Proverbs is replete with pithy sayings that one could contemplate for hours regarding their practical application. Contrasting the arrogant and simple, essentially the prideful vs. the humble, is not an uncommon theme throughout Scripture so it is no wonder that reflections on the theme are liberally sprinkled throughout the wisdom book of Proverbs.
Christ, in Kempis, speaks of the wise man gaining knowledge by coming to Him for instruction. In Proverbs, a man becomes wise by becoming and staying simple and humble. So the formula for us is clear: become humble to become wise to gain heavenly knowledge. Humility disposes us to a greater openness to the gifts of the Holy Spirit which include wisdom and knowledge. The author of Proverbs had a good sense of the Spirit and Jesus fully revealed Him to us. As we read, pray, and meditate on the Scriptures, let us invoke this same Holy Spirit for enlightenment in order to gain eternal wisdom and knowledge,
The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XLIII: “Against Futile and Worldly Learning” (second entry)
Kempis has Christ once again emphasizing the need for humility; in this case, this virtue opens up the heart more so than the mind to “eternal truth.” Book learning, without the proper disposition, and without appeal to the Spirit of truth for understanding, ultimately is an exercise in futility, at best leading to frustration, at worst plunging to error.
For today’s Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist, it is appropriate that we hear of the writer’s own, albeit brief, account of his calling by Jesus. The Lord once again uses this event as a teaching opportunity for His unrelenting antagonists, the Pharisees. Upon seeing Jesus later that day at the house of the tax collector, and thus Jewish pariah, Matthew, and eating with others of his ilk, these religious leaders call out Jesus for dining with tax collectors and sinners — in one of their homes, no less! Jesus, in turn, points them back to the book to which they claim special expertise, the Scriptures, for their lesson for today (seen in the headline). In closing, Jesus tells these self-righteous men that He has “not come to call the righteous but sinners.”
God has elevated brilliant intellectuals as well as the simplest of minds to the heights of heavenly contemplation. The one virtue that connects the two and everyone so disposed along this spectrum: humility. Conversely, the prideful, no matter how great their natural power of learning, will always fall short, and will often fall into error, due to an arrogance that leads them to the conclusion that they can plumb the depths of religion without divine assistance. It is a temptation from the devil himself who convinced our first parents that they knew better than God what was good and what was evil. So, too, many Pharisees, claiming to be Scripture scholars, and unhesitatingly directing the people regarding their way of life, are taught in five words of Jesus’ likely more than all of their learning to that point. Will they take His advice. Hopefully some did. But most were undeterred, or at best silent, as the persecution of Jesus (without mercy) would continue to His death and beyond with their antagonism toward the Body of Christ, the Church.
Jesus “did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” That’s all of us. So, like EF Hutton, when He talks, we better listen in all humility to the simple, profound, and challenging words of the Master.
The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XLIII: “Against Futile and Worldly Learning” (first entry)
Kempis often comes down strongly against book learning thus coming across as anti-intellectual. But I see it as more of a cautionary tale to not become so involved in study and reading that God and others are set aside in pursuit of personal ambitions, even if ostensibly noble ones. Also, there is a danger of pride here. The short quote above leads the student back to the One whose teaching is concise, clear, inarguable, and presented with not ulterior motives.
Isaiah 55 is the epilogue to the second part of the prophet’s book. An invitation to the banquet of the Lord’s covenant. It is a call to repentance and conversion from a God who will not judge as we do for His thoughts and ways are far above our thoughts and ways.
We look to the Church, established by Christ, and entrusted with the keys of the Kingdom, for calm, clarity, and peace, with the sole ambition to pass on the Deposit of Faith faithfully. When those who hold a teaching office in the Church (the bishops) fail in one or more of these areas, trouble ensues. The Church is indefectibly holy but its members are not. We are grateful to the Holy Spirit Who ensures that all official teaching on faith and morals in the Church has His guarantee. Should we learn these teachings well for our personal benefit and to bolster us in our catechetical and evangelical efforts? Of course! But let us never forget to have recourse to the Lord first, last, and always as He clarifies and acts in ways far beyond our poor efforts to do so.
Today we are given Luke’s version of Jesus’ proclaiming of the Beatitudes, with blessings to those who are poor, hungry, weeping, hated, excluded, insulted, and denounced, but woes to the rich, satiated, mirthful, and exalted.
