Joe De Matteo

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Fear to Renounce

Renounce the world [deny yourself], pick up your cross, and follow me.

Life and fears

I find myself at this point in my journey with God.  I love and worship Him through my actions and prayer; and I prepare myself for any expansion of our relationship that He may initiate, through my prayer-life. 

Again and again I have come across Jesus making statements similar to this one, “Renounce the world, pick up your cross, and follow me.”  I have run away from this since I first heard it. 

I have stopped running and I am ready to face it.


Jesus has expresses this call many times, in many situations throughout the Testaments.  It was a frightful demand to a young Catholic boy in the Bronx of the 1950s, and it is no less awful to this father and husband fifty years later.

But now, as I travel my journey, eyes more open and far more willing, this sign stands before me demanding my attention; “renounce,” it whispers within me.

The questions born of a rising anguish: “What of my wife, my children – some still young, my bills and house…”


 …The world?  Myself?

But I am to glorify you, Lord, in your wondrous creations, am I not?  The earth and heavens: in the beauty of dawn, the majestic trees, the sweeping rivers and rolling mountains – this work that you were so pleased with.  The humans: beautiful, ingenious, crafty and skilled; emotional and analytical, loving and lovable.  I understood that I am to worship you and praise you for your glorious work. 

Am I now to renounce it?


Driving the roads north along the eastern bank of the Hudson River then crossing it at Bear Mountain and driving along its western edge, and up and over the Storm King Mountain, I’m traveling to visit a friend.  Here in the Hudson River Valley there is magnificent beauty no matter which direction you gaze.  The mountains actually do have a rolling look to them, and then there are those which the glaciers of ages past have carved into the Palisades, still bare in contrast to the others decked in Green or, on a cold January day like this one, the gray of sleeping trees and scrub.  For thirty miles the road winds around and over the mountains, as the river winds at their feet.  Glorious, beautiful, majestic, and all the work of the Lord. 


To get from one beautiful place in this river valley to another I get into my car and drive.  The car is like an extension of me, I can marvel at God’s creation while this computer-like brain of mine takes care of the driving.

And I think of how God blew the breath of life [Gen 2:7] into the clay He’d molded to animate Adam, or to put Adam’s soul into the body of clay – God’s breath of life, our spirit. 


My soul is my spirit; within me – the real me – using my body as I am using my car. 

Ha.  My body as an extension of me the spirit.

In the 60s someone would be mumbling, “heavy,” right now.


It is pretty easy for me to spend a life misunderstanding this concept.  I am Joe, all I have to do is look in the mirror.  Yeah.  That’s me.  There’s a little too much of me, but I love to eat; I should control it, and I mean to, but...


I remember that Adam and Eve got to love the world so much that they wanted more [Gen 3].  The forbidden fruit: the knowledge of the world – not scientific knowledge but carnal knowledge, I’m thinking.  Sure, God had told them to go forth and multiply.  (I’m assuming He wasn’t talking about math.)  Yet, once they had the knowledge they became ashamed of their bodies, and hid, for their shame.  They sinned for wanting the world too much, for loving the world more than its Creator.

On thinking further, I recalled that God got angry and destroyed all but Noah and his family (and an assortment of animals) because all those other people were captivated by the physical world.  [Gen 6-9]

Then later Abraham negotiated with God so as not to have everyone in Sodom destroyed. 

God saved only Lot and his daughters, who later proved as carnal as those in Sodom. [Gen 18-19]


I sin when I look at all of God’s wonderful creations and am captured by them, instead of praising God, who, by definition, must be far more awesome than His creations.

But I don’t see God.  These eyes, these complex instruments that God conceived of and created from the very earth he willed into being, they do not see God, but they see all that is of the world in all its beauty, and it is all so desirable.

Yet, I should say, Thank you Lord for this wondrous world and all these great people.  I love you, Lord; in all the love I have for Your creations I am loving You.  In all I desire in this world, I desire you more, You, the Creator of all.  How awesome You are.  In fact, I was created to do just that.

But it is so hard to get more of God, and I have so much to do, work and then there’s so much around to do and see; and I need to kick-back and see that next episode…

Of human desire God said, “…the desires of men’s hearts are evil from the start.” [Gen 8:21]  That heart is like the computer in my car, which is consumed by its all demanding world, which is the car.  Am I so small a being that I am like a car’s computer, which lives for its job and surroundings that I have turned away from my true self?  Could I, could all of us, have renounced God for the world? 

The greatest commandment, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and the first commandment.  The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Jesus,: Matt 22:34-40)  I must love God, and love my neighbor as myself, but what am I calling my-self?  My house, my car, my body of clay?  Is this the self I am called to deny, to renounce? 


Renounce the world [deny yourself], pick up your cross, and follow me.

Is Christ saying to me – the real me, that which was made in His image: my soul, me as spirit?  “Renounce the world pick up your cross, and follow me.”

Is my cross, or at least part of it, my humanity – that which the Creator formed from the clay to make Adam, the clay which hears the call of earthly desires?

I hear Him saying, “Joseph the spirit, made in My image, grab hold of your humanity, take complete control over it: deny it, and follow me through your human life and on into Eternity.  I give you my Grace to do this, however, you must will it; make the decision and I will help you.  All will be well.  Trust Me.”

Simplicity from an impeccable source, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta

“Total surrender to God must come in small details as it comes in big details.  It is nothing but that single word, ‘Yes, I accept whatever you give, and I give whatever you take.’  And this is just a simple way for us to be holy.  We must not create difficulties in our own minds.  To be holy does not mean to do extraordinary things, to understand big things, but it is a simple acceptance, because I have given myself to God, because I belong to him – my total surrender. He could put me here.  He could put me there.  He can use me.  He can not use me.  It doesn’t matter because I belong so totally to him that he can do just what he wants to do with me.” 


Saint Francis de Sales said it this way: “Yes, Heavenly Father, I accept everything.  Yes, and always yes.” 

And, I continue on my journey.

Joseph De Matteo, January 2008


Joseph De Matteo

Joseph De Matteo


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