Take Up Your Cross :: A Lenten Reflection

By Thomas à Kempis (c. 1379-1471)

Why, then, do you fear to take up the cross when through it you can win a kingdom? In the cross is salvation, in the cross is life, in the cross is protection from enemies, in the cross is infusion of heavenly sweetness, in the cross is strength of mind, in the cross is joy of spirit, in the cross is highest virtue, in the cross is perfect holiness. There is no salvation of soul nor hope of everlasting life but in the cross.

Take up your cross, therefore, and follow Jesus, and you shall enter eternal life. If you carry the cross willingly, it will carry and lead you to the desired goal where indeed there shall be no more suffering, but here there shall be. If you carry it unwillingly, you create a burden for yourself and increase the load, though still you have to bear it. If you cast away one cross, you will find another and perhaps a heavier one.

Do you expect to escape what no mortal man can ever avoid? Which of the saints was without a cross or trial on this earth? Not even Jesus Christ, our Lord, Whose every hour on earth knew the pain of His passion. The whole life of Christ was a cross and a martyrdom, and do you seek rest and enjoyment for yourself? Indeed, the more spiritual progress a person makes, so much heavier will he frequently find the cross, because as his love increases, the pain of his exile also increases.

Drink the chalice of the Lord with affection it you wish to be His friend and to have part with Him. Leave consolation to God; let Him do as most pleases Him. On your part, be ready to bear sufferings and consider them the greatest consolation, for even though you alone were to undergo them all, the sufferings of this life are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come.

If, indeed, there were anything better or more useful for man’s salvation than suffering, Christ would have shown it by word and example. But He clearly exhorts the disciples who follow Him and all who wish to follow Him to carry the cross, saying: “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.”

*Abridged from The Imitation Of Christ.
Today’s Reading
Proverbs 6 (Listen – 3:22)
Galatians 5 (Listen – 3:22)

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How to Find Freedom :: A Lenten Reflection

By Thomas à Kempis (c. 1379-1471)

Jesus has always many who love His heavenly kingdom, but few who bear His cross. He has many who desire consolation, but few who care for trial. He finds many to share His table, but few to take part in His fasting.

All desire to be happy with Him; few wish to suffer anything for Him. Many follow Him to the breaking of bread, but few to the drinking of the chalice of His passion. Many revere His miracles; few approach the shame of the Cross. Many love Him as long as they encounter no hardship; many praise and bless Him as long as they receive some comfort from Him. But if Jesus hides Himself and leaves them for a while, they fall either into complaints or into deep dejection.

Those, on the contrary, who love Him for His own sake and not for any comfort of their own, bless Him in all trial and anguish of heart as well as in the bliss of consolation. Even if He should never give them consolation, yet they would continue to praise Him and wish always to give Him thanks. What power there is in pure love for Jesus—love that is free from all self-interest and self-love!

Do not those who always think of their own profit and gain prove that they love themselves rather than Christ? Where can a man be found who desires to serve God for nothing? Rarely indeed is a man so spiritual as to strip himself of all things.

If a man has great virtue and much ardent devotion, he still lacks the one thing that is most necessary to him. What is this one thing? That leaving all, he forsake himself, completely renounce himself, and give up all private affections. For truth itself has said: “When you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”

Then he will be truly poor and stripped in spirit, and with the prophet may say: “I am alone and poor.” No one, however, is more wealthy than such a man; no one is more powerful, no one freer than he who knows how to leave all things and think of himself as the least of all.

*Abridged from The Imitation Of Christ.

Today’s Reading

Proverbs 5 (Listen – 2:08)
Galatians 4 (Listen – 4:13)


Peace Is Not To Be Placed In Men :: A Lenten Reflection

“Man draws nearer to God in proportion as he withdraws farther from all earthly comfort,” writes Thomas à Kempis. Yet the full calling of the Scriptures, and à Kempis’ work, isn’t to disregard comforts, but to reorient them in light of the gospel.

We’ve looked this week at à Kempis’ calling, in The Imitation Of Christ, for the faithful to confess both our idolatrous love for the world and our inability to weather even the smallest daily frustrations. Today the argument goes further: repent of the ways we avoid the risks of faith in God by grasping for control and power in relationships.

Relationships, in other words, provide deep earthly comfort. We are called to give ourselves to others—yet we cannot demand from them what ought only be supplied from God. Here, written as a letter from Christ to his children, à Kempis challenges us:

My child, if you place your peace in any creature because of your own feeling or for the sake of his company, you will be unsettled and entangled. But if you have recourse to the ever-living and abiding Truth, you will not grieve if a friend should die or forsake you. Your love for your friend should be grounded in Me, and for My sake you should love whoever seems to be good and is very dear to you in this life. Without Me friendship has no strength and cannot endure. Love which I do not bind is neither true nor pure.

