“[T]here are others, who do not have peace themselves, nor suffer others to enjoy peace, they are troublesome to others, but more troublesome to themselves.” (IC 2,3,3) | “Then Judas the Iscariot, one of his disciples, and the one who would betray him, said, ‘Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages and given to the poor?'” (Jn 12:4-5)

Chapter III of Book II of The Imitation of Christ speaks of “The Good Peaceable Man.”  Interior peace leads to contentment as well as peace in relationships because such a man bears with and excuses others.  The quote above addresses the man who does not have this peace: he does no good for others or himself.

Jesus, in today’s Gospel (Jn 12:1-11), just days before His Passion and death, seeks the company of his good friends, the siblings Lazarus, Martha, and Mary.  During the dinner they held for Him and His closest followers, Mary is inspired to bathe the Master’s feet with expensive perfumed oil.  Judas objects, claiming his interest is in the poor and how this oil could have been sold to give alms (John knows better and tells us the Iscariot’s true motive: lining his own pockets).  Judas takes a beautiful, heartfelt act from a deeply loving and spiritual person and monetizes it.  How the others must have looked at him after Jesus reprimanded him.

Judas is arguably the most notorious figure in history that fits Kempis’s description of the man with no peace.  We sense from Scripture that Judas was a deeply troubled man throughout Jesus’ ministry.  As this Passover approached, we read in some detail of his machinations regarding giving up Christ to the Jews.  Instead of interiorizing the message of the Prince of Peace, with whom he was with daily for years, worldly concerns closed his heart to the Gospel.  Ultimately, this led to unspeakable trouble for Jesus and his brother apostles.  More so, though, this turned out to be more trouble for himself.  Jesus turned this most egregious evil to the greatest good that the world could ever receive: redemption.  But Judas, quickly regretting his betrayal, despaired of his life, his soul, and God’s mercy, and committed suicide (see Mt 26:24).

Kempis’s advice to his readers is outstanding.  Strive for the inner peace that comes with ever closer communion with God.  With confidence in the Lord and seeing others with the eyes of Jesus, we will not become unduly disturbed by persons and events we encounter in daily living.  We then will be little troubled ourselves and cause little unnecessary trouble for others.


16th-century fresco from Tarzhishte Monastery, Strupets, Bulgaria, showing Judas hanging himself

“For he whom God will help, no man’s malice can hurt.” (IC 2,2,1) | “The Lord GOD is my help, therefore I am not disgraced” (Is 50:7a)

Continuing to look into Kempis’s chapter on humble submission (2,2), we come across the words in the headline.  We have gone far afield if we believe that with our own power we will legitimately avoid the malevolence of others.  In a world that militates against the truth, only by compromising the truth might we temper malice at least temporarily, and ultimately to our own destruction.  Rather, we are to live and speak the truth boldly (always in love), recognizing that it is “sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow” (Heb 4:12) . In other words, the truth hurts.  But “[f]or he whom God will help, no man’s malice can hurt.”  With God on our side, we need not fear the world.

Isaiah, in one of his servant songs, gives us a prophecy we easily recognize as Jesus during His Passion.  Despite the horrendous injustice, insults, blasphemies, and tortures He endured, Jesus was “not disgraced” and not “put to shame,” as it says later in that same verse.  To most observers that day on Calvary, and for many more observers throughout the ages, this manner of execution could not have any redeeming value.  Yet it was for our redemption that the God-Man endured all of this for us.  “[H]e humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him,” Paul tells the Philippians in the second reading (2:8-9).  His Father was His help; the vindictiveness of man was no match.  His Father was His help, therefore He was not disgraced.

Nothing anyone does to us can disgrace us when we humbly trust in God.  Only we have the ability to dis-grace ourselves by mortal sin through pride (i.e., we think we know better than God how to behave) which kills God’s life within us.

[D]o not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. (Mt 10:28)


Ecce Homo (contemporary) by Michael O’Brien

“It belongs to God to help us and deliver us from all turmoil.” (IC 2,2,1) | “I will deliver them from all their sins of apostasy, and cleanse them so that they may be my people and I may be their God.” (Ez 37:23b-c)

Kempis here reminds us that humility informs us that we can do nothing on our own; deliverance from evil comes from God alone (2,2).

