My guest blogger this week is Thomas à Kempis (c. 1380–1471), who wrote The Imitation of Christ—the most popular spiritual book, they say, after the Bible. It was a favorite of St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and my mother.
I have her copy, in which she highlighted her favorite passages. Because it was on the “grownup” bookshelf, it was the first spiritual book I read. A Kempis’ realistic approach to the spiritual life paved the way for me to enter the Catholic Church 20 years later.
So, why read him now? Well, it’s still a classic. And because the emotional aftershock of recent happenings has left many unsettled and anxious. But à Kempis reminds us that if we lose peace, we lose Jesus. And he’s a master at showing how to keep the Prince of Peace first in our hearts.
What’s humility, and what isn’t it?
Before we dive in, there’s one line in what I’ll share with you that needs some ’splaining: the virtue of humility gets a bad name in modern times because it’s misunderstood as weakness or passivity in the face of injustice. Or people think it means putting ourselves down.
Humility is this: trying our best to see ourselves as God sees us, no better and no worse. That is, we’re made for union with God in glory (can we get any more valuable than that?), but in this fallen world we sometimes turn our back on God in ways that steal our peace.
When à Kempis says we need to consider ourselves “the lowest of men,” he just means that the more we realize our dependence on God for all our good (that’s humility, because it’s true, isn’t it?), the more we will live out the glory of God even now. The greatest saint of all proclaimed that God has scattered the proud (those who try to do good things by their own power alone) and lifted up the lowly (those who depend on God and most greatly share in his glory).
Remember that humility is great strength. It means the power of God Almighty is working through us—which gives us loads of the only power worth having. I hope the words of Thomas à Kempis bring you peace as we continue to build up the Kingdom of God on earth through virtuous living in a less-than-perfect world filled with less-than-perfect people—like ourselves. :)
From The Imitation of Christ
Do not care much who is with you and who is against you; but make it your greatest care that God is with you in everything you do. Have a good conscience, and God will defend you securely; no one can hurt you if God wishes to help you.
If you know how to suffer in silence, you will surely receive God’s help. Since he knows best the time and the way to set you free, resign yourself to him, for God helps you and frees you from all confusion. It is often good for us, and helps us to remain humble, if others know our weaknesses and confront us with them.
When a man humbles himself for his faults, he more easily pleases others and mollifies those he has angered.
God protects and frees a humble man; he loves and consoles a humble man; he favors a humble man; he showers him with graces; then, after his suffering, God raises him up to glory.
He reveals his secrets to a humble man and in his kindness invitingly draws that man to himself. When a humble man is brought to confusion, he experiences peace, because he stands firm in God and not in this world. Do not think that you have made any progress unless you feel that you are the lowest of all men.
Above all things, keep peace within yourself, then you will be able to create peace among others. It is better to be peaceful than learned.
The passionate man often thinks evil of a good man and easily believes the worst; a good and peaceful man turns all things to good.
A man who lives at peace suspects no one. But a man who is tense and agitated by evil is troubled with all kinds of suspicions; he is never at peace with himself, nor does he permit others to be at peace. He often speaks when he should be silent, and he fails to say what would be truly useful. He is well aware of the obligations of others but neglects his own.
So be zealous first of all with yourself, and then you will be more justified in expressing zeal for your neighbor.
You are good at excusing and justifying your own deeds, and yet you will not listen to the excuses of others. It would be more just to accuse yourself and excuse your neighbor.
If you wish others to put up with you, first put up with them.
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This edition includes commentary and a reader’s guide. It’s a go-to classic you can crack open anywhere and be
brought back to your peace in Christ. It’s a book that helped St. Thérèse become a saint!
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