“It is no small prudence to be silent in time of misfortune, and interiorly turn oneself to Me without letting himself be disturbed the judgment of men.” (IC 3,28,1) | “[A]ll curse me…I will free you from the hand of the wicked, and rescue you from the grasp of the violent.” (Jer 15:10b,21)

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XXVIII: “Against the Tongues of Slanderers” (second entry)

This short chapter has to do with the awful way persons sometimes speak of and to one another. Our call is not to return evil for evil but, rather, we are to maintain inner tranquility by taking comfort in the Lord.

|Today’s first reading: Jer 15:10, 16-21

Jeremiah is given to recourse with the God who sent him on a mission to preach repentance to the wayward Chosen People. Jeremiah’s jeremiad laments his even being born. He says “all curse me” for the message he brings. Jeremiah began his work with enthusiasm but now only finds continuous pain. God, in reply, asks Jeremiah to repent; in doing so the people will “turn to you…they shall not prevail.” God closes with the words after the ellipsis.

|Reflection

It is certainly a part of our nature that we would like the approval of others and are hurt and angered by calumny, detraction, or other expressions of disfavor toward us. It is a part of our fallen nature to desire retaliation. Jeremiah does not speak of retaliation here, but he is profoundly discouraged. However we feel due to challenges we face from others, Jeremiah and Kempis show us the person to whom we should first appeal: the Lord God. As he did with this prophet, God restores, delivers, and rescues those who walk in His ways, do His will, and “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mk 12:31). Turning to the Lord is not the first instinct for most of us, but it is the correct approach spiritually and practically:

“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” (Lk 23:34a)

Delay is preferable to error. (Thomas Jefferson)

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn - Jeremia treurend over de verwoesting van Jeruzalem - Google Art Project.jpg
Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem (1630) by Rembrandt

“[H]e who does not desire to please men, nor fears to displease them, will enjoy much peace.” (IC 3,28,2) | “[T]he righteous will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father.” (Mt 13:43a)

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XXVIII: “Against the Tongues of Slanderers” (first entry)

This very brief chapter simply has Christ telling us that we should not be troubled in the least by those who speak ill of us. Rather we should think even worse of ourselves and simply turn to God. This approach brings true interior peace.

|Today’s Gospel reading: Mt 13:36-43

The Gospel repeats the explanation of the Parable of the Weeds and the Wheat we heard a week ago Sunday. Those inspired by the devil (the weeds) will always be troublesome to the righteous (the wheat). At the end of time, God will send His angels to separate the good and the evil, with those remaining faithful attaining eternal glory while those persisting in unfaithfulness being condemned to unending suffering.

|Reflection

The weeds (those who wish to do us ill) will always be with us. The devil takes great delight in putting these obstacles in our way, so that we might stumble and veer from the path of righteousness. Allowing persons such as these to cause us distress by their rash judgment, detraction, or calumny (see the CCC section on Offenses Against Truth from 2475-2487) is contrary to God’s desire for us. Difficult as it is to do, we must pray even more earnestly for those who wish to do us harm (certainly never to respond in kind, becoming weeds ourselves), always remembering that we have many faults, regardless, that the True Judge knows well and with whose help we must work to overcome.

But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. (Mt 5:44-45)

2nd Chances | Create With Joy

“It causes wonder that from the very bottom of your heart, you will not abandon yourself wholly to Me, with all that you can desire and possess.” (IC 3,27,1) | “Since they have provoked me with their ‘no-god’ and angered me with their vain idols, I will provoke them with a ‘no-people’; with a foolish nation I will anger them.” (Dt 34:21)

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XXVII: ”How Self-love Greatly Withdraws Us from the Sovereign Good” (third entry)

Christ calls the disciple to total dedication to Him — to desire and possess Him more than any thing in the world. Depending on where one’s love and affection lay, that is where his dedication will be. earthly desires make one a slave, depriving him of liberty. So why wouldn’t we abandon ourselves entirely to the one who provides true freedom?

|Today’s responsorial psalm: Dt 32:18-19, 20, 21

Today’s “psalm” is actually taken from very close to the end of the Torah (or Pentateuch — that is, the first five books of the Bible, also called the Law). Moses gives a final warning to this people he knows so well. they have been unfaithful in the past — falling back to their old ways in the the future will not go well for them with God.

|Reflection

Certainly, the Chosen People time and again were enticed by foreigners, subjects, and invaders to worship false gods. This always led to debauchery, subjugation, cries of repentance, forgiveness in a seemingly endless cycle.

