Christ said, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Lk 9:23). Father Geiermann observes: “In these words Our Saviour invites us to follow Him in the three phases of the way to perfection. They are: (1) self-denial, or rising above the natural man by self-discipline and prayer; (2) taking up our daily cross by the practice of virtue; (3) following the Master in doing God’s will in all things.”
Geiermann explains: “The object of Christian self-denial is to acquire purity of heart. This is done (1) by purging our consciences of the guilt of sin; (2) by doing penance for our sins; (3) by rooting out our bad habits; (4) by conquering our evil inclinations; and (5) by planting the seed of virtue in our hearts. As the grace of God is the efficient cause of this purification, we can make our self-denial productive only by sanctifying it by prayer.”
The motive for self-denial is fear of the Lord, which is “reverence for God on account of His power to punish all who violate His holy law.” Christ said, “Fear Him that can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt 19:28). Geiermann notes that God is everywhere and sees all things and will render to every person according to his works. Christ, therefore, urges us to do penance, for the kingdom of God is at hand. “The mercy of God gives the sinner hope and inspires him with incipient love, while the fear of the Lord prompts him to be converted and live.”
“There are certain signs that indicate our progress on the way to perfection: (1) the ease and persistence with which we go against our natural likes from a motive of faith indicates the subjugation of nature to grace; (2) detestation of sin and the avoidance of its voluntary occasions is another sure sign of a soul’s true conversion to God; (3) holy indifference, or detachment from the world and earthly things; (4) the dominion we exercise over our passions, or triumph over the flesh; and (5) the facility we acquire in practising humility and obedience are sure signs of progress in self-denial.”
Quotations from Peter Geiermann, The Narrow Way (New York: Benziger, 1914).