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The Imitation of Christ with a Commentary and Audio Files

The Imitation of Christ

by Father Thomas à Kempis
of the Canons Regular of Mount St. Agnes
(1380 - 1471)

A STUDY

Imitating Christ Jesus

The following pages are dedicated to the Little Hearts entrusted by God
to Cloistered Poor Clare Colettine Nuns

CHAPTER 3

1 2 3 4 5 6 7

CHAPTERS

The Doctrine of Truth
 

"HAPPY is he to whom truth manifests itself, not in signs and words that fade, but as it actually is. Our opinions, our senses often deceive us and we discern very little.

What good is much discussion of involved and obscure matters when our ignorance of them will not be held against us on Judgment Day? Neglect of things which are profitable and necessary and 5 undue concern with those which are irrelevant and harmful, are great folly.

We have eyes and do not see.

What, therefore, have we to do with questions of philosophy? He to whom the Eternal Word speaks is free from theorizing. For from this Word are all things and of Him all things speak—the Beginning Who also speaks to us. Without this Word no man understands or judges aright. He to whom it becomes everything, who traces all things to it and who sees all things in it, may ease his heart and remain at peace with God.

O God, You Who are the truth, make me one with You in love everlasting. I am often wearied by the many things I hear and read, but in You is all that I long for. Let the learned be still, let all creatures be silent before You; You alone speak to me.

The more recollected a man is, and the more simple of heart he becomes, the easier he understands sublime things, for he receives the light of knowledge from above. The pure, simple, and steadfast spirit is not distracted by many labors, for he does them all for the honor of God. And since he enjoys interior peace he seeks no selfish end in anything. What, indeed, gives more trouble and affliction than uncontrolled desires of the heart?

A good and devout man arranges in his mind the things he has to do, not according to the whims of evil inclination but according to the dictates of 6right reason. Who is forced to struggle more than he who tries to master himself? This ought to be our purpose, then: to conquer self, to become stronger each day, to advance in virtue.

Every perfection in this life has some imperfection mixed with it and no learning of ours is without some darkness. Humble knowledge of self is a surer path to God than the ardent pursuit of learning. Not that learning is to be considered evil, or knowledge, which is good in itself and so ordained by God; but a clean conscience and virtuous life ought always to be preferred. Many often err and accomplish little or nothing because they try to become learned rather than to live well.

If men used as much care in uprooting vices and implanting virtues as they do in discussing problems, there would not be so much evil and scandal in the world, or such laxity in religious organizations. On the day of judgment, surely, we shall not be asked what we have read but what we have done; not how well we have spoken but how well we have lived.

Tell me, where now are all the masters and teachers whom you knew so well in life and who were famous for their learning? Others have already taken their places and I know not whether they ever think of their predecessors. During life they seemed to be something; now they are seldom remembered. How quickly the glory of the world passes away! If only their lives had kept pace with their learning, then their study and reading would have been worth while.

How many there are who perish because of vain worldly knowledge and too little care for serving God. They became vain in their own conceits because they chose to be great rather than humble.

He is truly great who has great charity. He is truly great who is little in his own eyes and makes nothing of the highest honor. He is truly wise who looks upon all earthly things as folly that he may gain Christ. He who does God’s will and renounces his own is truly very learned."
 


 

 Click here to listen to this chapter

 



Sister's Commentary:

"HAPPY is he to whom truth manifests itself, not in signs and words that fade, but as it actually is. Our opinions, our senses often deceive us and we discern very little.

What good is much discussion of involved and obscure matters when our ignorance of them will not be held against us on Judgment Day? Neglect of things which are profitable and necessary and undue concern with those which are irrelevant and harmful, are great folly.

We have eyes and do not see. "

I.

Jesus Christ says of himself, "I am the way, the Truth, and the Life". We can indeed seize truth by human effort and even attain to knowledge, but always and in every respect it is wanting. Most often we verge on the truth; we seize it in part, but never apprehend it in its entirety. What we mean is this: whatever truthful statement we can make about anything (presuming in the first place that it is true), nevertheless fails to embrace the whole truth concerning it.1

Ultimately, it is the Holy Spirit of God who reveals the totality of truth to us.

