“Oh, convert us to You, so that we may be thankful, humble, and devout; because you are our salvation, our virtue, and our strength.” (IC 3,8,3) | “Follow me.” (Jn 21:19b)

|The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter VIII: ”Of the Mean Estimation of Oneself in the Eyes of God” (third entry)

Kempis closes this chapter with the three marks of a disciple of Christ: thankfulness, humility, and devotion. Why are these dispositions so important? Because Jesus is “our salvation, our virtue, and our strength.” These gifts inspire us to: thankfulness for the goodness of God toward us, His fallen creatures; humility because on our own without them we would be lost and could do nothing; devotion due to God for who He is and for what He has done for us.

|Today’s Gospel Reading: Jn 21:15-19

We hear proclaimed this day some of the final words recorded of Jesus before ascending to the Father. It provides us the scene in which Jesus invites Peter to affirm his love for his Master three times in front of a charcoal fire just as he denied knowing the Lord three times in front of a different charcoal fire just a short time earlier (see Jn 18:15-18,25-27). John then tells of Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s death many years hence. His last words to Peter are recorded above.

|Reflection

Jesus last words to Peter may well have prompted the latter to be reminded of the same words of Jesus in this interchange they had at the Last Supper:

Simon Peter said to him, “Master, where are you going?” Jesus answered [him], “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now, though you will follow later.” Peter said to him, “Master, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Amen, amen, I say to you, the cock will not crow before you deny me three times.” (Jn 13:36-38)

If it did not come flooding back at that moment, it surely would at Pentecost. Peter was not to follow Jesus to the cross on Good Friday due to cowardice. But because of the salvation Jesus wrought, and the virtue and strength He provided, tradition tells us that Peter did “follow later” the road to crucifixion and glory.

Jesus uses “Follow me!” several times throughout the Gospels to call specific apostles He has chosen, but of course it applies to all of us. Remember this other famous passage:

Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Lk 9:23)

So we note a common them that not only applies to Peter, but also to all disciples of Christ. Following Jesus, by its nature, entails suffering and death. On our own this is a tragic and meaningless circumstance. But, because Christ led the way, we now have the strength He imparts to those of us who ask for it, to follow in His footsteps to the glory of God and eternal beatitude,.

[Jesus said,] “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Lk 9:24)

(By the way, an interesting exposition of this scene, likely different from what you’ve heard before, can be found on The Sacred Page. I encourage you to check it out.)

“You, O most sweet Lord, are bountiful to me above all merit, and more than I would dare hope or ask for.” (IC 3,8,2) | “I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them.” (Jn 17:26)

|The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter VIII: ”Of the Mean Estimation of Oneself in the Eyes of God” (second entry)

When we realize our nothingness compared to God, and that nothing we can do on our own merits God’s love, we are in a good place. Yet, the Lord loves us gratuitously and completely as if we were His only creation. We owe Him the same love back.for who He is and what He has done for us.

|Today’s Gospel Reading: Jn 17:20-26

Above we read the last words of the Last Supper Discourse and the High Priestly Prayer. What wonderful parting words from Jesus to His closest collaborators, the apostles. Jesus’ arrest is imminent, and He will be going away for awhile, but the love of the Father remains in them, and so does Jesus. They may forget this for a time, but the third Person of the Holy Trinity will remind them of all this in a few short weeks.

|Reflection

This motley group that Jesus called certainly didn’t deserve the love of Jesus based on their own merits, particularly in light on the abandonment of Him that Jesus predicted would happen. Yet, the Lord leaves them with the promise of the love of the Father and the Son and the help of the Holy Spirit (which He spoke of frequently previously in this discourse).

Consider your own calling, brothers. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God. (1 Cor 1:26-29)

Paul is not speaking only to the citizens of Corinth here. He is referring to the apostles and to us as well. Weak, foolish, lowly — put me first on the list. We can only boast of our own sins — and those are nothing of which to be proud. Yet, we are loved with a love undeserved but gratefully accepted and the promise that we will not be abandoned:

I am with you always, until the end of the age. (Mt 28:20b)

These consoling words are the last recorded by Matthew in his Gospel. This is a wonderful takeaway for all Christians. Whatever life brings, Christ promises to be with us (for Catholics and Orthodox this is fulfilled in a special way in His Real Presence in the Eucharist). Only we can drive Him away by serious sin and/or the belief that we cannot be forgiven (commonly held to be the sin against the Holy Spirit). Will we drive Him away or, like the disciples on the Emmaus road, say:

Stay with us (Lk 24:29)

(For an edifying and relatively short read, check out Saint John Paul II’s apostolic letter, his third last, by the same name (Mane nobiscum Domine), in which he introduced the Year of the Eucharist.)