We should not be so harsh with these people. We may not worship statues, but there is much in this world that can distract us or even consume us. What becomes our “god” — that which rises to a level that it becomes more important than the one true God? The Lord demands total abandonment to Him! This means that everything we think, say, or do should be for God’s greater glory. It has been said that St. Dominic only spoke to God or about God. Were that we were imbued with this Spirit! Of course, our work and other responsibilities may not be strictly in the religious realm. But do we do all things as well as possible, being morally upright, treating those we encounter as other Christs, and allowing Christ to shine through us? This is a tall order. We realize we can’t do it on our own. Fortunately, we have recourse to the One who strengthens us. Let us have frequent recourse to prayer, the Sacraments, and the Word to convert us, sustain us, and uplift us.

St Dominic accompanied by Simon de Montfort raising the crucifix against the Cathars by Daniel van den Dyck (1614-1663)

“Give me, O Lord, heavenly wisdom, so that I may learn to seek and find You above all things; to relish You and to love You above all created things; and to consider all other things, according to the order of Your wisdom.” (IC 3,27,5) | “Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.” (1 Kgs 3:9)

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XXVII: ”How Self-love Greatly Withdraws Us from the Sovereign Good” (second entry)

After hearing from Christ about the pitfalls of the inordinate desire for “money and riches” as well as “ambition for honor and the desire for empty praise,” the disciple asks for fortification “with the grace of the Holy Spirit” against “desires of anything vile” and then asks for wisdom, per the words in the headline.

|Today’s first reading: 1 Kgs 3:5, 7-12

We hear today the famous interaction between God and King Solomon early in his reign in which the Lord, in a dream, says: “Whatever you ask I shall give you.” Solomon responds with the sentiment above. For this expression of humility and service, God lauds the king and promises him that he will be the wisest human person to ever live. In addition, he will receive earthly “riches and glory” and a long life — if he remains righteous.

|Reflection

Wisdom is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (see Is 11:2). The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines it as a “spiritual gift which enables one to know the purpose and plan of God.” So often, as we have been working through The Imitation of Christ, it has been impressed upon us the vital importance of discerning and implementing God’s will in our lives. True wisdom, unlike worldly wisdom, consists of this knowledge. Solomon recognized his extraordinary need for wisdom in the leadership of a vast people. He also had a tough act to follow in the greatest king Israel has ever known: his father David. Like Kempis’s disciple, Solomon, in essence, asked the Lord that he “consider all…things according to the order of Your wisdom.”

Would that all those entrusted with the care of others, especially leaders of nations, governments, and all representatives of citizens, desire heavenly wisdom! Our cultural decline would make a rapid reversal if it were so. And, although most of us will not wield this sort of earthly power, we also should embrace the gift of wisdom for the sake of our circle of influence, whether family, friends, the workplace, our parish, and so on. A sincere desire for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit will certainly not be denied us by the Father and the Son. Let us pray often for this virtue to “know the purpose and plan of God” and live it for the sake of God and neighbor.

