“[W]e must be watchful, especially in the beginning of temptation, because then the enemy is easier overcome, if he is not suffered to come in at all at the door of the mind, but is kept out and resisted at his first knock.” (IC 1,13,5) | “God said, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.” Solomon answered: … ‘Give your servant … an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.'” (1 Kgs 3:5-6,9)

The Thirteenth Chapter of Book One of The Imitation of Christ is entitled, “Of Resisting Temptation” (1,13).  One of the lengthier chapters, appropriately it seems to me, because, as he says, life is filled with tribulation and temptation so we must learn how to deal with these and how to not give in to them.

In today’s first reading (I Kgs 3:4-13), we read of Solomon’s preparation for the throne.  As we see at the top of this post, God offered to give Solomon anything he wanted.  Apparently without hesitation, Solomon rightly recognizes that, because governing the Chosen People is such an overwhelming responsibility, and he is still a youth, he needs to be a great moral leader to the people.  He is granted that wisdom (only surpassed by Jesus in all of history) and very many material gifts as well.

Consider what we would do if given that same offer from God.  It would be a great temptation to ask for some material thing or help in some temporal matter, even something objectively good.  Solomon, per Kempis’s advice above, seems to not let the devil work on him for even a moment.  It is clear that Solomon already had plenty of wisdom coming into this situation, recognizing the magnitude of the responsibility that was now thrust upon him and what is most important for him to possess.

We can take a cue from Solomon.  It is certainly fine to petition the Lord for our earthly needs and the needs of others, although we should do this with great care as we wish to always ask for things pleasing to God.  But are we able to look beyond immediate needs and temporal matters to lasting gifts that lead to everlasting happiness for us and others?  In any case, we are wise to end with, “nevertheless, Thy will be done.”

Maybe the best answer ever to such a query from above was given by St. Thomas Aquinas in this episode:

“…Jesus in the crucifix speaks to St. Thomas and says, ‘You’ve written well of me, Thomas. What do you want as your reward?’ St. Thomas answered, ‘Non nisi te, Domine. Non nisi te.’ Nothing but you, Lord. Nothing but you.

105Solomon’s Prayer for Wisdom (c. 1655) Govaert Flinck

“Therefore should a man so establish himself in God, as to have no need of seeking human consolations.” (IC 1,12,2) | “Herod was the one who had John arrested and bound in prison on account of Herodias” (Mk 6:17)

Kempis’s words (1,12) remind me of St. Augustine’s famous quote from the beginning of his Confessions: “You move us to delight in praising You; for You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”  So often, others fail us, but God never will.  But even if were to receive all manner of well-wishes and consolations from our fellow man, it still would not fill the “God-sized hole,” as it is said, in the core of our beings.

John the Baptist found consolation in his predetermined role as precursor to the Christ.  He lived a hard life of prayer and fasting.  He told folks what they needed to hear, not what they wanted to hear.  He took on the religious leaders of his day with harsh words, certainly not making any friends there.  (It is an interesting study to read the accounts introducing John in all four Gospels: Mt 3, Mk 1:2-11, Lk 3:1-20, Jn 1:6-34)  Finally, he took on the putative king of the Jews, Herod, calling him out for his unlawful marriage to his sister-in-law.  This led to his arrest and death that is proclaimed in today’s Gospel (Mk 6:14-29).  He was content to live a difficult life, to be spurned, to be arrested, to be imprisoned, to be killed, if it was the will of God for him.  How comforted must he have been in his jail cell when he received confirmation that the one for whom his whole life was dedicated to prepare was the Messiah who was doing the good works that were promised of old of the one to be sent by God (Mt 11:2-6; see also Is 26:19; 29:1819; 35:56; 61:1).

Whatever life brings us, if we live as we are supposed to, trying to honor God in our every thought, word, and deed, living for Him, then not only will we find true consolation in this life but lasting consolation in the next.  It is not always easy to see this amidst the trials and tribulations we encounter in this mortal coil, especially when our Faith brings us persecution, but we are to be brimming with confidence that our “reward will be great in Heaven” (Mt 5:12).

Head of St. John the Baptist, 1507 - Andrea SolarioHead of St. John the Baptist (1507) Andrea Solario

An interesting article: “Where is the Head of Saint John the Baptist?

“It is good for us sometimes to have trouble and adversities: for they make a man enter into himself, that he may know that he is an exile, and not place his hopes in anything of this world.” (IC 1,12,1) | “Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them.” (Mk 6:11)

Kempis begins his chapter on the value of adversity (1,12) with the words above.  “Trouble and adversities” are not things we should seek out or cause, but they inevitably come.  The measure of a person is how he deals with them and what he does with them.

Jesus, in today’s Gospel (Mk 6:7-13), sends out His closest collaborators two by two, giving them the power to preach powerfully, carry out miraculous healings, and perform exorcisms.  Despite this, knowing that not all will be open to the message and all that accompanies it, Jesus, through personal experience (remember yesterday’s reading?) forewarns them of the resistance they will encounter (see the headline).

