“[H]aving recovered your spirit after the storm, grow strong again, in the light of my tender mercies; for I am at hand to repair all, not only to the brim, but also with abundance and beyond measure.” (IC 3,30,1) | “After they got into the boat, the wind died down. Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, ‘Truly, you are the Son of God.'” (Mt 14:32-33)

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XXX: “Of Asking the Divine Assistance, and of Confidence of Receiving Grace” (first entry)

I am reminded in this chapter of the story of Job. Kempis has Christ telling us “Is anything difficult to Me? Or shall I be like the one who promises and does not perform.” He asks for an increase in faith, especially in the most turbulent of times, even when it seems He is not there. The true disciple who sincerely endeavors to do God’s will trusts Him in all circumstances.

|Today’s Gospel reading: Mt 14:22-36

The famous episode of Jesus walking on water graces us today. The disciples in the boat see Jesus coming to them on the sea are scared out of their wits. Jesus reassures them and then Peter impulsively asks the Lord to have him come out on the water to meet Him. Jesus tells him to come but Peter becomes afraid when a strong wind starts blowing and starts to sink, calling on his Master to help him. Jesus pulls him out of the water and they get into the boat (prompting an exclamation of faith from all) and get to shore. At their landing, Jesus is immediately sought out to perform healings, which He grants to all who come.

|Reflection

Christ certainly did “repair all” in the boat. Peter, firstly, in his near death experience, and the rest of the crew who, in seeing this unprecedented event, declared Jesus to be God. He strengthened their faith through a miracle. Their spirit was recovered after the storm. How often must these witnesses (Gk. mártyres) have hearkened back to this event when storms were brewing in their lives and ministries. How they must have been bolstered in remembering Jesus’ words, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” How many times must they have cried out in their lives, “Lord save me,” as did Peter. Their three years with Jesus would have been a constant source of fodder for meditation for the rest of their lives. But I would wager this story must have come to mind particularly often and been shared with others with great drama and joy.

In our lives, how many times do we appeal to the Lord when the storms come? Do we recall “do not be afraid”/ Do we implore Him to “save us” with full confidence that He cares and that He will? And when the trial passes, and we recognize Jesus’ assistance, are we sure to reiterate our conviction to Him that “Truly, you are the Son of God”? May it be always the case in this life, so that when He calls us home we can utter those same words as He welcomes us into His Kingdom.

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“Lord, I am at present in tribulation, and my heart is troubled; but I am greatly afflicted with my present suffering.” (IC 3,29,1) | “What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?” (Rom 8:35)

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XXIX: “How God must be Invoked and Blessed in Time of Tribulation” (third entry)

This chapter is all about the disciple’s lamenting his current state of trial and tribulation and looking to Christ for help. He asks to withstand his suffering with patience, humility, and fearlessness, realizing that he deserved no better, trusting that a greater good will come of it.

|Today’s second reading: Rom 8:35, 37-39

Paul famously wraps up chapter eight of Romans with encouraging words for the Christian who is experiencing any manner of difficulties. God is with us and loves us through all of our challenges. We must not doubt this regardless of what we are asked to endure since “in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly.”

|Reflection

As difficult as life can be at times, we are to take comfort in knowing that God loves us and is always there for us through it all, even if it seems that the whole world has abandoned us. Nothing in this mortal coil can cut us off from the Lord except our own grave sin. This is why sin of any kind should be a horror to us, as it was the great saints. Why would we want to offend, even to the point of cutting off, the One who made us, sustains us, redeemed us, and desires us to be saved for eternal beatitude with Him? Like the disciple in Kempis, we should bring our difficulties to Christ, laying them out before Him, while asking for the patience, humility, courage, and strength to see them through for the greater glory of God. This may need to be reiterated by us daily, hourly, or even minute-by-minute in our darkest moments. But the promise of divine assistance and ultimate reward is assured for those who persevere. Would that we are able to say with Paul in another letter:

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church (Col 1:24)

“Offer it up!” the good nuns would tell us. This is biblical wisdom we must interiorize to make our hearts like unto Christ’s.

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn: St. Paul in Prison
St. Paul in Prison (1627) by Rembrandt

“May it please You, O Lord, to deliver me; for, poor wretch that I am, what can I do and where shall I go without You.” (IC 3,29,1) | “I am afflicted and in pain; let your saving help, O God, protect me.” (Ps 69:30)

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XXIX: “How God must be Invoked and Blessed in Time of Tribulation” (second entry)

The disciple realizes his own wretchedness so in his time of trial he knows that only the Lord, ultimately, is his safe refuge. Without God’s help he can do nothing good and would be without a reliable moral compass.

|Today’s responsorial psalm: Ps 69:15-16, 30-31, 33-34

Psalm 69 is one of David’s songs of lament. A great king, but also a great sinner, he repented whole-heartedly, with an unblinking look at his own despicable actions. He feels about to drown and he is scorned by all. Yet he appeals to the Lord for salvation, fully trusting in the Lord to rescue him and his people.

|Reflection

Kempis’s disciple and David both have precisely the correct perspective and impulse. They are lowly, filled with humility, recognizing their own weakness, their inability, by their own power, to redeem themselves. They immediately appeal to God for help, begging his mercy, acknowledging Him as protector and guide.