However, instead of pursuing the Truth which leads ultimately to God, we are quite satisfied to be led by idle curiosity to dead ends and blind alleys that lead us no where. We are so remarkably adept at trying to seek Truth where it is not to be found, instead of looking to God and exposing our total being to his Word. Indeed, much like Pontius Pilate, were we to see Truth with our waking eyes, we still would not recognize it. Did not Pilate, even upon beholding the Truth itself in the person of Jesus Christ standing before him, even then insolently ask, "What is Truth?".

Pilate was a politician, a governor — and not a philosopher. But he was sufficiently educated to know that the question belonged to the philosophers of his day, and though not counted among them, he feigned their erudition, and in that pretension to knowledge revealed not his (superficial) "knowledge", but his blindness to the Truth.

How very often we are purblind to what is immediately before us and revealed in the circumstances of our daily lives, because we are not aware of Christ Who comes to each of us in the sacrament of the present moment. Instead of recognizing Him in our daily duties we seek rather for meaning in all manner of obscurities, visions, apparitions, and superfluities. Much like the Gnostics of old who esteemed themselves to exclusively possess "secret knowledge" that remained a mystery to the uninitiated, to the "common masses", we are eager to possess a "privileged knowledge", a "special insight", locutions and visions accorded us alone, or few, and  from which others are excluded. It redounds to our self-importance, and we deem ourselves "chosen", special, among the few "select." We are filled with secret pride and we are jealous of our "knowledge". It invests us with a sense of exclusivity, prominence and pride. — and we are loathe to relinquish any part of this privileged state by sharing it with others. Our poverty is not that we do do not have enough, either materially or intellectually; our real poverty is that we have far too much — and in failing to share it with others we lose something profoundly greater in a sorry trade: God's grace for the things of this world which perish, if we do not perish first!. Why? Because, "with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again" 2 We keep our "possessions" and lose our souls.

In a consumer society it is very hard not to accumulate things, but ... here is the invitation to virtue! ... do we then channel the excess to where it will serve and support others? This is our challenge! Not to bury the talent, but to multiply it! 5

It is important for us to observe that the problems with which we have to grapple are no different from those which Thomas à Kempis himself had to address and work through 500 years ago.
"Nihil sub sole novum", "there is nothing new under the sun"! 3  The packaging is just different.

Despite a superabundance of everything, man is empty, unsatisfied.... man is in many ways a soul in mourning for meaning and purpose. Superabundance is smothers us, our inner emptiness suffocates us, and our eyes are quick to dart in every direction , trying to follow every new spark that promises to lead us to meaning! This is cause for so much sorrow ... we must look to Jesus Christ, the Word and our life,
"the same yesterday, today, and forever"! 4  In him Who is the Truth we will find all truth.

There is a great need for a rediscovery of our true spiritual poverty, that which empties out all the excesses and is prepared to wait on God in love and simplicity and to see where Gods Spirit will lead it, and not where it may choose to go itself!

We are in truth , blind ...

Pray to Mary, the mirror of Christ, to lead us into the depths of the truth of her Son.

_____________________________________

Until every possible truthful statement concerning the lamp in its entirety is exhausted, then our apprehension of the total truth of its being is deficient. Only when it ceases to exist can we arrive at the possibility of acquiring the total truth concerning it. For example, it is true that there is a lamp on my desk. But this truth does not exhaust every truth that can or will ever be predicated of it. It is also true of the lamp that it was my sister's before it was mine. Equally true of the lamp is that it was bought at such and such store, and that its parts were assembled in such and such country and was fabricated from ores from another country, and that, moreover, in light of a failure in its circuitry it caused a fire in my sister's study which prompted a response from the local fire department during which a firefighter was injured and brought to a hospital where he acquired an infection that required an antibiotic from a pharmaceutical firm in Zurich which obtained the ingredients from a rare plant grown only in Africa ... ad infinitum. That the entire truth of the lamp — that is to say, everything truthful than can possibly be predicated of it — also involves Africa is something we do not ordinarily anticipate in our stating that we grasp the entire truth of the lamp sitting on my desk.