Matthew’s Beatitudes say “poor in spirit” in his version of the Beatitudes at the beginning of the Sermon on the mount (chapters 5 through 7), meaning those who are detached from earthly things. This interpretation fits here, as well, it seems. A quite wealthy person may use his riches for good and may not be attached at all to material things. A person in dire financial straits may be extraordinarily greedy and holding closely even his meager possessions while coveting more.
Our spirit must desire God in all circumstances, never letting the world become a hindrance. With such obstacles out of the way, we open up ourselves to taking advantage of the graces with which the Lord so happily desires to ravish us.
May our disposition always be one of openness to God’s gift. The ultimate reward is fit for a king.
The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XLII: “Peace is not to be Placed in Men” (first entry)
Variation on a recurring theme here ultimately gets back to the idea of placing one’s primary and overwhelming focus on God. Any good earthly relationship is arranged and sustained by God. Nevertheless, one should even withdraw himself from worldly ties to be closer to the Lord. Ultimate peace comes from emptying oneself and drawing nearer and nearer to the Almighty.
Romans 8:28 is oft-quoted and certainly not an uncommon tagline under many signatures. It is a message of comfort and hope when life does not make sense and the darkness never seems to part. For the faithful who persevere, though, glory will be theirs.
How difficult it is to lose a loved one or close friend to life circumstances or death. In tragic situations it is difficult, if not impossible, to perceive how any good can ever come out of certain events. Yet, we must trust in the Lord who allows evil in order that a greater good can come from it (the verse we are considering is the “go to” Scripture for this truth). Sometimes we are blessed and can look back to see how this has been so. Other times, we may go to our deathbed without ever understanding the calamities of this life. In any case, a deep and abiding faith in our loving Father is required. And, at the end of time, all will be made known by the Lord about the entire plan of salvation.
Jesus is confronted with a man with a withered hand as the scribes and Pharisees continue to observe Jesus carefully in the synagogue. Knowing that they sought to trap Him for Sabbath violations, Jesus calls out these religious leaders and then cures the man since it is “lawful to do good on the sabbath.” Infuriated and humiliated, amongst themselves they “discussed together what they might do to Jesus.”
Although Kempis has Jesus direct His words to His disciple to strengthen Him, it seems that Jesus Himself would have often had recourse to his heavenly Father with the same sentiments in His frequent times of prayer. This was especially needed due to the machinations of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, several of whom were on a constant crusade to take down this popular interloper. How it must have grieved Jesus to bear such acrimony from men who claimed to be privileged representatives of His Father.
‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. (Jn 15:20)
So why should we, as fallen and imperfect as we are, to be treated any better than Our Lord and Savior? Would it be that we would handle these situations as He did. God help us.
The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XLI: “Of the Contempt of all Worldly Honor” (second entry)
Above we have the disciple’s immediate response to Christ’s telling him to not be concerned about being humiliated, despised, or receiving contempt from his fellow man. The disciple, realizing his weakness, knows that pride will rear its ugly head with a vengeance if provoked by the attacks of others. He concludes that he cannot complain since he has done far worse to God and thus must content himself with this deserved treatment.
This psalm praises God for His glory and majesty and looks back with regret at the defiance of the Israelites in the desert whom the Lord rescued from Egypt. Their constant complaining and lack of trust in Yahweh ensured that “They shall never enter my rest.” And none did but the noble Joshua and Caleb.
What is hardening one’s heart but vanity that is a result of pride? The Israelites in the wilderness thought they had a better idea than God their savior so they told their leader Moses what they thought in defiance of the Almighty. So, too, we disciples, thinking we know better how the Lord should treat us and what’s best for us, let our haughtiness rule our actions. Do we really think that “we don’t deserve” this offensive treatment?
I never heard anything bad said of me which I did not clearly realize fell short of the truth. If I had not sometimes–often, indeed–offended God in the ways they referred to, I had done so in many others, and I felt they had treated me far too indulgently in saying nothing about these” (Teresa of Jesus, Way of Perfection, 15).
Is this easy to swallow? Not in our condition. But the eternal rewards of accepting humiliations helps us increase in humility and the reception of even greater graces. As for justice, leave that up to God to mete out — He has got it covered perfectly (us, not so much).
