The primary example of the holy fathers, as Kempis relates it, is humility (1,18). Their prayer, hard work, mortification, and poverty all resulted from this foundational trait.
Psalm 51 is one of the most famous songs of David, a primary penitential psalm. The king essentially wraps up the psalm with the words in the headline after laying out in very raw terms his sorrow for his sins, his desire to repent (asking for God’s grace to convert him), and his drive to make amends.
The holy fathers Kempis harkens back to surely took this Scripture to heart. Seeking only God’s approval, a life of contrition and humility is all they strived for. The “daily grind” was burnishing them for a heavenly reward — this is what they aspired to in this hidden life that the world could not (and still cannot) understand (at best) and even despised (at worst). Such an attitude goes against all the world preaches: “Have it your way!” “You’ve earned it!” “Just do it!” “Look out for number one!”
Rather, the fathers we are to imitate said: “Do it God’s way!” “Jesus earned it for us!” “Just do the Almighty’s will!” “The Lord is number one!”
Let us ponder often Psalm 51 as it applies uniquely to our own sins and deficiencies while considering the saints who overcame their personal challenges with transgressions and vice day by day to gain Heaven.
Stained glass window, St. Wendelin Catholic Church, St. Henry, Ohio.
Photo © Russ Martin, AKA Steeple Chaser.