“For Your life is our way; and by means of a holy patience we walk to You, Who are our crown.” (IC 3,18,2) | “The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat and will bring me safe to his heavenly Kingdom.” (2 Tim 4:18)

|The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XVIII: ”How Temporal Miseries are to be Borne with Patience Imitating the Example of Jesus Christ” (second entry)

The Way, spoken about, even in the Acts of the Apostles, is the path of the disciple faithfully following Jesus, imitating Him and doing His will. We need His help to maintain “a holy patience” since the challenges of this life and the desire to receive our eternal reward can make us manifestly impatient.

|Today’s second reading: 2 Tm 4:6-8, 17-18

Maybe the last letter he wrote before his death, Paul speaks closing words of finishing the race, preaching to the Gentiles, praising the Lord for protecting him and strengthening him, then expresses full confidence that he will soon be receiving “the crown or righteousness,” that is, a heavenly reward for his extraordinary earthly labors..

|Reflection

While Paul had expressed a longing for his eternal reward, he knew he had work to do on the Lord’s behalf before being granted eternal rest (see Phil 1:22-24). He exhibited a “holy patience” through disappointment, rejection, suffering, and, ultimately, martyrdom. He awaited his glorious crown and was confident he would achieve it by faithfully living the mission the Lord had imparted to him. He knew that no outside evils could deter him if he wouldn’t let them:

What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:35, 37-39)

This should be for us a comforting thought. God is love — He cannot not love us. Only we can permit our separation from this love if we act wrongly in the trials and temptations that are sure to come. So let us patiently stay on the Way so as to, like Paul, achieve the crown as we are led “safe to his heavenly kingdom.” Please “Lord…rescue me from every evil threat.”

“For although this present life be burdensome, yet it has now become, through Your grace, very meritorious and, by following Your example and in the footsteps of Your saints, it seems more clear and more bearable to the weak.” (IC 3,18,2) | “[W]hoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.” (Mt 10:38)

|The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XVIII: ”How Temporal Miseries are to be Borne with Patience Imitating the Example of Jesus Christ” (first entry)

This book is rightly called The Imitation of Christ. The disciple here is responding to Christ’s bearing witness to His “temporal miseries” and an entire earthly existence in which He “was never without suffering” so that we “would learn patience” in our trials.

|Today’s Gospel reading: Mt 10:37-42

Here Jesus famously speaks of the necessity of His faithful followers to take up their crosses as He was bound to. The Lord demands our love before any thing or any person, including those closest to us, even if it means forfeiting this life for His sake. This then naturally flows to care and appreciation for others in the spiritual realm (the prophet) as well as those in the physical realm (the thirsty disciple).

|Reflection

The icon below portrays well the combination of quotes in the headline. There is not a canonized (or otherwise) saint who did not ultimately and definitively take up his or her cross and follow Jesus in the end. It is a requirement and a privilege for us to follow in their footsteps. Note that Jesus implies that the cross of suffering is a necessity, not an option. We are not “worthy” of Jesus in any case, but He deigned to come down to lift us up. Remember, Jesus said this:

And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself. (Jn 12:32)

Not only does He draw us to the cross, He lifts us up on the cross. He led the way and supports us in our own mini-crucifixions (“mini” because we cannot fathom the complete immolation that Jesus suffered physically and spiritually carrying the burden of all sin of all time). Our example of faithfulness and patience in suffering may well bring others to Jesus as well. In any case, as Kempis’s disciple says, our suffering is meritorious due to divine grace. Thus, we can say with Paul:

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church (Col 1:24)

Nothing is “lacking” from Christ’s sacrifice except what He deigns is required willingly of us. What a privilege it is to unite our sufferings with Christ for the forgiveness of sins and the redemption of souls. May this conviction strengthen us in our most grievous trials.

“As long as You do not cast me off forever, nor blot me out of the Book of Life; all the tribulations that will befall me will not harm me.” (IC 3,17,4) | “Look to your covenant, for the hiding places in the land and the plains are full of violence. May the humble not retire in confusion; may the afflicted and the poor praise your name.” (Ps 74:20-21)

|The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XVII: ”We Should Place All Our Solicitude in God” (third entry)

The closing words to this chapter appear above. A fitting summation: whatever difficulties we encounter in this life, may we not let it jeopardize our eternal fate in the next life..

|Today’s Responsorial Psalm: Ps 74:1b-2, 3-5, 6-7, 20-21

A psalm that starts out as a lament of devastation at an enemy’s hand, concludes with the glorification of God’s might while imploring Him to “defend your cause.” Praise of God is in order for the afflicted, the poor, and the oppressed (another reading of “humble”) as they place their trust in He who has shown His might to the Chosen People and their enemies throughout the ages.

|Reflection

In our brief time in this mortal coil, we will endure trials, tribulations, hardships, and suffering. How we bear these gives a good indication of our eternal destiny. Do we persevere as did Christ:

My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will. (Mt 26:39)

and Paul:

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us. (Rom 8:18)

or do we “kick against the goad,” that is, resist, uselessly and to our own detriment, God’s will (Acts 26:14)?