So it should be with each and every one of us. While conversation with God should be an important event in our daily routine, it is in times of particular trouble or distress that our appeals to the Lord tend to be most intense. And that’s okay. Jesus longs for us to communicate with Him and tell Him of all those matters that weigh most heavily on our heart. What are true friends for (see Jn 15:15)?

Jesus, I place my trust in you.

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“Help me, O my God, and I will not fear, regardless of how much I may be distressed.” (IC 3,29,1) | “When Jeremiah finished speaking all that the LORD bade him speak to all the people, the priests and prophets laid hold of him, crying, ‘You must be put to death!'” (Jer 26:8)

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XXIX: “How God must be Invoked and Blessed in Time of Tribulation” (first entry)

The disciple cries out to the Lord in a time of inevitable trial and tribulation, asking that it turn out for his good, yet still troubled and afflicted by his circumstances. He appeals for fortitude and patience while realizing that he “well deserved to be afflicted and oppressed.”

|Today’s first reading: Jer 26:1-9

Jeremiah again finds himself in deep trouble with the southern kingdom of Judah for giving warning of the devastation to come if the people do not repent. By simply conveying what the Lord asks him to proclaim, he is held captive and threatened with death — by the religious leaders! At Mass tomorrow we will see how this turns out.

|Reflection

It is, sadly, not uncommon for many around the world to be faced with martyrdom for their Christian faith. The words of Kempis’s disciple hopefully is on their lips. While we do not (yet?) face the prospect of giving our lives for the Gospel, we must have fortitude to maintain the conviction of our belief in Christ regardless of the consequences. Let us turn to St. Paul for encouragement:

What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? As it is written: For your sake we are being slain all the day; we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:35-39)

Only sin can distance us from God, and only grave sin can separate us from His love completely (not that He wants to, or even is able to, stop loving us; but we, through a devastating thought, word, or deed, definitively can stop loving Him). Let us repent and humbly cry for the Lord’s help to persevere in goodness and beg for the grace to do so.

Saint Paul in Lystra preaching by Giovanni Ghisolfi on artnet
Saint Paul in Lystra Preaching by a follower of Giovanni Ghisolfi (b. ca. 1623–1683)

“Your peace does not depend on the tongues of men, because whether they judge well or evil of you, you are not for this another man. Where is true peace and true glory? Is it not in Me?” (IC 3,28,2) | “Put not your trust in princes, in the sons of men, in whom there is no salvation.” (Ps 146:3)

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XXVIII: “Against the Tongues of Slanderers” (third entry)

The words Kempis has Christ speaking cut to the heart. We are who we are in God’s eyes; what others say about us does not change that. So we turn to the Lord for “true peace and true glory” — it will not be found elsewhere.

|Today’s first reading: Jer 15:10, 16-21

Psalm 146 is a short song of exuberant praise of God. He is our help, our hope, our maker. The oppressed, the hungry, the prisoner, the handicapped, the feeble, the immigrant, the widow, all find recourse in Him. Look to the Lord, not men, for eternal salvation — and glory in Him for this gift.

|Reflection

Kempis and the Psalmist converge well today. Both encourage us, over and over, to keep our gaze upward and forward, to God and eternity. In this valley of tears, there will be many ups and downs, but the Lord is constant, unchanging (by definition). In this brief sojourn in the valley of tears, let us never waver in keeping our eyes on the prize and our feet on the narrow path. And if the trials to which we are subjected seem overwhelming, let us immediately take refuge in a God who understands us and the human condition better than we ourselves do.

Woman Praying In Front A Of A Pieta Statue In The Cathedral Of ...