The Dream of Solomon Painting by Luca Giordano
The Dream of Solomon (c. 1694-95) by Luca Giordano

“[Y]ou must give all to obtain all, and that nothing of yourself remain in you.” (IC 3,27,1) | “[W]hoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant” (Mt 20:26)

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XXVII: ”How Self-love Greatly Withdraws Us from the Sovereign Good” (first entry)

These opening words that Kempis puts on Christ’s lips are an appropriate way to begin a chapter on not being attached to worldly honors and not being zealous for profane ambitions. The disciple later responds with a plea for heavenly wisdom in dealing with the harmful allure of this transitory life.

|Today’s first reading: Mt 20:20-28

For the Feast of Saint James (the Greater), Apostle, we are presented this episode in which this man and his brother, John, ask their mother (apparently) to intercede with Jesus on their behalf regarding their desire to sit on thrones astride their Master in heaven. Jesus cannot promise them these posts, but He does ensure that they will suffer for Him in this life. Understandably, the other apostles are fuming at these two for their boldness. Jesus uses this opportunity to tell them all that they must be servants, even slaves, of others, to be considered “great” and to be ranked “first.”

|Reflection

Kenosis: literally, the act of emptying; in Christian theology it is “the voluntary renunciation by Christ of his right to divine privilege in his humble acceptance of human status” (from Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary). No one emptied himself more than the Second Person of the Trinity (see Phil 2:6). God became man. He became our servant by giving His entire self to us so that we might be able to give our entire selves to Him and to each other. Further along in Matthew, Jesus says,

Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me. And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. (Mt 25:45-46)

These are the last words of His public ministry (although one could certainly argue His cries from the cross were for all to hear as well). It is always good to note, in a special way, the message of the Gospel at the beginning and end of scenes or stories for particular insights. That is certainly the case here. Jesus leaves the public scene with the demanding call to love others and, in doing so, loving Him. Not doing so, as indicated in the passage above, has eternal consequences.

It is difficult to give up pieces of ourselves: our attachments, our goods, our time, our selfishness. The Divine Artist chips away, though, seeking to reveal the true beauty of the person made very good in the beginning. It is only in submitting to the chisel of the Heavenly Sculptor, though, that we may attain those great paradoxes of Christianity: becoming great entails becoming nothing; becoming first means becoming last; attaining fullness of life requires emptying oneself. James certainly learned this lesson: he was the first apostle to be martyred (Acts 12:1-2).

St. James the Greater, help us and pray for us!

Saint James the Greater by Dirck van Baburen on artnet
Saint James the Greater by Dirck van Baburen (1590–1624)

“O my God, let not flesh and blood prevail over me; let it not overcome me; let not the world and its transitory glory deceive me; let not the devil overreach by his devices.” (IC 3,26,3) | “The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit.” (Mt 13:22)

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XXVI: ”The Eminence of a Free Mind, which is Acquired by Humble Prayer Rather than with Much Reading” (third entry)

The disciple begs Christ to preserve him from worldly desires and glories and from the devil’s temptations (in another translation: let not “the devil trip me by his craftiness”). He goes on to ask the Lord in the next sentence: “Give me strength to resist, patience to suffer, and constancy to persevere.”

|Today’s first reading: Mt 13:18-23

Here the evangelist explains the Parable of the Sower to His disciples. Seed scattered on the path is the Word heard but not understood. Seed sown on rocky ground is the Word happily received but, with no root (overcome by worldly trials and tribulations), quickly withers. Seed that falls among thorns is the Word choked (by riches and anxieties). Finally, seed embedded in rich soil is the Word cultivated (that is. heard, understood, and taken to heart) yielding a great harvest.

|Reflection

The allure of the world can be enticing. The anxieties of the world can be consuming. This is why we should have frequent recourse to the Word of God. Keep the Bible handy! Dip into it often! Read it from cover to cover or go back again and again to a favorite book. Read the familiar scenes and stories with a fresh eye. Do not overlook even what seem to be the most inconsequential details. Find good Catholic commentaries to help with understanding.

The world need not choke us off from Jesus, the Eternal Word. He knows us better than we know ourselves; and He knows what we are experiencing because He lived with us for thirty-odd years experiencing the joys and sorrows, pleasures and sufferings of life. On top of that, He took the full brunt of every sin ever committed upon Himself. He knows. Thus, we have the gift of Him in Word and Sacrament until the end of time. Have recourse to Jesus often.