The Twelve must have been feeling a mix of excitement and apprehension at the thought of going it alone.  Yes, they had been with Jesus for a while now and saw Him in action, but it is another matter whatsoever to be in the lead instead of in the background.  But they do go out and meet with success — and undoubtedly failure.  Can you imagine their conversations after being rejected?  A great message and the possibility of accompanying healings are met with disdain!  This may have happened frequently.  The temptation to fall into discouragement must have been present often.  This would have been an opportunity to for each of the Apostles to, as Kempis says, “enter into himself”: Why are they doing this at all and what does it ultimately mean for them?  Jesus later provides the “otherworldly” answer when they get a bit full of themselves, adjusting their focus:

[D]o not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven. (Lk 10:20)

We should also note that this approach to evangelization puts on display once again how the Lord honors our free will (and we are to do the same).  He could have, as we might say, “cast a spell” on them to be compliant.  He does not.  Love is freely given and must be freely returned.  Certainly, grace is made available, but only to the extent that we are open to it.

Jesus prayed and fasted for forty days before beginning His public ministry (Lk 4:1-13), demonstrating for the first of many times the necessity of these elements of our spiritual life in order for us to have any lasting success in our efforts to grow closer to Him and bring others with us.  We do “not place [our] hopes in anything of this world,” but recognize that God supplies the power and any “wins” we have are because of the power of grace.

Jesus Sends

“It is good that we sometimes suffer contradictions, and that men have the wrong opinion of us, even when we do and intend well. Those things are often helps to humility, and keep us from vainglory.” (IC 1,12,1) “They said, ‘Where did this man get all this?’ … And they took offense at him.” (Mk 6:2,3)

Thomas à Kempis’s Twelfth Chapter of Book One of The Imitation of Christ is given the title, “Of the Utility of Adversity” (1,12).  Unsurprisingly for those who have read this  work even only to this point, it focuses on humility as a way to grow in holiness, that is, to become closer to God.

Today’s Gospel (Mk 6:1-6) finds Jesus back in His hometown of Nazareth, teaching in its synagogue. The folks who know Him best marvel at the wisdom of His words and the works He has done (apparently news of His healing power and exorcisms got back to them).  It is clear that they did not see this coming from this man who had grown up there and lived in their midst for over two decades.  He must have been quite unremarkable (read: humble) in His work and His manner in those years before His public ministry.

But why take “offense at him” (also rendered “scandalized” meaning that He was an obstacle to them — I’m reminded of 1 Cor 1:23)?  It seems to me that they were envious of Him — they all came from the same place yet Jesus is blessed with wisdom and power and renown.  Jesus, in turn, once again shows humility.  Per Kempis’s lesson, Jesus accepted this “wrong opinion,” even though He “[did] and intend[ed] well,” with only a brief rebuke of His hearers.  Any temptation to vainglory was kept from Jesus by the attitude of the townsfolk.

That Jesus “suffer[ed] contradictions” should be no surprise to anyone familiar with the Bible.  It is easy to imagine Jesus’ mother sitting with the crowd in the synagogue, listening in rapt attention to her Son, then being heartbroken at the people’s attitude toward Him.  But she would not be surprised.  I’m quite confident that she reflected, as she often did (see Lk 2:51), on the words of Simeon at her Son’s presentation in the temple: “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted” (Lk 2:34).

So, if Jesus, the Son of God, the Third Person of the Trinity, the sinless One, can accept being contradicted, scorned, and rejected in His desire to usher in the Kingdom of God, should we, with all of our sins and faults, expect any less an attitude toward us when we spread the Word (“where did you get all this?” they will say) and endeavor to live holy lives?

Remember the word I spoke to you, “No slave is greater than his master.” If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. (Jn 15:20 — it is worth reading the whole section vv. 18-27)

Let us stay humble and trust in the Master.

File:John Everett Millais - Christ in the House of His Parents (`The Carpenter's Shop') - Google Art Project.jpgChrist in the House of His Parents (1849-50) by John Everett Millais

“If we strive like valiant men to stand up in the battle, doubtless we should see our Lord help us from heaven.” (IC 1,11,4) “One of the synagogue officials, named Jairus, came forward. Seeing [Jesus] he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him…[The woman with hemorrhages] had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak.” (Mk 5:22-23, 27)

Kempis precedes these words by speaking of the ease in which we are discouraged by even small adversities and thus look everywhere but the Lord for help (1,11).  While he is focusing more on the battle against the flesh (concupiscence and sin), we can easily apply the good advice found in the headline to all adversities we encounter.

What must have been the discouragement of the two persons we encounter in today’s Gospel (Mk 5:21-43), then, with their great trials?  The first, Jairus, sees his young daughter’s declining health and must wonder why the Lord would soon take his beloved child in the flower of youth.  The second, the woman with hemorrhages, had exhausted her resources, and undoubtedly her patience, in seeking help from doctors for a cure.  Both were desperate and did not count the cost of getting to Jesus.  Both fought massive crowds to get to Him.  Jairus might have been concerned about receiving grief from other religious leaders who we know, in many cases, looked at Jesus with doubt or even contempt.  The woman, likely widely known to be in a permanent “unclean” state, as the womanly period ritually rendered one, fought the crowds, regardless.  Both strove valiantly in their battle with fear, dread, sorrow, and pain, with strong faith, to seek the Lord’s help.