Ezekiel turns from condemnation to consolation in this section of his book.  Writing in the time just after the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 587 B.C., the prophet gives the peoples of both the Northern Kingdom (Israel, here called Joseph, which fell to the Assyrians in 722 B.C.) and the Southern Kingdom (Judah, which just fell) hope in a restored, reunited, and everlasting kingdom headed by a new David.  God does not forget the sinfulness of the Chosen People but will deliver them from it.

The sin God focuses on in this passage from Ezekiel is apostasy (Ez 37:21-28).  Fr. John Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary defines this term: “a desertion from a solemn commitment.”  We know that littered throughout the Old Testament are episodes of the Jews reneging on their promised covenant with Yahweh to chase after false gods.  This warning is suitable for our world as well.  How often do we desert from our solemn commitment to place the Lord above all things?  How often do we effectively apostatize by not living up to Christ’s expectation of His followers?  Do we seem to others to be counter-culturally Christian or are we indistinguishable in word, deed, attitude, and perspective, from the prevalent paganism?

Only God can deliver us from the turmoil of our own sinful ways and a decadent society.  We need to pray all the more for His help to militate against our own fallen nature and fallen world.  Coming to Him with sincere hearts and a firm purpose of amendment we, like the Chosen People in Ezekiel, can count on the Almighty to “cleanse [us] so that [we] may be [God’s] people and [He] may be [our] God.”

Icon of Ezekiel the Prophet (Serbian) – P98 | | Skete.com

“[The Lord] knows the time and the manner of your deliverance; and, therefore, you must resign yourself into His hands. It belongs to God to help us and deliver us from all turmoil.” (IC 2,2,1) | “In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice.” (see Ps 18:7)

Chapter Two of Book Two of The Imitation of Christ is on the subject of humble submission (IC 2,2).  As we have seen over and over again, humility is the pervasive theme of the author’s, Kempis’s, writing in this volume.  God bestows great gifts on the humble when they consider themselves inferior to all.

The psalm today is attributed to David in his thanksgiving for being delivered from the evil designs of King Saul.  From what we read from Jeremiah in the first reading, the prophet may well have been praying this very psalm in his deep trepidation regarding his enemies’ intentions toward him.  Both David and Jeremiah had great confidence that, in their grave circumstances, the Lord would hear their cries and come to their aid.

We, too, should have confidence in crying out to God in our distress.  But not only then.  Does the Almighty only hear from us when we are in dire straits?  Or have we developed the interior conversation much more robust, in which daily interaction breeds a familiarity in which we just as easily express praise, thanks, and contrition, as we petition Him.  The Lord wants us to be humble: trust God completely and think of ourselves as the lowest of all human creatures.  Resignation to the will of God will “deliver us from all turmoil.”   Maybe not as quickly as we’d like, possibly in an unexpected manner, or it may await us in the next life.  But we must have full confidence that Father knows best.

The Psalms of David

“He who is well disposed and orderly in his interior, is not concerned about the the strange and perverse actions of men.” (IC 2,1,7) | “So the Jews said to him, ‘Now we are sure that you are possessed.'” (Jn 8:52)

Closing out Kempis’s chapter on interior conversation (2,1), we note in a special way his promise of peace inside ourselves when we know God intimately and trust God completely. regardless of the words and deeds directed toward us, no matter how vile or unjust.

The Jews call Jesus “possessed” in today’s Gospel that continues the last several days interactions between Jesus and the Jews (Jn 8:51-59).  Once again, their inability to think beyond the natural level, leads them into trouble (not new for the Chosen People — see Num 21:4-9).  Talk about having your poles reversed!  This man of God, who preached truth, healed the sick, and raised the dead, is now demonic?

Ah! Those who call evil good, and good evil,

who change darkness to light, and light into darkness,

who change bitter to sweet, and sweet into bitter!

Ah! Those who are wise in their own eyes,

prudent in their own view!  (Is 5:21-21)

Isaiah knew the Chosen People well.  Things hadn’t changed much in the next several centuries apparently.  It is a wonder that a calamity did not visit itself upon Jesus’ adversaries then and there when they accused Him of demonic activity.  Despite the unconscionable accusations of these pillars of the community, Christ was at peace knowing He was perfectly in accord with His Father’s will, a Father with whom He was in constant contact.

