The Imitation of Christ
Publication Date: September 18, 2003
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A humble farmer who serves God is more acceptable to Him than an inquisitive philosopher who, considering the constellations of heaven, willingly forgets himself.
If you see any person sin or commit any great crime openly before you, do not judge yourself to be better than he, for you know not how long you shall perservere in goodness. We are all frail, but you shall judge no man more frail than yourself.
When a man desires anything inordinately, he is at once unquiet in himself. The proud and covetous man never has rest, but the humble man and poor in spirit lives in great abundances of rest and peace.
If you have any goodness or virtue, believe firmly that there is much more goodness and virtue in others, so that you may always keep yourself in humility. No harm comes if you hold yourself worse than any other, though it may not in truth be so, but much harm results if you prefer yourself above any other, even if he is ever so great a sinner.
We might have much peace if we would not meddle with other men's sayings and doings that do not concern us. How can he long live in peace who willfully meddles with other men's business and who seeks occasions for it straightway in the world and seldom or never gathers himself together in God? Blessed be the true, simple, and humble people, for they shall have a great plentitude of a peace.
Always have a good eye to yourself, and be careful not to judge other men too easily. In judging others a man often labors in vain, often errs, and carelessly offends God, but in judging himself and his own deeds he always labors fruitfully and to his spiritual profit. We often judge according to our own heart and affections, and not according to the truth.
Study always to be patient in bearing other men's defects, for you have many in yourself that others suffer from you, and if you cannot make yourself be as you would, how may you then look to have another regulated in all things to suit your will?
We would gladly have others perfect, yet we will not amend our own faults. We desire others to be strictly corrected for their offenses, yet we will not be corrected. We dislike it that others have liberty, yet we will not be denied what we ask. We desire that others should be restrained according to the laws, yet we will in no way be restrained. And so it appears evident that we seldom judge our neighbors as we do ourselves.
Jesus has many lovers of His Kingdom of heaven, but He has few bearers of his Cross. Many desire His consolation, but few desire His tribulation. He finds many comrades in eating and drinking, but He finds few who will be with him in His abstinence and fasting. All men would joy with Christ, but few will suffer anything for Christ. Many follow Him to the beaking of His bread, for their bodily refreshment, but few will follow Him to drink a draft of the chalice of His Passion. Many honor His miracles, but few will follow the shame of His Cross and His other ignominies. Many love Jesus as long as no adversity befalls them, and can praise and bless Him whenever they receive any benefits from Him, but if Jesus withdraws a little from them and forsakes them a bit, they soon fall into some great grumbling or excessive dejection or into open despair.
If I love the world, I soon rejoice at worldly happiness and soon sorrow at adversity. If I love the flesh, I imagine often what pleases the flesh, and if I love my soul, I delight much to speak and to hear of things that are for my soul's health. And so, whatever I love, I gladly hear and speak of it, and bear the thoughts of it often in my mind.
Weep and be sorrowful that you are yet so carnal and worldly, so unmortified in your passions, so full of the motions of concupiscence, so incautious and ill-ordered in your outward desires, so often entangled in vain fantasy; so much inclined to outward and worldly things, so negligent in inward things; so ready for frivolous behavior and dissoluteness, so slow to weeping and compunction; so prepared for pleasant things and for what delights the flesh, so slow to penance and fervor of spirit; so eager to hear new things and to see fair things; so loath to humble and abject things; so covetous to have much, so niggardly to give, so glad to hold, so unadvised in speaking, so reluctant to be quiet; so ill-order in manners, so importunate in deeds, so greedy for nourishment, so deaf to the word of God; so quick to rest; so slow to labor; so attentive to fables; so sleepy in holy vigils; so hasty toward the end, so unstable totake heed of the way to the end, so negligent in the service of God, so dull and undevout, so dry in Communion; so soon moved to anger and wrath, so easily stirred by the displeasure of others; so ready to judge, so rigorous to reprove, so glad in prosperity, so feeble in adversity; And when you have thus confessed abd bewailed all these defects in yourself and others like them, with great sorrow and displeasure at your own frailness, set yourself, then, in a full purpose to amend your life and to advance always.
God walks with simple people, He shows himself to humble persons, He gives understanding to those who are poor in spirit, He opens wisdom to pure, clean minds, but He hides His grace from inquisitive and proud men. Man's reason is humble and weak and soon deceived, but faith is firm and true and cannot be deceived.
When a man desire a thing too much, he at once becomes ill at ease. A proud and avaricious man never rest, whereas, he who is poor and humble of heart lives in a world of peace.
Thomas a Kempis was a German who became a canon regular of the late medieval period in the Netherlands, and the author of The Imitation of Christ, one of the most popular and best known Christian books on devotion.
Have you ever read a book where, you knew it was great, but you procrastinated for years to read it, and upon finally reading it, it totally surpassed the great expectations you put on it? Well that was my experience with The Imitation of Christ. I’m tempted to excitedly drown this review in positive superlatives, but I’ll try to control myself.
Of all of the books I’ve read on the spiritual life, this is right at the top of the list. This book is so good, that it is a tremendous disservice to read more than a couple of its short chapters a night. The value of it is so extraordinary, and it hits you so hard, that you simply want to meditate on these short passages for the rest of the night. Reading something like 20-30 pages would dilute your absorption of the treasures inside this book.
As a result, it took me about a month to finish this book. A couple months later, I decided I didn’t absorb nearly enough, so I read the book again. And I intend to read the book every time I renew my Total Consecration (This was on the shortlist of books recommended for mental preparation for your Consecration, and rightfully so).
Basically, this book acts as a huge examination of conscience. All the vanity you possess, all your outward judgmental gazes, all your contempt for other people, is rightfully called out in this book. Thomas a Kempis flips the whole thing around: Turn your gaze toward YOU, judge YOURSELF harder, have contempt for YOUR worldliness. Learn how to detach yourself from all worldly things which includes your pride, ego, material wealth, honors, and appetites, and this will give you an inner peace. As we learn from this book, this is the nuts and bolts of the interior life.
If your goal in this life is to be a saint, then this is one of the books you absolutely must read!
I feel funny giving only four stars to such a great classic, but this work was written by monastics and for monastics. It's primarily for those who have a vocation to leave the world rather than laity with a more secular vocation. That does not mean it can't be an amazing boon for a lay person and many have testified to this, but for others it does not fit the bill. It's also one of the worst choices for anyone who suffers from scruples for similar reasons as above. For instance, he may advise being as quiet as possible, but that's not good advice for every lay person. Some people need to talk more and some people talk a moderate amount. So I'm giving it four stars due to it being overly recommended for too a broad audience...as if everyone has to read it and you're crazy if you don't like it!
This book has renewed my spiritual life and has given me the formula to attain true humility and happiness.