Let us learn well from these two souls!  We are to have no fear approaching the Lord in our desperation, regardless of our past battles, regardless of what other’s think.  Going to Jesus in our trials, whether physical or spiritual, in complete faith that He will answer our prayers in the way that is best for our immortal souls, is what He desires.  Always remember these words from Christ:

Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. (Mt 11:28)

True rest, that is, true peace of mind and heart, come only when embracing the Lord in all things.

Image result for woman  with the hemorrhage"Christ Healing a bleeding woman, as depicted in the Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter.

“For [the Lord] is ready to help them who fight and trust in His grace: who furnishes us with occasions of combat that we may overcome.” (IC 1,11,4) “Let him alone and let him curse, for the LORD has told him to. Perhaps the LORD will look upon my affliction and make it up to me with benefits for the curses he is uttering this day.” (2 Sam 16:11-12)

Wouldn’t it be so much easier to live a good life if it weren’t for our most troubling defects and the temptations that inevitably come?  Well, our fallen nature militates against doing what is truly good (see Rom 7:15-19 and the CCC on concupiscence).  What Kempis is telling us (1,11) is that when God allows enticements in our lives we are to look at these not with contempt but as an opportunity to trust in the Lord that His “grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor 12:9).  Think of it as exercise on the spiritual level: just as we lift weights to strengthen our muscles, so we encounter weighty spiritual challenges to strengthen our faith.

Today’s first reading (2 Sm 15:13-14, 30; 16:5-13) gives us just one of the consequences of David’s grievous sins surrounding the whole Bathsheba affair: his own son turns against him.  So this certain character, Shimei, associated with David’s predecessor Saul, comes out with insults against David.  The king is surrounded by his whole retinue, who wish to kill the man.  So Shimei is either extraordinarily brave, crazy, or sent by God.  David sees in this antagonist the latter: a messenger from the Lord, as we see in the headline.  David views this entire embarrassing episode as punishment from God, an opportunity to do penance, and maybe even gain favor by his own humility and humiliation.

David’s approach to all of  this provides an extraordinary lesson for us.  How difficult is it for us to receive rebuke, in any way but particularly in a public manner, even when we are in the wrong?  God works through our humble acceptance of correction and even humiliation to repair for the damage we’ve done.  But accepting it well not only helps make up for our wrongdoing, it enhances our ability to avoid such bad actions in the future.

Consider what St. Teresa of Avila said about this:

I never heard anything bad said of me which I did not clearly realize fell short of the truth. If I had not sometimes – often, indeed – offended God in the ways they referred to, I had done so in many others, and I felt they had treated me far too indulgently in saying nothing about these. (Way of Perfection, 15 taken from spiritualdirection.com).

In our fallen state, this sentiment goes against every fiber of our being.  But, with grace, nothing is impossible for us (see Lk 1:37).

“If we were perfectly dead to ourselves, and no ways entangled in worldly things: then might we be able to relish divine things, and experience something of heavenly contemplation.” (IC 1,11,3) “[Anna] never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.” (Lk 2:37)

Kempis is not shy about recommending mortification as a way to grow closer to God, as he does again here (1,11).  The more our minds are cluttered with worldly affairs, the less room there is in our lives for the Lord.

The prophetess Anna, in the episode of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple (Lk 2:22-40), exemplifies this way of being.  Having been widowed early, it may well have been sixty years or more of her living in the way described in the headline.  For her piety, she likely got not much more than some grief from others, maybe a bit of sympathy for her early loss (and, it seems, no children), and probably more than her share of curious looks and murmurs for the eccentric old lady.

It seems that she became dead to herself upon her husband’s death, relishing divine things only from that point forward.  Could she have imagined such a reward, though?!  Seeing her Savior and His parents!  Being memorialized for all time in Sacred Scripture!  Who knows, maybe she, like Simeon, was given some insight into her one day seeing the Christ.  And what does she do immediately upon this glorious occasion?  Evangelize!  The result of her encounter with the Word Made Flesh was that she “gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem” (v. 38).

This is a model for us.  Exceeding joy and thanksgiving and a burning desire to share the Good News when encountering God.  Unlike Anna, we can have this intimate experience daily at Mass, where Jesus comes to us in Word and Sacrament, preparing us for an eternal dwelling place with Him and all the angels and saints.

I am reminded of Pope St. John Paul II’s final words on his deathbed: “Let me go to the house of the Father.”  These words, and today’s reading and reflection, invoke Psalm 27:

One thing I ask of the LORD;

this I seek:

To dwell in the LORD’s house

all the days of my life,

To gaze on the LORD’s beauty,

to visit his temple. (v. 4)

Finally, this evokes one of my favorite St. Louis Jesuits songs: This Alone.

Rembrandt, “The Prophetess Anna”, 1639
The Prophetess Anna (1639) by Rembrandt