Like the Psalmist, we are to trust in the Father, praising Him always, even in the most dire circumstances. We certainly can lament these painful circumstances, crying out to the Lord in supplication, but regardless of the outcome, the only proper disposition to the Almighty is praise for who He is and what He ordains. What a tragedy if the Lord were to “blot me out of the Book of Life” due to our failings in times of trouble.

Kicking Against the Pricks – Old Paths Baptist Church

“Son, let me do with you what I will; I know what is best for you.” (IC 3,17,1) | “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.” (Mt 8:2)

|The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XVII: ”We Should Place All Our Solicitude in God” (second entry)

The first sentence in this chapter has the Christ of Kempis imparting the words above to the disciple. An appropriate opening for a chapter dedicated to the idea that we need to place our cares in God’s hands. Trust in God and let Him guide the way.

|Today’s Gospel reading: Mt 8:1-4

Coming off the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ first action is to heal a leper who boldly asks to be rid of his debilitating death sentence of a disease. Jesus gives a touch and says the word and immediately the man is made clean. He is then instructed to show himself cleansed to the priest as was the usual way for healed lepers to be reintegrated into society.

|Reflection

The Lord does know what’s best for us. He desires to make us clean. Note that Jesus touched the leper in today’s Gospel. Aside from the possibility of contracting the disease, this act made a person ritually unclean. But contact with Jesus does not diminish Him, it raises up us. He lowers Himself to lift up the person sick in body or spirit. Now, whether or not Jesus wills any specific thing for us is not for us to debate. We are to let Him do with us what He wills for our own good and to advance His kingdom. With the right disposition, in which we open wide of the doors for Christ, we know we will find healing in spirit, even if not in the flesh..

“Lord as long as my will remains right and firm in You, do with me whatever shall please You.” (IC 3,17,2) | “Not every one who says to me, `Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Mt 7:22)

|The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XVII: ”We Should Place All Our Solicitude in God” (first entry)

The thrust of this chapter is that whatever God ordains or permits to happen to us, it is for the best. Consolation or desolation, rejoicing or suffering, it is all to be accepted willingly, even joyfully. Only sin can harm us and move us away from God — it alone we ask to be preserved from.

|Today’s Gospel reading: Mt 7:21-29

This day we get the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount. After Jesus has provided this extended teaching (covering three chapters), He emphasizes the absolute necessity of listening to (that is, not just hearing, but processing) all He says and acting on it. This is the solid foundation of faith and discipleship. Simply calling out the name of the Lord while in turn ignoring or defying His teachings risks the danger of eternal damnation.

|Reflection

The first line of today’s Gospel, found in the headline, is one of my “go to” verses when defending the Catholic Faith against those who believe in “once saved, always saved.” Jesus spent His entire earthly ministry instructing His followers on appropriate actions and often warning of the dire consequences of not doing so; it is incredible that anyone could possibly think that a simple one-time affirmation of Jesus as Lord and Savior is sufficient without a lifestyle that corresponds to His directives. So, like the disciple in Kempis, we individually are to desire that “my will remains right and firm in You.” Through prayer, study (especially of Scripture and the Catechism), and spiritual direction (if possible), we strive to know God’s will and faithfully follow it with the help of the Sacraments.

I never knew you | Matthew 7:21-23 | Jesus´ sermon on the mount

“Let this be my consolation, to be willing to be deprived of all human comfort.” (IC 3,16,2) | “Though I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength, yet my reward is with the LORD, my recompense is with my God.” (Is 49:4)

|The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XVI: ”How True Comfort must be Sought in God Alone” (third entry)

Kempis wraps up this chapter by emphasizing the importance of finding consolation In God alone and His will for us, even if there is not a sensible or spiritual consolation. Simply conforming to God must be enough for us..

|Today’s first reading: Is 49:1-6

For this Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist we hear proclaimed one of Isaiah’s beautiful servant songs. How appropriate! There was no better prophet or servant of the Lord than Jesus’ cousin (see Mt 11:11). Isaiah prophesies a man called from his mother’s womb to be a “sharp edged sword…a polished arrow…a light to the nations.” He was to experience sorrow and difficulties (see the headline) but he received reward, glory, and strength from God. This could be said of all the prophets, but John, the immediate precursor of Christ, fulfills this in spades through his lifestyle (ascetic), preaching (uncompromising), suffering (intense), and death (vengeful)

|Reflection

From the womb John the Baptist received his mission. Even at that time he was inspired to leap when he first encountered Jesus, then just a few days in Mary’s womb (see Lk 1:41). Even his father, Zechariah, was moved to declare him “prophet of the Most High” who “will go before the Lord to prepare his ways” (see Lk 1:76). The die was cast; John had the most special mission of any prophet — to prepare the way for the imminent coming of the Messiah. It would not be easy, ultimately costing him his life.