In a society, a world, that militates against truth, we must be stalwart, having the interior peace that comes with knowing the Father’s will and doing it.  Let us not grow anxious, disturbed, or afraid for boldly proclaiming the Word, regardless of the blowback.  And may it never be said of us that we “exchanged the truth of God for a lie and revered and worshiped the creature rather than the creator” (Rom 1:25).

The Transfiguration of Christ: Part of an iconostasis in Constantinople style. Middle of the 12th century.

 

“Christ had adversaries and detractors, and would you have all to be your friends and benefactors? Whence will your patience be crowned if you meet with no adversity? If you suffer no contradiction how will you be a friend of Christ? Suffer with Christ and for Christ if you desire to reign with Christ.” (IC 2,1,5) | “[Y]ou are trying to kill me, because my word has no room among you…a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God” (Jn 8:37,40)

Christ promised adversity and detraction to His faithful followers.  One of the many benefits that comes with deep and sustained interior conversation with the Lord is the growth in patience and fortitude to see through these difficulties without compromising the truth regardless of personal consequences (see Mk 10:29-30 and Lk 6:22).  Kempis tells us here (2,1) that if Christ suffered these things who are we to think that we can (or should) avoid them (“Remember the word I spoke to you, ‘No slave is greater than his master.’” — Jn 15:20).

Once again, in today’s Gospel proclamation (Jn 8:31-42), Jesus contends with the Jews.  Unlike the usual back and forth with the Pharisees (with whom He sparred immediately before this episode) and other religious leaders, this crowd were “those Jews who believed in him” (v.31).  So why does Jesus accuse those who believe in Him of trying to kill Him?  How strong was their belief, really?  Jesus challenges their preconceptions and ours.  He  also knew of the abandonment that would be His at the time of His death.

Jesus knew what was coming to Him.  So do we.  Are we going to our deaths not adhering to the truth?  Do we leave space for compromising the truth in ourselves or in our dealing with others (Rev 3:15-16)?  Will we also abandon Christ?  Is there room for the Word and His words (all of them) in us (see Jn 16:13)?

If Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, Then Why Don't Most Jews Believe ...

“The kingdom of God is within you, says the Lord. Convert yourself with your whole heart to the Lord, and quit this miserable world, and your soul will find rest.” (IC 2,1,1) | “You belong to this world, but I do not belong to this world. That is why I told you that you will die in your sins.” (Jn 8:23-24)

The quote above contains the first words of Kempis in this chapter (2,1).  How does one have a deep interior conversation with God (the theme of this chapter) when one’s heart is in this world and its distractions?  When one’s status is considered paramount and the affairs of others is a bigger concern than the Lord and personal conversion?

Certainly, Jesus’ calling out of the Pharisees in today’s Gospel (Jn 8:21-30) is meant to bring conversion, not condemnation (see Jesus’ different conversation with a Pharisee at Jn 3:17).  Many Pharisees did not accept Jesus despite claiming to know the Scriptures (see Mt 22:29).  These men were far too concerned with their status among the people and the affairs of others.  Jesus wishes to shake them from their erroneous ways, often with pointed language like we hear in this reading and particularly in the quote at top.  Jesus loves (He is Love — see 1 Jn 4:8), but sometimes it is tough love.

“The kingdom of God is within you,” Kempis says (see Lk 17:21).  Our challenge is to get our “whole heart” to fall in line.  Quitting this “miserable world” does not mean we want out as soon as possible or that we don’t engage the world (although certainly some of the monks and nuns to whom Kempis was [and is] speaking to did take that route — and thank God for the men and women who devote their lives to prayer).  Rather, as we have already seen frequently in The Imitation of Christ, our focus must remain on eternity, on the Christ who came into the world for us but who does “not belong to this world.”  His warning about “d[ying] in your sins” was meant to serve as a wake up call for the Pharisees of his time as it is for us today.

Because he spoke this way, many came to believe in him.

This last line of the reading is interesting isn’t it?  One might have expected folks to be upset or walk away, but His strong words to the Pharisees, His declaration that He is God (“I AM”), and His statement that He always pleases the Father, were attractive to many of his hearers that day.  It serves as a lesson this day that we are never to soft peddle the truth: we are sinners and need to hear this fact in no uncertain terms (see Heb 4:12); Jesus is God and that entails that we believe in Him and listen to Him (see Mt 17:5); Jesus followed the will of His Father in all things and this perfect example is what we are called to follow (see Mt 5:48).

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