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?