1999 September/Imitating Christ

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis is a spiritual classic that has the special property of making each reader think it was written with him in mind Here is a chapter as relevant now as it was 600 years ago.

Thou art, miserable wherever thou art, and which way soever thou turnest thyself, unless thou dost turn thyself to God.

Why art thou troubled because things do not succeed with thee according to thy will and desire? Who is there that has all things according to his will? Neither I, nor thou, nor any man upon earth.

There is no man in the world without some trouble or affliction, though he be a king or a pope.

Who is it that is most at ease? Doubtless he who is willing to suffer something for God’s sake.

2. Many unstable and weak men are apt to say: Behold how well such a man lives; how rich, how great, how mighty and powerful.

But attend to heavenly goods and thou wilt see that all these temporal things are nothing but very uncertain and rather burdensome, because they are never possessed without care and fear.

The happiness of a man consisteth not in having temporal things in abundance, but a moderate competency sufficeth.

It is truly a misery to live upon earth.

The more a man desireth to be spiritual the more this present life becomes distasteful to him; because he the better understands and more clearly sees the defects of human corruption.

For to eat, drink, watch, sleep, rest, labour, and to be subject to other necessities of nature is truly a great misery and affliction to a devout man who desires to be released and free from all sin.

3. For the inward man is very much burdened with the necessities of the body in this world.

And, therefore, the prophet devoutly prays to be freed from them, saying, “From my necessities deliver me, O Lord.”— Ps. XXIV. 17

But woe to them that know not their own misery, and more woe to them that love this miserable and corruptible life.

For some there are that love it to that degree, although they can scarce get necessities by labouring or begging, that if they could live always here they would not care at all for the kingdom of God.

4. O senseless people, and infidels at heart, who lie buried so deep in earthly things as to relish nothing but the things of the flesh.

Miserable wretches! they will in the end find to their cost how vile a nothing that was which they so much loved.

But the saints of God and all the devout frinds of Christ made no account of what pleased the flesh or flourished in this life: but their whole hope and intention aspired to eternal goods.

Their whole desire tended upwards to things everlasting and invisible, lest the love of visible things should draw them down to things below.

5. Lose not, brother, thy confidence of going forward to spiritual things; there is yet time, the hour is not yet past.

Why wilt thou put off thy resolutions from day to day? Arise, and begin this very moment, and say: now is the time for doing, and now is the time to fight; now is the proper time to amend my life.

When than art troubled and afflicted then is the time to merit.

Thou must pass through fire and water before thou comest to refreshment.—PS. LXV. 12.

Unless thou do violence to thyself thou wilt not overcome vice.

As long as we carry about this frail body we cannot be without sin nor live without uneasiness and sorrow.

We would faro be at rest from all misery, but because we have lost innocence by sin we have also lost true happiness.

We must, therefore, have patience and wait for the mercy of Crud till iniquity pass away and this mortality be swallowed up by life—2 COR. V. 4.

6. Oh, how great is human frailty which is always prone to vice!

To-day thou confessest thy sins and to-morrow thou again committest what thou host confessed.

Now than resolvest to take care and an hour after thou dust as if thou hadst never resolved.

We have reason, therefore, to humble ourselves and never to think much of ourselves since we are so frail and inconstant.

‘That may also be quickly lost through negligence, which with much labour and time, was hardly gotten by grace.

7. What will become of us in the end who grow lukewarm so very soon?

Woe be to us if we are for giving ourselves to rest, as if we had already met with peace and security, when there does not as yet appear any mark of true sanctity in our conversation—I THESS, V. 3.