Saint Matthew 7.2
Ecclesiastes 1.10
Hebrews 13.8
Saint Matthew 25.14-30
 

   Printable PDF Version of Commentary, Part I

Your Little Sisters in Christ
with our co-worker, Joseph Mary

 


II.
 

Sister's Commentary:

 

"What, therefore, have we to do with questions of philosophy? He to whom the Eternal Word speaks is free from theorizing. For from this Word are all things and of Him all things speak -- the Beginning Who also speaks to us. Without this Word no man understands or judges aright. He to whom it becomes everything, who traces all things to it and who sees all things in it, may ease his heart and remain at peace with God.

O God, You Who are the truth, make me one with You in love everlasting. I am often wearied by the many things I hear and read, but in You is all that I long for. Let the learned be still, let all creatures be silent before You; You alone speak to me.

The more recollected a man is, and the more simple of heart he becomes, the easier he understands sublime things, for he receives the light of knowledge from above. The pure, simple, and steadfast spirit is not distracted by many labours, for he does them all for the honour of God. And since he enjoys interior peace he seeks no selfish end in anything. What, indeed, gives more trouble and affliction than uncontrolled desires of the heart?"

 

Teaching is, or should be, the acceptance of a God-given charisma. It is a vocation from God given for the common good and the up building of others.

The writer of the Imitation is not saying that learning is to be despised! No! Rather, it is to be channeled and used for the good of others. Only when misused, when knowledge is sought purely for self indulgence or self-promotion, does it fall outside the province of Grace.

In an interesting note, St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest philosophers and thinkers, one of the brightest men of all time — whose writings fill vast volumes — upon a mystical experience of Jesus Christ, returned from his cell saying that "all that I have written is as so much straw" before the immediate encounter with God Himself. His learning, his great treatises, his knowledge ... was "as nothing" before the unspeakable reality of God.

Is knowledge, then, to be despised? Not at all. But it must be placed in proper perspective.

"Knowledge" is inseparable from "the Good" — although not all knowledge is good.

Quite a paradox, yes? What we mean by this is that our familiarity, our acquaintance with, everything that is good, necessarily implies our knowledge of it — that is to say, our knowledge of the good which we apprehend, and our apprehension of the good which we can then say that we know. How can we be said to possess the good that is, say, modesty, without knowing what modesty is? If we cannot distinguish between modesty and immodesty, how can we be said to know either — which is knowing the difference, and making a distinction between which is good and which is not good?

Not only is this the knowledge of what is good, but it is "good knowledge". Remember, we said that not all knowledge is good. To know what is holy, good and pleasing to God is why you are reading this very article, Little One, yes? Learning of such things and coming to know them is to our everlasting good, and we never regret what we have learned, what we have come to know. Indeed, much of it is necessary to us for our eternal salvation. We must "know" what is pleasing to God and what it is that the He wills for us. And this is always, always beneficial to us, in this life, and in the life to come. No possible harm, no evil whatever, can come from this knowledge. In this sense, it is "good knowledge". It benefits us. It is necessary to us.

But not so "all knowledge". This was, after all, the blandishment from the evil one who led our First Parents, Adam and Eve, to the Original, or first, Sin.