Now, it may be necessary to defend oneself against particular allegations, but it should always be done in humility with no desire for revenge assuming the best possible motives. Our good example will be a sign for all observers (including the attacker, but especially Jesus Christ) that we are Christians of good will who desire only the best for every person, friend or enemy. This attitude, widely adopted, will be more effective in changing hearts and minds than any imposed program to legislate morality.
The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XLI: “Of the Contempt of all Worldly Honor” (first entry)
We begin this very short chapter by presenting the last paragraph, spoken by the disciple in response to Christ’s telling him that when he is despised on earth he should have recourse to Him. A line in the reflection following the text says all that needs to be said about this chapter: “It is only just that a person, who has sinned against his Creator, be punished by creatures, who are the instruments of Divine Justice.”
Paul uses irony (I deem it sarcasm) to call out the Corinthians who are proud, boastful, and full or worldly wisdom, thinking that the possessions they have and the honors they have received came through their own power or status. Paul and Apollos, on the other hand, count themselves fools for Christ and are persecuted for His name. Yet they do not return these attacks in kind. Paul closes by saying that he does not write this to shame the Corinthians but to admonish them to listen to apostles like himself in order to live well as Christians.
The apostles and many early Christians were “willing to be despised and forsaken by all creatures” for the sake of the Faith. This disposition was not unique to them and their time as throughout the ages, and even today, in many parts of the world, including our own country, being “despised and forsaken” for espousing and living authentic Christianity is becoming more and more a commonplace.
Blessing our persecutors, enduring their persecution, responding to slander gently. These are the dispositions Paul and his companions possessed, and what we are called to do by Holy Writ. This is true imitation of Christ. Christianity’s numbers explode when and where its adherents are most despised. When Jesus superseded “an eye for an eye” with “turn the other cheek,” it seems to me He was on to something (see Ex 21:23-25 and Mt 5:38-42) (I’m sure Jesus is happy for my vote of confidence in Him)? Our politicians should take special note, but this instruction applies to us all. This begins in the domestic church (our homes) and fans out. It is a grassroots effort. Revenge must become socially unacceptable. Thus hearts may be softened and the impulse to persecute be lessened.
The reward for all this effort to be Christlike? “Interior peace and strength,” spiritual enlightenment, and unity with the Lord. Quite a bargain, don’t you think?
The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XL: “Man has no Good of Himself and can Glory in Nothing” (third entry)
We close this chapter with a simple exclamation of the disciple. His recognition of His own deficiencies and reliance on His Creator, who deserves “all praise, honor, power, and glory” (as he says in the chapter’s final sentence), leads him to express his awe with unbounded enthusiasm.
The title of this psalm, given in the Navarre Bible, is “The upright trust in the Lord, even though the wicked seem to prosper.” We don’t get the full brunt of this in the excerpts proclaimed this day, but we do come to see that the just who trust in the Lord will ultimately gain victory and evildoers will ultimately be destroyed. The Lord will not refuse a heart that delights in Him.
If in our heart we deem true happiness as desiring to know and follow God’s will, then we will be granted our “heart’s request.” Would it be that we would emulate our Blessed Mother whose heart was so united to her Son’s that, when the centurion’s sword pierced His heart on the Cross, she experienced it mystically in her own body (see Lk 2:35). She gave her entire being to be the instrument of the most Holy Trinity.
Dear Mother, pray that we more fully embrace your Son to whom you completely and unreservedly dedicated your life on earth and in heaven.
The Gospel reading is the story of the calling of Peter to be an apostle. This happens due to Providence. Jesus is teaching, the crowd’s press in, and Jesus appropriates a boat and asks the fisherman to put out a bit so that He can continue preaching; they do, He does. When finished, Jesus orders Simon to drop the nets to catch fish. He objects since they had no luck at all during the night. He does so, anyway, and brings in a tremendous haul of fish at which time he utters the exclamation in the headline due to this miracle. Peter and his companions, James and John, drop everything when they reach the shore to follow Jesus.
We should easily be able to understand and empathize with Simon Peter’s astonishment and humble words. We can all legitimately say precisely the same thing as He did to Jesus and mean it. Fortunately for Simon and for us the Lord does not depart, or wish to depart, from His friends. He doesn’t want to lose anyone (see Jn 18:9 and 1 Tim 2:3-4). We know we are vain and weak; God knows this much better than we do. So we must fight the temptation to attribute any good thing to our own power, but in all things point to our Blessed Messiah for all the credit and glory. For we don’t want to depart from Him, either — now and forever. Amen.