“It is no small prudence to be silent in time of misfortune, and interiorly turn oneself to Me without letting himself be disturbed the judgment of men.” (IC 3,28,1) | “[A]ll curse me…I will free you from the hand of the wicked, and rescue you from the grasp of the violent.” (Jer 15:10b,21)

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XXVIII: “Against the Tongues of Slanderers” (second entry)

This short chapter has to do with the awful way persons sometimes speak of and to one another. Our call is not to return evil for evil but, rather, we are to maintain inner tranquility by taking comfort in the Lord.

|Today’s first reading: Jer 15:10, 16-21

Jeremiah is given to recourse with the God who sent him on a mission to preach repentance to the wayward Chosen People. Jeremiah’s jeremiad laments his even being born. He says “all curse me” for the message he brings. Jeremiah began his work with enthusiasm but now only finds continuous pain. God, in reply, asks Jeremiah to repent; in doing so the people will “turn to you…they shall not prevail.” God closes with the words after the ellipsis.

|Reflection

It is certainly a part of our nature that we would like the approval of others and are hurt and angered by calumny, detraction, or other expressions of disfavor toward us. It is a part of our fallen nature to desire retaliation. Jeremiah does not speak of retaliation here, but he is profoundly discouraged. However we feel due to challenges we face from others, Jeremiah and Kempis show us the person to whom we should first appeal: the Lord God. As he did with this prophet, God restores, delivers, and rescues those who walk in His ways, do His will, and “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mk 12:31). Turning to the Lord is not the first instinct for most of us, but it is the correct approach spiritually and practically:

“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” (Lk 23:34a)

Delay is preferable to error. (Thomas Jefferson)

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn - Jeremia treurend over de verwoesting van Jeruzalem - Google Art Project.jpg
Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem (1630) by Rembrandt

“[H]e who does not desire to please men, nor fears to displease them, will enjoy much peace.” (IC 3,28,2) | “[T]he righteous will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father.” (Mt 13:43a)

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XXVIII: “Against the Tongues of Slanderers” (first entry)

This very brief chapter simply has Christ telling us that we should not be troubled in the least by those who speak ill of us. Rather we should think even worse of ourselves and simply turn to God. This approach brings true interior peace.

|Today’s Gospel reading: Mt 13:36-43

The Gospel repeats the explanation of the Parable of the Weeds and the Wheat we heard a week ago Sunday. Those inspired by the devil (the weeds) will always be troublesome to the righteous (the wheat). At the end of time, God will send His angels to separate the good and the evil, with those remaining faithful attaining eternal glory while those persisting in unfaithfulness being condemned to unending suffering.

|Reflection

The weeds (those who wish to do us ill) will always be with us. The devil takes great delight in putting these obstacles in our way, so that we might stumble and veer from the path of righteousness. Allowing persons such as these to cause us distress by their rash judgment, detraction, or calumny (see the CCC section on Offenses Against Truth from 2475-2487) is contrary to God’s desire for us. Difficult as it is to do, we must pray even more earnestly for those who wish to do us harm (certainly never to respond in kind, becoming weeds ourselves), always remembering that we have many faults, regardless, that the True Judge knows well and with whose help we must work to overcome.

But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. (Mt 5:44-45)

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“It causes wonder that from the very bottom of your heart, you will not abandon yourself wholly to Me, with all that you can desire and possess.” (IC 3,27,1) | “Since they have provoked me with their ‘no-god’ and angered me with their vain idols, I will provoke them with a ‘no-people’; with a foolish nation I will anger them.” (Dt 34:21)

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XXVII: ”How Self-love Greatly Withdraws Us from the Sovereign Good” (third entry)

Christ calls the disciple to total dedication to Him — to desire and possess Him more than any thing in the world. Depending on where one’s love and affection lay, that is where his dedication will be. earthly desires make one a slave, depriving him of liberty. So why wouldn’t we abandon ourselves entirely to the one who provides true freedom?

|Today’s responsorial psalm: Dt 32:18-19, 20, 21

Today’s “psalm” is actually taken from very close to the end of the Torah (or Pentateuch — that is, the first five books of the Bible, also called the Law). Moses gives a final warning to this people he knows so well. they have been unfaithful in the past — falling back to their old ways in the the future will not go well for them with God.

|Reflection

Certainly, the Chosen People time and again were enticed by foreigners, subjects, and invaders to worship false gods. This always led to debauchery, subjugation, cries of repentance, forgiveness in a seemingly endless cycle.

We should not be so harsh with these people. We may not worship statues, but there is much in this world that can distract us or even consume us. What becomes our “god” — that which rises to a level that it becomes more important than the one true God? The Lord demands total abandonment to Him! This means that everything we think, say, or do should be for God’s greater glory. It has been said that St. Dominic only spoke to God or about God. Were that we were imbued with this Spirit! Of course, our work and other responsibilities may not be strictly in the religious realm. But do we do all things as well as possible, being morally upright, treating those we encounter as other Christs, and allowing Christ to shine through us? This is a tall order. We realize we can’t do it on our own. Fortunately, we have recourse to the One who strengthens us. Let us have frequent recourse to prayer, the Sacraments, and the Word to convert us, sustain us, and uplift us.

