In this final lesson from chapter two of The Imitation of Christ (1,2), the author concludes the chapter by telling us to despise ourselves. Harsh? Kempis goes on to explain that we are not to esteem ourselves, that we are frail, and that, essentially, when witnessing grave sin in others, there, but for the grace of God, go we.
Is is any wonder, then, that Jesus’ first words recorded in Matthew (heard in today’s Gospel – Mt 4:12-17, 23-25) are (echoing the Baptist’s first words in the previous chapter): “Repent!” The most humble person who ever existed commands us to imitate that humility in recognizing our faults and being truly sorry for offending God and neighbor.
Have you ever heard someone say something to this effect: “I don’t need to go to Confession. What would I tell the priest? I haven’t killed anyone or robbed a bank! I’m basically a good person.” For anyone tempted to think along these lines, consider the words that we say at Mass each weekend and then reevaluate:
I confess to almighty God
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have greatly sinned
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done
and in what I have failed to do…
Are we to think that Holy Mother Church made a mistake when requiring us to say these words at Mass? We are weak in so many ways. Even if our explicit deeds aren’t sinful, a thought, a word, an action not taken, all can create separation between us and God.
And if our standard for sinning is grievous transgressions like murder and armed robbery, I refer you to Fr. Mitch Pacwa who said that if you are comparing yourself to Al Capone, you are doing pretty well, but if you are comparing yourself to Jesus Christ, you are falling far short. There is no one else to compare to in our behavior but the Lord. Remember, it is not “only human” to sin; it is inhumane. Adam and Eve, before the Fall, were created in the image and likeness of God (they were created “very good” — Gen 1:31) but they lost that life of God in themselves in sinning mortally. The New Adam and New Eve (Jesus and His mother) showed us again what it means to be fully human (although Jesus was a divine person He had a human nature and was like us in all things but sin [cf. Heb 4:15]).
It seems to me so many TV shows over the last few decades (but even more so in recent years with the boom in “reality shows”), play on the idea that, if you think you’re not doing so great, look at these folks. Avoid these kind of shows at all cost. Exalting oneself by looking at the failings of others is not to be our measuring stick. Keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus and imitation of Him is our salvation.