"And he commanded him, saying: Of every tree of paradise thou shalt eat:  But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat. For in what day soever thou shalt eat of it, thou shalt die the death."  1

"Now the serpent was more subtle than any of the beasts of the earth which the Lord God made. And he said to the woman: Why hath God commanded you, that you should not eat of every tree of paradise? And the woman answered him, saying: Of the fruit of the trees that are in paradise we do eat: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of paradise, God hath commanded us that we should not eat; and that we should not touch it, lest perhaps we die. And the serpent said to the woman: No, you shall not die the death. For God doth know that in what day soever you shall eat thereof, your eyes shall be opened: and you shall be as Gods, knowing good and evil." 2

As Adam and Eve tragically discovered, through an act of disobedience, not "all knowledge" is good. Consider the narrative a moment: Adam and Eve chose to know good AND EVIL. How can they have "known" evil without "experiencing" evil? Can we "know" the color purple without experiencing it? I cannot, for I am color blind. I have never seen purple. However much you "describe" it to me, I can never "experience" it. Only upon "experiencing" the color purple will I "know" it. The same can be said of anything whatever. This is a benign example. Let us look at it more deeply. How am I to "know" "pain" or "suffering" unless I "experience it? Describe it to me as you will, if I had never known either, I would have no understanding — no "knowledge" — of what you were talking about. Only in experiencing it in my mind, my soul, my body, would I understand the words that you were using, and could be said to "know" that of which you speak.

This is too important to pass by lightly. We cannot stress this enough! Do you think "all knowledge" beneficial? Is "to know" the highest good? In our world of inflated "intellectuals", we would answer, "yes".

But that is because knowledge is not Wisdom, although we often confuse the two. Tell me ... how will you benefit from "knowing" — through "experiencing" — the stench of rotting flesh? Is this not "knowledge"? What of coming to experience and really "know" the procedure of an abortion — seeing, witnessing helplessly, the violent struggle of a child in its mother's womb as it is systematically dismembered by a "physician"? This would be acquiring knowledge, yes? But like Adam and Eve we discover the reality to be quite different: we would that we had never experienced either. Such "knowledge, far from benefiting us, haunts us, fills us with either horror or revulsion, plagues our dreams and dogs our lives. How we would that we had never "experienced" and come to "know" either! This type of "bad knowledge", as it were, is the evil result of so much: the distrotion of the beauty of human sexuality through pornography whose degrading images are burned in passion into the minds and memories of our children, the teaching and promotion in our schools of homosexuality as "a legitimate and alternative life style" to the youngest students however it robs them of their innocence, the addiction of our children to drugs in order to "know" narcotic states of mind.

Clearly, "knowledge" is not, as the great Fathers of the Church put it, the "summum bonum", the "highest good." Each of us in some way, indeed, in many ways, can attest to this.

Especially in light of St. Thomas Aquinas's own experience noted above, it is more than a merely interesting point of observation — and a beautiful indication of God's justice — that, through the ages, many, many simple hearts have ultimately arrived at the same understanding and grasp of truth as those who have studied books and had the advantages of learning. These simple hearts, unable through any fault of their own, perhaps through the lack of opportunities or aptitude, have in fact received infused knowledge, that utterly clear and absolutely intuitive knowledge, (apart from any study) that is a gift of the Holy Ghost. If it is Gods truth we are seeking, all will arrive at the same end, for Gods message and truth are the same for all.

This is not to say that we are free from reading, studying, and learning from the WORD of God surely and Divinely revealed in Sacred Scripture — the Holy Bible — to the contrary, we must be immersed in its guidance, instruction, correction and challenge, for it is, under the guidance of the Church, the Bride of Christ, the sure path to holiness, and thus to happiness and fulfillment.

Taken from the above text, let us together utter this beautiful prayer.

"O God, You Who are the truth, make me one with You in love everlasting. I am often wearied by the many things I hear and read, but in You is all that I long for. Let the learned be still, let all creatures be silent before You; You alone speak to me."

Simplicity of heart enables us to focus on "the one thing necessary", as Mary, the sister of Martha had chosen wisely. 3 May it please God to make us this wise ... as well as "innocent as doves" 4

_____________________________________

Genesis 2.16- 17
Genesis 3.1-5
Saint Luke 10.42
St. Matthew 10.16

Your Little Sisters in Christ
with our co-worker, Joseph Mary

   Printable PDF Version of Sister's Commentary, Part II

 

Continue to Chapter 4 of the Imitation of Christ

Back to chapter 2

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