John must have experienced many frustrations in his ministry. He could certainly draw a crowd, but he was not making a lot of friends of the religious class with his outspoken and harsh opinions of them (see Mt 3:7-10). He was a sharp sword, attempting to move hearts with truth that sometimes hurts. He certainly did not enjoy creature comforts with his chosen way of life, and he likely knew where his ministry was headed (all he had to do was consider the fate of the prophets in the Scriptures). His greatest consolation was knowing that he was being a faithful servant. What joy he must have felt when his cousin finally began His public ministry! He knew then that his mission was winding down and the end was likely near (see Jn 3:30).

Like John, we are called to prepare hearts for the Messiah (including our own!). In what we say and do, we are to see Jesus in others and be Jesus to others. Will we experience rejection? Guaranteed. Will the truth cause some to go away? Certainly. Will we be tempted to discouragement? Of course. But we must fulfill our mission. We are not called to a comfortable life, a lukewarm existence, here on earth. We are to toil, even if it sometimes seems in vain, knowing that our reward will be great in heaven.

File:Raphael - Saint John the Baptist Preaching.JPG
Saint John the Baptist Preaching (1505) by Raphael

“If you desire these present goods too inordinately, you will lose the heavenly and eternal goods.” (IC 3,16,1) | “How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” (Mt 7:14)

|The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XVI: ”How True Comfort must be Sought in God Alone” (second entry)

After this line, Kempis goes on to say that our attitude toward temporal things must be utility, while eternal considerations are what are to be desired. How we handle worldly matters determines the extent to which we desire and will attain unending happiness.

|Today’s Gospel reading: Mt 7:6, 12-14

As we draw near to the end of the Sermon on the Mount, we recall the great challenges to living the life of a Christian disciple that Jesus has already presented in this extended lesson. Here, the Lord provides one of His most ominous warnings: deviation from the path to holiness is easy and most folks take these dangerous side routes endangering their eternal fate. How does this happen? By not heeding what Jesus says immediately before His discussion of the two paths: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.”

|Reflection

Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms how easy it is to “desire these present goods too inordinately” thus “los[ing] the heavenly and eternal goods.” There are few passages in all of Scripture that should give us pause like this one. The Lord was a radical — there is no room for compromise for the true disciple. One must be detached from this world while fully embracing God’s will for us so that we may have joy in the next world. The Messiah is not messing around here. Neither should we.

Der breite und der schmale Weg 2008.jpg
The broad and the narrow path (original: 1866 / this version: late 20th or early 21st century)
by Charlotte Reihlen (idea) and Paul Beckmann (execution)

“Although you should possess all created goods, nevertheless you would not be happy, but in God, Who created all things, is found your beatitude and your happiness.” (IC 3,16,2) | “They followed the rites of the nations whom the LORD had cleared out of the way of the children of Israel and the kings of Israel whom they set up.” (2 Kgs 17:8)

|The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XVI: ”How True Comfort must be Sought in God Alone” (first entry)

This chapter of Kempis once again emphasizes the need for detachment from worldly goods and pleasures in favor of Eternal Truth, who is Jesus. He is to be our only consolation, whether we feel consoled or not. As the quote above says, all the world’s possessions do not come close to providing what God provides here and hereafter.

|Today’s first reading: 2 Kgs 17:5-8, 13-15a, 18

This reading from 2 Kings chronicles the fall of the Northern Kingdom (Israel) to the Assyrians and the deportation of many of its inhabitants around 721 BC. It goes on to give the reasons why this bad outcome occurred to them: chasing after other gods and participating in their rites, disobeying the commandments, rejecting statutes, and dismissing the many prophets sent to warn the people of impending destruction. Thus, “in his great anger against Israel, the LORD put them away out of his sight.”