The Holy Trinity and the Apostles, 1507 - 1508 - Pietro Perugino
The Holy Trinity and the Apostles (1507-08) by Pietro Perugino

“It is your love…gratuitously preventing me and assisting me in so many necessities, guarding me also from grave dangers, and (to say the truth), saving me from innumerable evils.” (IC 3,8,2) | “I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the Evil One.” (Jn 17:15)

|The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter VIII: ”Of the Mean Estimation of Oneself in the Eyes of God” (first entry)

Kempis once again extols the virtue of humility. It is the only appropriate disposition we are to have in relation to our Creator. Without God’s grace we can do nothing and are especially susceptible to “grave dangers” and “innumerable evils.”

|Today’s Gospel Reading: Jn 17:11b-19

Today we hear the middle section of Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer that He intones immediately before His arrest. He asks the Father to protect His apostles from Satan and enlighten them to the truth as Jesus sends them out as missionaries to the world just as the Father sent the Son into the world.

|Reflection

Jesus gives the apostles a mission to the world to declare the truth of God. They are to be in the world but not of the world. This is a message meant for all Christians of all times and all places. Kempis recognizes this. This fallen world is full of lies, deceit, evil, and all manner of grave moral dangers. But, like the apostles, the vast majority of Christians (aside from cloistered orders) are deputized, as it were, to engage the world, not flee from it (as tempting as that may be). The danger is that we are dragged down by it as opposed to elevating it. The world is supposed to be changed by us — not us by the world. All we need is the love of God to prevent us from falling and to assist us in our mission.

Let us pray often for the grace to convey to others the truth in love as Christ conveyed to us the truth in love.

Twelve Disciples Painting - Christ with the twelve Apostles by Tissot
Christ with the Twelve Apostles (c.1886-96) by James Jacques Joseph Tissot

“[D]o willingly what depends on you, to the best of your ability and knowledge” (IC 3,7,1) | “I solemnly declare to you this day that I am not responsible for the blood of any of you, for I did not shrink from proclaiming to you the entire plan of God.” (Acts 20:26-27)

|The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter VII: ”How Grace Should Be Hidden Under the Guardianship of Humility” (third entry)

Kempis has Christ telling us that we have a duty, even when feeling arid or anxious and not receiving consolations, to live the Christian message. The Lord doesn’t need us, absolutely speaking, but He has ordained that His message of Good News be carried to the ends of the earth by those who declare faith in Him (see Mk 16:15).

|Today’s Gospel Reading: Acts 20:17-27

Acts tells us of the incessant journeying of Paul as he endeavors with passion and urgency to evangelize as many regions as possible in the time on earth that God had given him. Now he wishes a final farewell before returning to Jerusalem where he knows not what he will find awaiting him. He has been informed by the Holy Spirit that “imprisonment and hardships await” him and he seems certain that he will never again see the Miletans and Ephesians that he is addressing. He leaves with a clear conscience, not holding back, but preaching the whole truth, whatever the consequences. He closes with the words above.

|Reflection

It is not at all hard to imagine the difficulties Paul encountered (which he was not reluctant to express explicitly) and frustrations experienced (that he no doubt felt interiorly) in his ministry. Yet, I don’t recall an instance when these challenges ever deterred him from pressing forward, maybe with even more conviction. We need to be more like Paul. No matter what life throws at us because of our faith, we keep up the fight “do[ing] willingly what depends on [us]” so that we can in good conscience say that we are “not responsible for the blood of any of” those whom we have encountered who looked to us for Christian example by a living out, in word and in deed, of the fullness of truth.

Paul Leaves Miletus (c. 1857-60) in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls (click the picture for its provenance and other paintings like it)

“He who is too sure in time of peace, will often show himself to be downcast or fearful in time of war.” (IC 3,7,4) | “Jesus answered them, ‘Do you believe now? Behold, the hour is coming and has arrived when each of you will be scattered to his own home and you will leave me alone.'” (Jn 16:31-32)

|The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter VII: ”How Grace Should Be Hidden Under the Guardianship of Humility” (second entry)

Kempis has Christ warning the disciple once again about the dangers of pride and the false confidence that tells us that we’ve got it covered ourselves without the need for God. This attitude of being “too sure” is not so difficult to maintain when things are going well, but when life heads south, then despondency and even fear set in. We are to recall that Jesus provides the light, even if he covers it for awhile, in order to teach us and to help us grow in faith and trust.

|Today’s Gospel Reading: Jn 16:29-33

Today we hear the final words of Jesus’ Last Supper Discourse before He intones the High Priestly Prayer of which the next chapter entirely consists (it will be proclaimed in its entirety over the next three days). The disciples declare an act of faith in Jesus, but Jesus informs them that this will keep them neither unified nor steadfast in their conviction. Yet, their abandonment of Jesus will not leave him without companionship as the Father is always with Him. The peace he promises will come at the Resurrection and the courage He asks them to take will come at Pentecost (that we celebrate Sunday).

|Reflection

It is vitally important that we do not think that any good we have accomplished, or any progress in virtue or in the spiritual life we make, is attributable to us alone. Yes, we must cooperate with grace, but we must remember the Dispenser of that gift. It is tempting, especially after a great struggle to accomplish a good, to pat ourselves on the back. Much better, and infinitely more accurate, is to give glory to the Lord for the good and to own only the bad. May “Praise God!” be peppered throughout our conversations.

https://i0.wp.com/blog.adw.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/040115.jpg

