that were guarding them were there to make sure that it lasted a long time. Jesus died in just three hours, which tells you, which tells you the beating that He took beforehand, walking football fields with that tree on His back, being again and suffering from the scourging at the pillar, Another form of execution with hooks and, and bone fragments tied on the end, designed to rip out flesh. Jesus says to His disciples, “Anyone who wishes to follow me must deny himself. Take up his cross daily and follow me.” You see here the conditions of discipleship.

What Does It Mean To Follow Him?

What does it mean to take up our cross daily and to follow Him? It means to Love. You know, here’s the best definition of love I think we have in our faith, quote, “To will the good of the other, as other.” You’ve heard it said in different ways, but ultimately what it means is where I want what’s best for you, where I’m going to do what’s best for you because it’s best for you, not because it’s best for me. Have you ever done something really kind for someone? Maybe you’ve gone outta your way and afterwards they’ve said, you know, how, how can we repay you? What, what can we do for you now? And then you, you turn to them and you say, “oh, no, I don’t want you to do anything. this was just out of the goodness of my heart.” And then you’re walking back to your car or truck and you think to yourself, “now they owe me. Yeah, now they owe me.” Now don’t, don’t lie, I think we’ve all done this. All right? Lying a sin. “Now they owe me” is that love? It’s not love, right? Because it’s all about me. It comes back to me.

What is love? It’s a gift of self. It’s a gift of self, ultimately, where I die most of the time, not literally right now, there are many of the martyrs and many people that have heroically given their lives out of love. There’s no greater love than that, than to die for one’s friends, of course, as sacred scripture teaches us. But we can do so every day of our lives in shedding our lives from selfishness, greed, ego. Maybe you’ve heard it said before, this illusion of self-sufficiency that’s out there where, where “I don’t need anyone else, and no one really needs me.” You know what’s, what’s really killing our culture today? What’s killing our hearts is selfishness, greed, and ego, where I’ve just kind of painted my own life where it’s just about me. See, that was never the way. It was never the way that Jesus intended. It’s not what Jesus wants. And if we’re going to be disciples, we’ve got to get rid of it.

A Death to Myself

You know, I have a working title for a book that I’m working on right now. I’m going to let you know what it is, all right? My wife hates it. She hates the title. Alright, here’s, here’s the working title. “Love is Death.” Isn’t that great? Right? Love is death, because ultimately it’s a death to myself. That’s what love is. It’s that, that heroic way of saying, it’s not about me, it’s about you. Where can this be practiced? I think best is right here in our families, right? I mean, ultimately it’s what marriage is. Look, when my marriage is at its best, it’s when both of us are being unselfish, un greedy. When our marriages, when my marriage is at its worst, it’s when one of us are being selfish, being greedy, it’ll kill a marriage. It’ll kill a family. That’s why we have to die to ourselves.

You know, in our household, we have some crucifixes up on the walls. The crucifixes are there. Not because we’re holy, not because we want, you know, everyone to be able to see them. No, they’re there to remind us. We have one in our bedroom, a big one that when I get out of bed every morning, I look at that crucifix, it’s there confronting me. That’s what my day has to be. That’s what my life has to be. It has to be for my, my wife and for my kids. For the people I go out and I speak to, it’s a death to myself. It could be easy, again, to turn inward on ourselves and selfishness and greed. We live in a world that kind of says to do so, right? Kind of the self-loathing all of a sudden kind of world we live in. That’s not the way of Christ. It’s a constant looking out in the world, Out and to say, where does the world need love? And how is it that I can go fulfill that? So how do we do it? Well, we start first and foremost, I think, within our families.

We Got to Stretch Ourselves

Now, if you’re single, okay? If you, if you don’t have kind of a nuclear family, a wife or children, or a husband, then I want you to start in your parish. They’re your family, all right? Your friends, anywhere you go, I want you to start there. And I want you to look for a place or look for a way that you can just give of yourself, where you can deny yourself. Now, we got to get again, uncomfortable here, okay? Because again, looking at the cross, it wasn’t comfortable. We got to come out of ourselves a little bit here, and sometimes we gotta stretch ourselves.

