Today is Good Friday — a day to meditate solemnly on the fact that Christ offered Himself totally for us on the Cross.

He didn’t have to do it. He willingly laid down His life — not for perfect people, but for the screw-ups, the broken, the twisted, the addicted, the disordered and the oppressed.

In my own meditation on Our Lord’s Passion, I’ve been praying over this passage from John’s gospel:

For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. (John 10:17-18)

No one takes Christ’s life away from him.

He lays it down of his own choice. He is not stripped of his dignity and power by an external force — He submits to the Cross out of obedience to the Father and hands himself over to the darkness of death and suffering… to prove his love for sinners, to win them over, to reveal his thirst for our friendship.

It’s tempting to approach the Crucifixion of the Lord Jesus as a monstrously tragic event — as if it’s just another concrete example of our affinity as human beings to overpower good with evil. It’s easy to confuse the Cross as the moment Jesus was finally caught up in the awful machinery of mankind’s injustice — a hapless victim of our societal diseases.

But Jesus’ words — No one takes my life from me — points to a much different reality. Christ was not caught unawares by our brokenness and disfunction. “He knew all men and needed no one to bear witness of man; for he himself knew what was in man.” (John 2:24-25) What’s more, Jesus was Lord and Master even over the events surrounding his death, and he willingly entered into them all. Despite all outward appearances, Christ wasn’t forced to die. Despite the mockery and derision he accepted from his executioners (and from each of us by extension) he forfeited nothing of his integrity. He wasn’t shoved around against his will. His Sacrifice was freely chosen, because he loves us more than we love ourselves.

In discerning the priesthood, I’ve wrestled with this reality.

So often, I look at my vocational discernment in terms of a series of comforts and privileges that are being taken away from me: Marriage, kids, financial autonomy, vacation time, and a host of other trivial freedoms.

It’s easy to feel trapped by this bad attitude — as if I’ve been caught off guard by God’s call to serve at the altar, as if the call isn’t a great and enduring gift. Like Jeremiah, I hear that self-pitying groan within my own heart: “You duped me, Lord! And I let myself be duped!”

But Jesus, my Savior, instead turns to me and says with calm assurance: “No one takes your life from you. You are to lay it down of your own accord.”

One of the few times I ever honestly thought I heard the voice of God in prayer, Jesus had this to say to me. I’m still continuing to unpack it every day:

Unless you choose Me freely, you can have no part in Me.

To choose Christ is to choose the Cross.

This, it seems to me, is the essence of any authentic vocation: A free decision for Christ, a willing submission to the grace of God and the prompting of the Holy Spirit within our daily lives, an obedient death-to-self that is prerequisite to enjoying the Kingdom of Heaven.

We Christians must not be bogged down in a feeling of being forced or prodded to sacrifice and forgo certain conveniences and comforts. We should not give in to the pessimistic, nihilistic temptation to feel short-changed or limited by God’s call in our life. He doesn’t force us. He invites us.

Therefore, we ought to align ourselves with Jesus, who having loved his own in the world… loved them to the end. He entered into the events of his Passion willingly. He laid his life down on his terms — not the world’s.  Even when darkness seemed to have its greatest and final victory, Jesus was still in control. He was in the process of making all things new. As followers of Christ, we must imitate him in this great self-offering of ourselves out of love. Therein lies our freedom. Don’t let the world and its mockery rob you of the abiding joy of freely choosing to follow Our Crucified Lord.