The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XXXII: “Denying Ourselves and the Renunciation of all Cupidity” (second entry)
Kempis’s Christ calls the words above a “short and perfect saying” and goes on to say that “when you shall have put it into practice, you will understand all things.” The disciple agrees about its perfection, but realizes that achieving it is a long and difficult process.
|Today’s Gospel reading: Jn 12:24-26
Appropriately, the Gospel for today’s feast of the deacon and martyr St. Lawrence speaks of death unto new life. The grain of wheat that dies in the earth is a seed that brings forth much good fruit. Total dedication to Jesus requires renouncing base things to follow Him so that He will always be with us and so that the Father will honor us. The reward: eternal life.
“Forsake all.” “Hate” this life. We might think these thoughts when things are going very badly for us, but most persons cling to life even in the most dire circumstances and wish for happiness and contentment here on earth. So why so much emphasis in The Imitation of Christ and the Gospels — seemingly — on the detestability of created things? Didn’t God make everything good (read Gen 1 again).
Now, certainly we have here exaggeration for effect. Jesus Himself enjoyed the good things of this world to the point that some called Him “a glutton and a drunkard” (see Lk 7:34). When we are struck with confusion at such implications, we should remember the first beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:3). Both sides of the equation tie in to that on which we are focusing today. “Poor in spirit” simply means detachment from created things. We can and should give glory to God for the beauty in creation, but we are to prefer nothing to God Himself and we must not let the least little thing hinder us from what should be our only and ultimate goal (the second part of this beatitude: unending union with God who desires the same thing — see 1 Tim 2:3-4). Like St. Lawrence, we are to deem the current life of little value and gladly give it up for the sake of the Kingdom, even if it means extreme hardship for us for keeping the Faith. Is it easy to do this? the concupiscence that we inherited due to Original Sin makes it difficult — the lure of sensual pleasure is strong. Like Kempis’s disciple, we recognize this to be a constant battle. There will be advances and fall back, like most any skirmishes. Yet we must persevere in prayer, penance, fasting, alms-giving, and the sacraments (Confession and Eucharist). Fighting the good fight to the end leads to final victory that can never be taken away from us.