“You must learn to renounce your own will in many things, if you wish to keep peace and concord with others.” (IC 1,17,1) | “[W]here jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice.” (Jas 3:16)

Kempis opens his chapter on monastic life (1,17), that we have been going through the last several days, with the words above.   His words of wisdom, right off the top, have to do with the proper disposition of the religious in the monastery.

But, as we’ve said before, much of what Kempis writes applies to all persons.  Isn’t it the case in marriage, the workplace, and among friends, that we find it is better to go along, defer, rather than attempt to impose our desires on others?  Now, of course, this does not mean we are ever to follow in sin or shy away from fraternal correction when it is necessary to alert someone to the error of their ways in the moral life.  But, in those matters that are indifferent, might not we wish to please others by happily following their lead even if it is not nearly as pleasant for us, or maybe downright annoying?

“Selfish ambition” leads to “disorder and every foul practice,” James tells us (Jas 3:13-18).  How true.  Kempis: renouncing our will in favor of God and others leads to peace.  James: desiring our will about God’s and others’ leads to disorder.  There is no order in peace, no contentment in disorder.  Peace is a Godly thing (Is 9:6; by the way, don’t let Mt 10:34-36 fool you — the discord Jesus speaks of comes because of disobedience to the truth).  Disorder a demonic thing (Mt 13:24-30).  James comes around to the result of right living at the end of the reading, aligning perfectly with Kempis’s thought:

And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace.

Let’s give peace a chance.

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“You must be content to be made a fool for Christ, if you wish to lead a religious life.” (IC 1,17,1) | “If any one among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool, so as to become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God” (1 Cor 3:18-19)

I think there is little doubt that Kempis (1,17) was thinking of Paul’s teaching when he wrote his line about the religious life (1 Cor 3:16-23 — see also chapters one and four of this letter as well as chapter eleven of the second letter; only to the people of Corinth does he give this teaching in Scripture) .  I suspect that most folks reading this are not specifically in the vocation of the priesthood or religious life, but we are all meant to live our lives in conforming with our religious beliefs and the (hopefully) well-formed conscience that should come along with that faith.

So we are all to become “fools for Christ.”  Worldly “wisdom” tells us that we should not only be okay with sin but that we should embrace it, even laud it.  And when we don’t?  We are laughed at, verbally abused, shunned, even prosecuted.  True wisdom, the first of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (see Is 11:2), acknowledges the truth (my favorite definition of humility).  Jesus is the Truth.  He established His Church to safeguard that truth (remember yesterday: Mt 16:18).  When we are steadfast in acknowledging, living, and spreading this message, we may be considered a fool in this world, but not in God’s eyes.  As Paul says, it is then that we truly become wise.

Priests and religious have a special challenge in that they have devoted their entire lives and work to advancing the Kingdom of God.  It should not be surprising, then, that they come in for special abuse.  But the call to evangelize is meant for all of us (Mt 28:19).  Are we willing to boldly be a fool for Christ?  Let us pray to the Holy Spirit for the true wisdom to do so.

A God´s Fool Sitting on the Snow (1885) by Vasily Surikov

“You came hither to serve, not to govern; know that you are called to suffer and to labor, not to pass your time in idleness and talk.” (IC 1,17,3) | “Do not lord it over those assigned to you, but be examples to the flock.” (1 Pt 5:3)

It is always a particularly blessed event when the readings from Kempis (1,17) and the day’s Scripture (1 Pt 5:1-4) align so perfectly.  On this Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, Apostle, we have such a happy occasion.

Kempis, in this chapter, deals with the religious life.  Peter, as part of the first ordination at the Last Supper, and now pope (see the note below), speaks to his presbyters (from which we get “priest”).  The first among the apostles exhorts them to imitate the Good Shepherd, Jesus, in tending their flocks well; key to this is humility and service.  They are not to “lord it over” their followers but to imitate the Lord in tending to the needs of the people or, as Kempis says, “to serve, not to govern.”

We are to be grateful to God for all the wonderful priests who selflessly serve the Church.  Let us support them by helping, volunteering, encouraging, and outdoing each other in generosity (see Rom 12:10).  Of course, most importantly, pray for your parish priests, and for all priests in the world (and those in purgatory), daily.  It is not an easy life but the benefits are out of this world, since those who are faithful in their duties, as Peter concludes, “will receive the unfading crown of glory” (v. 5).  May more men heed the call to this special vocation through our intercession, as Jesus requested: “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” (Mt 9:37-38)

An important side note: today’s Gospel not only give us the institution of the papacy, but also of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Peter is the Rock on whom the Church (the only time Jesus says this word in the Gospels) is built.  Remember Matthew 16!

Let us pray in special way this day, but throughout the year, for the occupant of the Chair of Peter, that he will be strengthened in mind, body, and spirit by the Holy Ghost.  May he be an exemplar of his master and ours, Jesus the Christ.

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“If you wish to act as you ought, and make due progress, look upon yourself as an exile and a pilgrim upon earth.” (IC 1,17,1) | “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the Gospel will save it.” (Mk 8:34-35)

We now come to Thomas à Kempis’s seventeenth chapter of the first book of The Imitation of Christ, entitled, “Of a Monastic Life” (1,17).  It may be tempting for us who do not live in a monastery or are not in the priesthood or the religious life, to bypass this chapter and others like it.  That would be a mistake.  There are profound lessons for those in all walks of life here, including: renouncing one’s own will, mortification of the passions, and the value of suffering and labor.