|Reflection

The Israelians (the Israelites of the Northern Kingdom) believed they would find contentment and favor by following other nations’ worship of false gods. This is an ongoing problem for the Chosen People even these five hundred or more years after the Exodus. And it’s a problem even today, growing even greater still. Consider the “created goods” we hold to indispensable status: smart phones, extra and/or fancy cars, TVs and video, expensive vacations, certain food and drink,…the list goes on. Our striving for these and the next “must have” consumer item or “must see TV (or YouTube or TikTok)” can’t but take our eyes off of the ultimate prize: our Heavenly Father. And I am not just referring to eternal happiness with Him in Heaven, but also the necessary help He gives us here below to fill the God-sized space inside of us with which He designed us. How many times have we heard the sad stories of the rich and famous who ultimately found only trouble and heartache with their fortunes? Let us learn our lesson here from the sister of Lazarus and Martha and not be consumed with or distracted from what is most important:

Mary sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” (Lk 10:39-42)

Johannes (Jan) Vermeer - Christ in the House of Martha and Mary - Google Art Project.jpg
Christ in the House of Martha and Mary (1655) by Johannes (Jan) Vermeer

“Grant that I may die to all things that are in the world, and for your sake, may I love to be despised and ignored in this world.” (IC 3,15,4) | “[D]o not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.” (Mt 10:28)

|The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XV: ”How We are to Regulate Ourselves, and What We are to Say in Every Desirable Thing” (fourth entry)

We close out this chapter with another message of mortification and submission to God’s will. Kempis knows well the Gospel and the call to discipleship that necessarily entails rejection and suffering. This is to be embraced, though, while creature comforts and personal adulation are to be shunned.

|Today’s Gospel reading: Mt 10:26-33

What we have in today’s Gospel are some of the instructions from Jesus to the twelve apostles after commissioning them to go out and preach, heal, and exorcise demons. The Lord makes no bones about the fact that they will be persecuted. They must be courageous in the face of this, though, and not hold back on the complete message of the Good News. “Do not be afraid”!, He says. Fear and compromise have eternal consequences for those who persist in these ways.

|Reflection

Fully embracing Christ and the Truth He is and taught is ever more vehemently opposed by the culture of our day. Jesus warns against giving in to the prevailing antagonism despite the promise of persecution (see also Mk 10:29-30). These few moments we spend on earth are nothing in comparison to eternity but this time fully determines our eternal disposition. Kempis suggests that our response must be more than tolerating the abuse that is sure to come for living and proclaiming the Gospel; actually, we are to “love to be despised and ignored.” One way to prepare ourselves for these difficulties is to “die to all things that are in the world.” That is, not only material things, but also to compliments, accolades, good wishes, and so on. Not that we shouldn’t gratefully accept these (always remembering Who gets the credit), but we are not to become attached to them, count on them, or regret when they are not forthcoming. Like Paul, we must keep our eyes on the prize, come what may in this life:

I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ. (Phil 3:8)

I consider life of no importance to me, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to bear witness to the gospel of God’s grace. (Acts 20:24)

Twelve Apostles male men
Jesus and his disciples (A scene from the movie Son of God.)

“Lo, I am your servant, ready to obey you in all things; for I do not desire to live for myself but for You; oh, that I could do so, in a worthy and perfect manner!” (IC 3,15,2) | “[H]is mother kept all these things in her heart.” (Lk 2:51b)

|The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XV: ”How We are to Regulate Ourselves, and What We are to Say in Every Desirable Thing” (third entry)

Above, find the closing words of Christ to the disciple. This is to be the attitude of the Christian: one of striving for “worthy and perfect” service to the Lord trumping any personal desire that would impede that mission.

|Today’s Gospel reading: Lk 2:41-51

For this Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary, it is fitting that we highlight the last words of the episode of the finding of Jesus in the temple at the age of twelve. This Gospel tells the familiar story of how, on the return trip from the Holy Family’s annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover, Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem unbeknownst to His parents. Mary and Joseph search for Him for three days before finding Him interacting with the priestly class in the temple. In response to their expression of anxiety, Jesus responds as though they should have expected Him to be “in my Father’s house.” He then obediently goes with them. All this prompts Mary’s response above.

|Reflection

Kempis’s Christ implores the disciple to serve Him well while bemoaning the fact that he is unable to serve his Master worthily and perfectly. The Christian disciple need only look to the Blessed Mother for the exemplar of worthiness and the epitome of perfection. From the moment of her conception she was the spotless instrument of God who would conceive and bear His only Son. Her “Fiat!” as a young teenager set her course for the rest of eternity. Yet she didn’t receive all at once a revelation of all that would happen to her and her Son in their earthly lives. She pondered events in her immaculate heart, a heart that, we are told just a few verses earlier. would be pierced (see Lk 2:35). A heart that the baby Jesus and, I wager, the child Jesus, the adolescent Jesus, and the adult Jesus, rested His head against often. Every beat was for Him.

This is what we should dare to approach in our lives. Every word honoring the Lord, every action according to God’s will, every heartbeat an expression of love. And perfect trust in Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!