“Neither does he show to have much virtue who, in the time of adversity and any affliction whatsoever, gives himself to despair, and thinks and feels less confidence in Me than is convenient for him.” (IC 3,7,3) | “And when they saw him they worshiped him; but some doubted.” (Mt 28:17)

|The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter VII: ”How Grace Should Be Hidden Under the Guardianship of Humility” (first entry)

Kempis comes back to the nearly constant theme of humility in our next chapter. As regards the spiritual life, reveling in heavenly consolation or being disappointed when not quickly receiving consolation is a recipe for disaster. It is best to remember that it is only the gift of grace that allows us to do anything good. The quote in the headline conveys the sentiment that we must always remember the Giver in adversity or affliction and not despair of His love and mercy even if it is not sensibly apparent.

|Today’s Gospel Reading, Mt 28:16-20

For the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, we hear proclaimed the final words of Matthew’s Gospel that gives us Jesus’ Great Commission. This Gospel says nothing about Jesus’ Ascension. In fact, this scene is the only encounter between Jesus and the apostles that the tax collector mentions. Considering what we know from the other Gospels, one wonders why they doubted. Was this the first encounter of Jesus and the apostles after the Resurrection? It would not seem so, considering Jesus’ appearance in the Upper Room (see Jn 20:19-20).

|Reflection

The apostles were daily companions of Jesus for at least three years. They heard Him preach many, many times. They saw miraculous healings and awesome exorcisms. They experienced the first Mass at the Last Supper. They now see Him glorified in His risen body. Yet “some doubted.” What more evidence did they need that Jesus was who He said He was: Lord and Savior?

Instead of rushing to judge these men, we are better served in examining ourselves first (in fact, I would encourage you to do this any time you are tempted to scoff at one or more of the apostles’ reactions to some words or event in Scripture — rather, put yourself in their place and time). If we believe Jesus is Lord and Savior, we certainly worship Jesus (primarily in the Eucharist). But do we also doubt? Consider the circumstances Kempis mentions: when we are tempted to despair of God’s love, or even His existence, in times of difficulty. Let it not be so! We are not fair weather friends of the Lord, are we? His grace is sufficient for us (see 1 Cor 12:9), even if it doesn’t make it easy to navigate troubled waters when storms arise in our lives. Even when Jesus exclaimed in the depths of unimaginable pain in mind, body, and spirit about being forsaken by His Father it was only to point to His ultimate triumph:

For he has not spurned or disdained

the misery of this poor wretch,

Did not turn away from me,

but heard me when I cried out. (Ps 22:25)

As difficult as life’s unexpected challenges can be, let us “poor wretches” never take our eyes off of the prize: eternal beatitude.

Have confidence in God. I would encourage you to get this treasured little book of short meditations on exactly this topic. You will be blessed.

The ideal Holy Bible self-pronouncing, self-interpreting, self-explanatory.. (1908) (14781699461).jpg
Source: The Ideal Holy Bible (1908)

“Keep your resolution firm, and fix your right intention in God.” (IC 3,6,3) | “He vigorously refuted the Jews in public, establishing from the Scriptures that the Christ is Jesus.” (Acts 18:28)

|The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter VI: ”The Proof of a True Lover” (third entry)

This chapter has Christ speaking much about the wiles of the devil and what a true disciple needs to do to combat the machinations of the evil one. A firm resolution to do the good is a gift of the Holy Spirit called fortitude. Whether reactive to temptation or proactive toward evangelization, we must be mindful of our duty toward God and neighbor.

|Today’s First Reading, Acts 18:23-28

Today’s first reading offers a little side note to Paul’s ministry. An Alexandrian Jew named Apollos is “speak[ing] boldly in the synagogue” about Jesus in Ephesus. Paul has already left, but apparently his companions, spouses Priscilla and Aquila, have remained behind there. They fill in some gaps for Apollos by “tak[ing] him aside and explain[ing] to him the Way (of God) more accurately.” He must have been grateful for this instruction as he immediately wishes to share the entirety of the Good News in Achaia which encompassed Athens and Corinth. There he contested with the Jewish religious class while preaching to the public “establishing from the scriptures that the Christ is Jesus.”

|Reflection

Apollos was not going to let the push back he was receiving from the Jews dim in the slightest his resolution to preach the fullness of truth he had just received from Paul’s companions. One can imagine the Jews trolling (as we say these days) this newcomer as he attempts to catechize and evangelize this populace. He knew the people well as he also was a Greek. Undoubtedly the more persuasive he was, the more the professional religious crowd grew irritated and demonstrative. The devil certainly had reason to be concerned about the wild success this new movement was having. Thus, the attacks on Apollos, just as Peter, Paul, and the other apostles had experienced, are no surprise. Fortitude in the face of the temptation to be uncharitable or to quit were needed then as now. Where does the power to combat this lie? In the Word. The Christ is Jesus. All of Scripture speaks of the coming of the Messiah (remember the apostolic Christians only had the Hebrew Scriptures, our Old Testament). We, too, should have recourse to Scripture and Tradition (the entirely of divine revelation, which is the Word, that is, Jesus) to stand firm in the truth and refute those who would lead others astray. Know it well!

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16)