St Dominic accompanied by Simon de Montfort raising the crucifix against the Cathars by Daniel van den Dyck (1614-1663)

“Give me, O Lord, heavenly wisdom, so that I may learn to seek and find You above all things; to relish You and to love You above all created things; and to consider all other things, according to the order of Your wisdom.” (IC 3,27,5) | “Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.” (1 Kgs 3:9)

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XXVII: ”How Self-love Greatly Withdraws Us from the Sovereign Good” (second entry)

After hearing from Christ about the pitfalls of the inordinate desire for “money and riches” as well as “ambition for honor and the desire for empty praise,” the disciple asks for fortification “with the grace of the Holy Spirit” against “desires of anything vile” and then asks for wisdom, per the words in the headline.

|Today’s first reading: 1 Kgs 3:5, 7-12

We hear today the famous interaction between God and King Solomon early in his reign in which the Lord, in a dream, says: “Whatever you ask I shall give you.” Solomon responds with the sentiment above. For this expression of humility and service, God lauds the king and promises him that he will be the wisest human person to ever live. In addition, he will receive earthly “riches and glory” and a long life — if he remains righteous.

|Reflection

Wisdom is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (see Is 11:2). The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines it as a “spiritual gift which enables one to know the purpose and plan of God.” So often, as we have been working through The Imitation of Christ, it has been impressed upon us the vital importance of discerning and implementing God’s will in our lives. True wisdom, unlike worldly wisdom, consists of this knowledge. Solomon recognized his extraordinary need for wisdom in the leadership of a vast people. He also had a tough act to follow in the greatest king Israel has ever known: his father David. Like Kempis’s disciple, Solomon, in essence, asked the Lord that he “consider all…things according to the order of Your wisdom.”

Would that all those entrusted with the care of others, especially leaders of nations, governments, and all representatives of citizens, desire heavenly wisdom! Our cultural decline would make a rapid reversal if it were so. And, although most of us will not wield this sort of earthly power, we also should embrace the gift of wisdom for the sake of our circle of influence, whether family, friends, the workplace, our parish, and so on. A sincere desire for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit will certainly not be denied us by the Father and the Son. Let us pray often for this virtue to “know the purpose and plan of God” and live it for the sake of God and neighbor.

The Dream of Solomon Painting by Luca Giordano
The Dream of Solomon (c. 1694-95) by Luca Giordano

“[Y]ou must give all to obtain all, and that nothing of yourself remain in you.” (IC 3,27,1) | “[W]hoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant” (Mt 20:26)

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XXVII: ”How Self-love Greatly Withdraws Us from the Sovereign Good” (first entry)

These opening words that Kempis puts on Christ’s lips are an appropriate way to begin a chapter on not being attached to worldly honors and not being zealous for profane ambitions. The disciple later responds with a plea for heavenly wisdom in dealing with the harmful allure of this transitory life.

|Today’s first reading: Mt 20:20-28

For the Feast of Saint James (the Greater), Apostle, we are presented this episode in which this man and his brother, John, ask their mother (apparently) to intercede with Jesus on their behalf regarding their desire to sit on thrones astride their Master in heaven. Jesus cannot promise them these posts, but He does ensure that they will suffer for Him in this life. Understandably, the other apostles are fuming at these two for their boldness. Jesus uses this opportunity to tell them all that they must be servants, even slaves, of others, to be considered “great” and to be ranked “first.”

|Reflection

Kenosis: literally, the act of emptying; in Christian theology it is “the voluntary renunciation by Christ of his right to divine privilege in his humble acceptance of human status” (from Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary). No one emptied himself more than the Second Person of the Trinity (see Phil 2:6). God became man. He became our servant by giving His entire self to us so that we might be able to give our entire selves to Him and to each other. Further along in Matthew, Jesus says,

Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me. And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. (Mt 25:45-46)

These are the last words of His public ministry (although one could certainly argue His cries from the cross were for all to hear as well). It is always good to note, in a special way, the message of the Gospel at the beginning and end of scenes or stories for particular insights. That is certainly the case here. Jesus leaves the public scene with the demanding call to love others and, in doing so, loving Him. Not doing so, as indicated in the passage above, has eternal consequences.

It is difficult to give up pieces of ourselves: our attachments, our goods, our time, our selfishness. The Divine Artist chips away, though, seeking to reveal the true beauty of the person made very good in the beginning. It is only in submitting to the chisel of the Heavenly Sculptor, though, that we may attain those great paradoxes of Christianity: becoming great entails becoming nothing; becoming first means becoming last; attaining fullness of life requires emptying oneself. James certainly learned this lesson: he was the first apostle to be martyred (Acts 12:1-2).

St. James the Greater, help us and pray for us!

Saint James the Greater by Dirck van Baburen on artnet
Saint James the Greater by Dirck van Baburen (1590–1624)