|The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XIII: ”The Obedience of a Humble Subject Following the Example of Jesus Christ” (first entry)
While this chapter deals specifically with the proper attitude toward and relationship with an earthly religious superior, it applies to us all, since there is no one who doesn’t have a heavenly religious superior: Jesus. Radical humility. perfect obedience, and detachment from the world are keys to assuming the role of a simple sister or brother in Christ. In the passage above, Kempis emphasizes the need to keep the flesh in line in order to do our God-given duties well.
The Sermon on the Mount continues with a stern warning from Jesus:regarding adultery: it is not simply the physical act that incurs guilt, but even looking lustfully at another or committing other indecent acts convicts one as well. The penalty for obstinate sin: Gehenna (Hell); if necessary. one must take drastic measures to put the flesh into submission, as the headline states. In this chapter, the Lord takes the opportunity to more broadly apply the precepts of the Law, looking not just at outward actions but also what is in the heart and mind.
If we do not have “true contempt” of ourselves, it can be very difficult to avoid the lure of temptation to sin and impurity that we find, in our concupiscence, immensely appealing. Now Jesus does not mean that we should mutilate ourselves physically (He is using classic overstatement to drill in a point); rather, He wants to clearly and emphatically raise awareness of the scourge of sin in our lives, and the seriousness with which we must deal with it. One unrepented mortal sin cuts off a person from God for all eternity. Mortifying ourselves here and now and maintaining constant vigilance of the lure of “flesh and blood” help to keep us on the straight and narrow, give us the ultimate freedom, and prepare us for eternal bliss.