You ought, therefore, to be so dead to such human affections as to wish as far as lies within you to be without the fellowship of men. Man draws nearer to God in proportion as he withdraws farther from all earthly comfort. And he ascends higher to God as he descends lower into himself and grows more vile in his own eyes. He who attributes any good to himself hinders God’s grace from coming into his heart, for the grace of the Holy Spirit seeks always the humble heart.

If you knew how to annihilate yourself completely and empty yourself of all created love, then I should overflow in you with great grace. When you look to creatures, the sight of the Creator is taken from you. Learn, therefore, to conquer yourself in all things for the sake of your Maker. Then will you be able to attain to divine knowledge. But anything, no matter how small, that is loved and regarded inordinately keeps you back from the highest good and corrupts the soul.


Today’s Reading
Proverbs 4 (Listen – 2:37)
Galatians 3 (Listen – 4:39)


Daily Frustrations :: A Lenten Reflection

We do not typically associate daily frustration with suffering. In his masterful work The Imitation Of Christ Thomas à Kempis not only draws the two together, but highlights the profound truth our inability to handle life’s minor frustrations reveals.

“The man who will suffer only as much as seems good to him, who will accept suffering only from those from whom he is pleased to accept it, is not truly patient,” à Kempis writes. Our idolatry of control runs so deep we become impatient—frustrated—when we cannot control our suffering. He continues:

For the truly patient man does not consider from whom the suffering comes, whether from a superior, an equal, or an inferior, whether from a good and holy person or from a perverse and unworthy one; but no matter how great an adversity befalls him, no matter how often it comes or from whom it comes, he accepts it gratefully from the hand of God, and counts it a great gain. For with God nothing that is suffered for His sake, no matter how small, can pass without reward.

The way frustrations drove à Kempis to God (not the individual frustrations themselves) became something for which the great theologian was thankful. He prayed; “For though this present life seems burdensome, yet by Your grace it becomes meritorious.” In a challenge, à Kempis writes of his readers’ daily frustrations:

And if they do not seem so small to you, examine if perhaps your impatience is not the cause of their apparent greatness; and whether they are great or small, try to bear them all patiently. The better you dispose yourself to suffer, the more wisely you act and the greater is the reward promised you. Thus you will suffer more easily if your mind and habits are diligently trained to it.

The inability to engage our faith in life’s daily frustrations can be defeating; based on the words of his prayer, à Kempis must have experienced the same thing. Yet, instead of falling into despair, he again clings to God:

O Lord, let that which seems naturally impossible to me become possible through Your grace. You know that I can suffer very little, and that I am quickly discouraged when any small adversity arises. Let the torment of tribulation suffered for Your name be pleasant and desirable to me, since to suffer and be troubled for Your sake is very beneficial for my soul.

Today’s Reading
Proverbs 3 (Listen – 3:05)
Galatians 2 (Listen – 3:44)


Broken Love :: A Lenten Reflection

“Often it is a small thing that makes me downcast and sad,” laments Thomas à Kempis. The 15th century theologian was part of a community that, although they took no vows, lived a life of intentional obedience, chastity, and poverty.

It is easy to dismiss those who willingly sacrifice the comforts of their time as far stronger than the average person of faith—but à Kempis’ writings reveal the depth of his daily struggle. In The Imitation Of Christ, he confesses:

I propose to act bravely, but when even a small temptation comes I find myself in great straits. Sometimes it is the merest trifle which gives rise to grievous temptations. When I think myself somewhat safe and when I am not expecting it, I frequently find myself almost overcome by a slight wind.

Look, therefore, Lord, at my lowliness and frailty which You know so well. Have mercy on me and snatch me out of the mire that I may not be caught in it and may not remain forever utterly despondent.

Focusing his argument onto the reality that all Christians face, à Kempis confesses that it is not his commitments that trip him up, but his idolatrous love affair with a broken and sinful world.

Alas! What sort of life is this, from which troubles and miseries are never absent, where all things are full of snares and enemies? For when one trouble or temptation leaves, another comes. Indeed, even while the first conflict is still raging, many others begin unexpectedly.

How is it possible to love a life that has such great bitterness, that is subject to so many calamities and miseries? Indeed, how can it even be called life when it begets so many deaths and plagues? And yet, it is loved, and many seek their delight in it.

Many persons often blame the world for being false and vain, yet do not readily give it up because the desires of the flesh have such great power. Some things draw them to love the world, others make them despise it. The lust of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, and the pride of life lead to love, while the pains and miseries, which are the just consequences of those things, beget hatred and weariness of the world.

Vicious pleasure overcomes the soul that is given to the world. She thinks that there are delights beneath these thorns, because she has never seen or tasted the sweetness of God or the internal delight of virtue.

Today’s Reading
Proverbs 2 (Listen – 1:53)
Galatians 1 (Listen – 3:05)