You know, I remember someone once was kind of bragging about the money that they gave to some organization, and I remember asking them this question. I said, um, I hope they’re not going to watch this. But I said, “Why do you give, why do you give all that money?” And she looked at me and she said, “because it makes me feel good.” And you know what my response was? I said, “uh, you may not be given enough then.” It just kind of came out, I didn’t mean for it to come out, and you should have seen her face, right? But if, if all we’re about in our lives is just to try to feel good or, or doing good, to feel good, we’ve missed it. We’ve missed the point of it all. You know, Jesus saves us from the cross. Now, remember, it’s not a magic trick.

A Complete Gift of Self

So it’s not once He dies, everyone’s just saved. We can kind of live our lives however we want. No, what Jesus asks us is to cooperate with that cross. We find our salvation when we cooperate with the cross, when we become his disciples there. I don’t think it’s any coincidence. Someone once said that our bodies were made in the form of a cross. God stamps this right into our bodies. He stamps it right into our families.

You know, this is really in a beautiful way how we understand God, a complete gift of self, which is what He has given us, which is what He is, a father who pours Himself out to the Son, whose son, who, who receives the Father pouring Himself back to the Father and the Holy Spirit, pouring forth from the Father and the Son, right? This is, this is, it’s so strong, the love between the Father and the Son, that it’s another person. It’s the Holy Spirit. And God stamps that right into our families and our lives as well. A complete gift of self. And what’s going to bear from that? Only more love. You know, we, we live in a society, and I think sometimes what we can do is we can just kind of become numb to that word “Love.” But if you really want to get numb to it, I want you to meditate with a cross.

A Little Challenge

So here’s the challenge, I end all my talks with a little challenge. I want you to make time in your day over the course of maybe the next couple weeks for Lent. And I want you to pray with a crucifix. And I want you just simply to ask God, “Lord, help me to love like this.” “Help me to love like this,” or “help me to love like you,” because this is what God has done for us. This is what Christ Jesus has done for us. God so loved the world that He gave His only son not to condemn the world, but to save it. And He saves it through the greatest act of love the world will ever know. And He doesn’t leave us on an island alone. He asks us to participate in that story, to live that very story of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in our day to day lives. And look, you may say, well, John, why don’t you focus a little bit more on Easter Sunday.

And look, Easter Sunday is the highest feast day in the life of the Church. I hope you party on Easter. It’s a great day. Again, the highest feast day in the life of the church. But as you’ve maybe heard it said before, there is no Easter Sunday without Good Friday. We don’t rise with Christ if we don’t die with Christ. And we die with Christ every single day to our lives, dying to ourselves as often as possible. It’s not easy. And look, we can’t do it on our own. We need grace. We need to avail ourselves to that grace in prayer and fasting and alms giving.

 As I said in another speech, we’ve got to open our hearts for the graces and then that cross reigns supreme. It’s one thing that we ask in our family every night before we go to bed, to allow the crucifixion of Jesus Christ to reign supreme of this household. Paul says, I preach the crucified Lord. He doesn’t say, I preached the resurrected Lord. He says, I preached the crucified Lord. And we do as well, because in dying with Christ, we find life. We find the meaning. We find the reason. We find the purpose to this life, and ultimately the next.

Closing Prayer

In the name of the Father and of the Son of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Lord Jesus, help us to live that cross in our day to Day lives every day of our lives. Lord, may your crucifixion reign supreme in the hearts of the faithful in all that are listening here. Amen. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

About Jon Leonetti

Jon Leonetti is a nationally known Catholic speaker, best-selling author, and radio host who conveys a message of lasting fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Through Jon’s keynote presentations and parish missions, thousands of Catholics each year discover the freedom Christ offers by way of his life and love.

Jon believes that our deepest longing for happiness and wholeness is fulfilled in the encounter with Jesus Christ. Through prayer, the Sacraments, family life, and the help of Mary and the saints, Jon wants to cultivate an intimate relationship with Jesus and help others do the same.

With this message Jon has been featured and interviewed by the nation’s top Catholic websites, blogs, and radio shows, helping Catholics in all walks of life to fall in love and stay in love with the living God.

At home, Jon enjoys reading, sports, exercising, coffee, and, most of all, spending time with his wife Teresa, and their three children.  Jon has a master’s degree in moral theology.