FreeBibleimages :: Parable of the sower :: Jesus tells a parable about a sower (Matthew Mark Luke Luke 8, Mark 4, Bible Crafts, Gold Rings, Seeds, Bear, Plants, Greek, Teaching

“O my God, let not flesh and blood prevail over me; let it not overcome me; let not the world and its transitory glory deceive me; let not the devil overreach me by his devices.” (IC 3,26,3) | “Two evils have my people done: they have forsaken me, the source of living waters; They have dug themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that hold no water.” (Jer 2:13)

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XXVI: ”The Eminence of a Free Mind, which is Acquired by Humble Prayer Rather than with Much Reading” (second entry)

The disciple begs Christ for His assistance in overcoming carnal desires. The pull of this world is strong but His faith in the Lord’s grace is stronger.

|Today’s first reading: Jer 2:1-3, 7-8, 12-13

This reading gives us the first words uttered by the reluctant prophet Jeremiah after being appointed by God “To uproot and to tear down, to destroy and to demolish, to build and to plant” (Jer 1:10). Jeremiah, writing in the late seventh century B.C., warns Jerusalem and the Israelites of coming disaster due to their sinfulness (Jerusalem would fall soon to the Babylonians in 587 B.C.). Here the prophet conveys the message that God bemoans the fact that His once faithful people, whom He cared for and protected, have turned to idolatry and rebellion and have forsaken Him. The “cisterns” refer to worldliness that cannot satisfy.

|Reflection

“Flesh and blood” prevailed over the Chosen People time and time again. They would go astray, be punished, declare their guilt and sorrow, be forgiven,, only to quickly forget their promise to be faithful. We should not be judgmental, though. Is this pattern of living not so often the case with us? We stumble, seek forgiveness, vow to not commit the same sins, and then quickly fall back into the trap. It is the fallen human condition. It makes us realize that without grace we can do nothing. What we must hold just as firmly is that “for God all things are possible” (Mt 19:26) and that the Lord’s “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). Thank God for His bottomless mercy. But we must want it, have a firm purpose of amendment, and ever strive to open ourselves more widely to accept His grace.

Jeremiah Preaching to His Followers - Gustave Dore
Jeremiah Preaching to His Followers by Gustave Dore (1832-1883)

“Give me, in lieu of all worldly consolations, the most delightful unction of Your spirit, and in the place of carnal love, infuse into my heart the love of Your Name.” (IC 3,26,3) | “[Christ] indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” (2 Cor 5:15)

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XXVI: ”The Eminence of a Free Mind, which is Acquired by Humble Prayer Rather than with Much Reading” (first entry)

The title given to this chapter seems misapplied as it does not pertain to its contents. The reflection in my version of the book contains two sentences that much better summarize the content of the disciple’s words: “Perfection consists in keeping ourselves applied to heavenly things. We must make use of all things solely to please God, to serve God and to bring us closer to Him.” The medicine (anointing) of the Spirit and the love of God are indispensable for this.

|Today’s first reading: 2 Cor 5:14-17

One commentary entitles this short section, “Christ’s Compelling Love.” How apt. The Paschal Mystery of Jesus, freely taken on by the Son in perfectly obeying the Father’s will, opened up the possibility that we are able to become a “new creation,” a child of God, through baptism, leading to the lifelong hope that this earthly existence ends with our entrance into eternal bliss with the Trinity.

|Reflection

I will “borrow” an excellent explication of the Bible verse in the headline from the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture series:

What does it mean to “live for” the crucified and risen Christ? Living for Christ means, in the first place, to commit our lives wholeheartedly to his service. Even more, because we have been incorporated into Christ through baptism, it means living as Jesus, the new Adam lived — in faithful obedience to God and in giving himself in love for others. Elsewhere, Paul describes this self-giving love as “not seeking my own benefit but that of the many” (1 Cor 10:33) and as striving to “please our neighbor for the good, for building up” (Rom 15:2). Indeed, he insists through his writings that love for Christ cannot be separated from loving and serving the members of his body (e.g., Rom 14:1-15:13). Notice how Paul marks out a circle of love: Jesus’ love, revealed most powerfully in his dying for us, has created the possibility of our walking in the way of self-giving love for the sake of others, and it is through such loving service to others that we express our love for him.