Jesus’ words in the Gospel (Mk 8:34-9:1) were addressed not only to His disciples, but also to the large crowd gathered to hear Him — this was meant for all of them to take to heart as it is likewise meant for everyone in all ages.  Not succumbing to the world and the culture, especially in these times, automatically entails carrying a cross.  Being counter-cultural often leads to scorn, derision, exclusion, and even threats (of course, countless thousands of Christians have paid the ultimate price for their steadfastness in the Faith — may it not come to that for us).  Yet, as Kempis says, no advancement is made without considering oneself “an exile and a pilgrim upon earth.”  Our true home, where the Lord “will wipe every tear from their eyes” (Rev 21:4), is in the mansion God has prepared for us (Jn 14:2).  When we convey the Truth, that is Jesus, who is the Word, and are persecuted for it, we are to “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven” (Mt 5:12).

Compromising the Gospel is not an option for the Christian.  Our call, our duty, is “living the truth in love” (Eph 4:15).  Let us never miss the opportunity to share the reason for our hope (1 Pt 3:15).

Finally, a quick note on the first reading from James.  This passage is the primary defense for Catholics against the doctrine of sola fide that Martin Luther devised some five hundred years ago.  He pointed to Paul’s letter to the Romans (specifically 3:28) to back his argument; in fact, Paul does not even write the words “faith alone.”  Those words, back to back, are only found in James (2:24), whose words refute this false teaching (no wonder Luther wanted to “throw Jimmy into the stove”).  All Catholics should be aware of where to find it, or at least know that this defense exists.

Isn’t it wonderful that James and Kempis agree with Jesus that faith requires action?  Who are we to argue with them?

“We are willing that others should be bound up by laws, and yet we cannot suffer ourselves to be constrained. Thus it is evident how seldom we weigh our neighbor in the same balance with ourselves.” (IC 1,16,3) | “[I]f you fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, You shall love your neighbor as yourself, you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.” (Jas 2:8-9)

Kempis’s words remind us of the old saying, “Do as I say, not as I do.”  Wouldn’t life be so much easier if everyone agreed with me and did as I desired them to do?  Don’t they know that I know best?  And when things don’t fall precisely in line for me, then I might spout Jean-Paul Sartre famous and oft-quoted line, “Hell is other people.

Kempis, in this chapter (1,16), tells us we gain merit by our patience and exercise of virtue in our challenges with others.  No, it is not hell, but our duty, our command, to love others and bring a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven to them with the goal of bringing them to eternal glory with us.  Both Kempis and James (2:1-9) speak of the law.  We are constrained by the law…of love.  Being transgressors of this law, means conviction and punishment.

The tie-in of the two excerpts is clear: Kempis speaks of dealing with the “defects” of others.  James speaks of partiality, especially regarding having a dim view of the poor.  Aren’t those of a lesser stature in society an easy target for our ire?  Poor breeding?  From the other side of the tracks?  Lacking ambition?  Lazy?  Stupid?

Is this a Christian approach?  Is this showing love of neighbor?  Is this not making judgments, often with little information and based on stereotypes?

May such talk and attitudes never be found among us!  Remember, there, but for the grace of God, go I.

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“[W]e must support one another, comfort one another, assist, instruct, and admonish one another.” (IC 1,16,4) | “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, his religion is vain.” (Jas 1:26)

In his chapter regarding how we are to deal with defects we note in others (1,16), Kempis devotes the last section to a proper attitude toward others.  So does James, who closes out the first chapter of his letter (1:19-27) with what at least one commentator calls an outline of the entire epistle: “everyone should be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”

What is to be our approach to others?  Kempis tells us in the headline.  How do we do this well?  James says that we are to “bridle” our tongues.  What sort of example do we give as Christians if we do not listen attentively, then, using the power of speech wisely, in a limited way, and always to support, comfort, assist, or instruct.  Such words bring love and truth — something we all need.

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“[T]he measure of each one’s virtue best appears in occasions of adversity. For occasions do not make a man frail, but show what he is.” (IC 1,16,4) | “Blessed is he who perseveres in temptation, for when he has been proven he will receive the crown of life that he promised to those who love him.” (Jas 1:12)

We now move on to Chapter XVI of Book One of Kempis’s Imitation of Christ entitled, “Of Bearing the Defects of Others” (1,16).  A particularly challenging chapter that will hit many of us in our most sensitive area: the difficulty in putting up with others who rub us the wrong way while having little concern (or even acknowledgment) of the negative effect we have on our neighbors.

James begins today’s passage (1:12-18) with the words in the headline.  He goes on to say that temptation does not come from God but rather from one’s own desires.  Giving in to temptation can lead ultimately to spiritual death when sin is allowed to grow and fester.

As is so often the case in the Gospels, Jesus gives the premier example of persevering in the face of temptation.  The Christ faced much adversity in His public life, and even before, as we note in the time of His temptation as He prepared for His public ministry (Mt 4:1-11).  Forcefully rebuking the devil’s direct enticements, the Lord’s virtue was measured and He showed not frailty but what He truly is: a faithful servant fulfilling to the letter His Father’s will for Him.

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
— Martin Luther King, Jr.

Maybe the reverend doctor was a Kempis fan?  In any case, Dr. King nails it.  Adversity will come.  When it does, do we exhibit virtues such as generosity, kindness, and humility (see the seven capital virtues).  With apologies to Matthew Kelly, do we put forward the best version of ourselves in such circumstances?  It certainly can be difficult in the heat of the moment.  Persevering in overcoming temptation to vice and embracing virtue merits “the crown of life.”  Well worth any trouble we encounter here, don’t you think?

The Temptation of Christ by Simon Bening (c. 1483-1561)