Thomas D. Stegman, SJ. Second Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009), 137.

The verse before this one states “the love of Christ impels us.” Kempis’s disciple asks for an infusion of “the love of Your Name.” So we are impelled to love the Lord which should, as a consequence, impel us to despise worldly things and consolations in favor of heavenly considerations and the love of others. Jesus died for us, yes, but for every other person we encounter as well. We do well to remember this, no matter how we experience those encounters, in our response to them.

image

“In everything you do consider well what you do and what you say; and direct your whole intention to this: that you please only Me, and neither desire nor seek anything out side of me.” (IC 3,25,3) | “[W]hoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Mt 12:50)

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XXV: ”In What Stable Peace of Heart and True Profit Consists” (third entry)

Here we find another response from Christ to the disciple, this time querying what he must do to find true peace. The constant refrain in this book: seek the will of the Lord and then let nothing stand in the way of implementing it.

|Today’s Gospel reading: Mt 12:46-50

This little passage gives some folks the audacity to posit that Jesus is somehow denigrating His mother by ignoring her and then lumping her in with the rest of us. Certainly, this is not the case. His mother is our exemplar in perfectly doing the will of God. Her entire life was dedicated to the Lord, and her acceptance of being His mother led to a path of joy and suffering that we cannot fathom. But every moment of her life, from conception until her reunion with her Son in heaven, was all for God. Jesus asks us to imitate her.

|Reflection

This is an opportunity to reflect on Our Lady, the Blessed Virgin Mary. No one more perfectly did God’s will than she did. Destined from all eternity to be the mother of the Incarnate Word, the Second Person of the Trinity become man, she humbly accepted this awesome gift and dedicated the remainder of her life to Jesus and then His Church. In the passage above, do we not think that the followers of Jesus knew His mother well? She was undoubtedly no stranger to His ministry. The disciples Jesus addresses here were likely in awe of His words, considering what they knew of this lovely woman who raised Jesus. now supported Him in His ministry, and would continue to be with Him, even unto torture and death. A tall order? In our fallen state, yes. Mary was “full of grace.” And so, we should strive to be like her: disposed to be open to the graces with which the Spirit desires to fill us to help us to be the persons we were created to be.

Painting
Jesus and his Disciples on the Sea of Galilee (1833) by Carl Wilhelm Friedrich Oesterley

“[P]rofit and perfection in a man consist in…offering yourself with your whole heart to the will of God, without seeking your own interests, neither in little nor in much, neither in time nor in eternity.” (IC 3,25,5) | “You have been told, O man, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you: Only to do the right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Mi 6:8)

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XXV: ”In What Stable Peace of Heart and True Profit Consists” (second entry)

Prior to this passage, Christ has told the disciple how peace is not found: by judging rashly, by feeling no burden or opposition, or by “experiencing great devotion and sweetness of spirit.” Here, the Lord says that what must be one’s disposition is simply looking to please Him without any ulterior motive outside of pure, unadulterated love.

|Today’s first reading: Mi 6:1-4, 6-8

The prophet Micah here begins an oracle of judgment on Israel. Micah lived in the late eight century/early seventh century B.C., although scholars debate whether he is speaking of those times in which he lived or prophesying about the later Babylonian exile (beginning in 587 B.C.). In any case, we have a heartsick God asking the Chosen People why they have turned against Him (as they so often did) who has done such mighty deeds throughout His association with them. Does He demand burnt offerings, or even human sacrifice as penance? No! Goodness and humility are all that is required.

|Reflection

The message of God has not changed over the eons. Nothing extravagant needs to be done to please Him. His simple mantra: Love Him above all else and love others as ourselves. The first requires humility (recognizing our status compared to His), the second requires goodness (treat others as we wish to be treated). Both fulfill the will of God in our lives. A “whole-hearted” offering that is sure to fill the hole in our hearts that can only be filled by the Lord.

Prophet Micah - Orthodox Church in America