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A Beacon of Light… What The World Needs Now

November 15, 2022 Frontpage No Comments


(Editor’s Note: Fr. Richard D. Breton Jr. is a priest of the Diocese of Norwich, Conn.)

  • + + The world, as we know it, is deteriorating before our eyes and society is oblivious to this occurrence. So often we hear people discussing worldwide affairs and there ensues a debate of what the future will be like. In the end, the question that seems to linger in people’s minds is this: What does the world need today?
    The answer is quite simple, really. What the world needs is a return to the authentic belief of what it means to follow Christ. Finding what it means to follow Christ, requires knowing who Christ is. One of the greatest literary works of Catholic antiquity is The Imitation of Christ. This literary work was written and published in 1418 by the German-Dutch monk and scribe, Thomas Hemerken of Kempen, better known as Thomas à Kempis (1380 to July 25, 1471).
    After Sacred Scripture, this work has had worldwide popularity since its original publication and has become the most well-known devotional aid in living the spiritual life. The Imitation of Christ is known, loved, and admired the world over. In a preface to an 1873 edition of the book it reads, “The Imitation of Christ has received the unqualified approbation of every learned and pious ornament of the Church; it is still held in as high estimation by people of every denomination as it was at any time since it came from the pen of Thomas à Kempis.” A century prior, French author Fontenelle described it as, “The most excellent production that ever yet issued from the hand of man.”

Amending Our Lives

The Imitation of Christ is broken up into four distinct, yet intertwined Books, where each focuses on a certain aspect of the Christian life. In Book I, Kempis writes about useful admonitions for the spiritual life. This section is broken down into 25 chapters devoted to things like following Christ as our model, having a humble opinion of oneself, truth, prudence, obedience, on the advantage of not having everything our way, temptation, meditating on death, the Last Judgment, and an amendment of our whole lives.
This first section shows us how to despise the vanities of the world, avoid pride, and appreciate the advantages of obedience, adversity, and solitude. Its object is to raise us above the world and lead us to Jesus, Himself.
Early in the first chapter, dedicated to Christ as our model, we find the following: “His teaching surpasses all that the Saints have taught, and he who has the Spirit will find in it ‘the hidden manna.’ But it happens that many, who often hear the Gospel, experience but little desire for it, because they do not possess the Spirit of Christ. For if you would completely, and with delight, enter into the meaning of Christ’s words, you must take pains to bring your life into entire conformity with His” (Imitation, chapter 1, paragraph 2). Taking this into account, the first Book basically deals with knowing who we are in relationship to Christ and our neighbor. Each of us is a spiritual child of our Lord, and as such, He is to be our focus.
So often in life, we focus on ourselves or on others. Doing this distracts us from where our real focus should be. Book I of the Imitation ends by reminding us of the following: “Watch yourself, stir yourself up, warm yourself; whatever your obligation to others, do not neglect your own soul. The more restraints you put on yourself, the more spiritual progress you will make and the greater your attachment to will of God” (Imitation, book I, chapter 25, paragraph 11).
After learning how to avoid the vanities of the world, Books II & III are an invitation inside our very selves. Entitled Consideration for Leading An Interior Life, this section presents us with twelve areas of reflection concerning our interior life. The second book focuses on the life to be led by a follower of Christ, with the reminder that no one is richer, more powerful, or freer than the one who can renounce all and set himself in the lowest place. It opens with the following:
“ ‘The kingdom of God is within you,’ saith the Lord. Turn you with your whole heart unto the Lord, and forsake this miserable world, and your soul shall find rest. Learn to despise outward things, and to give yourself to inward, and you shall feel the Kingdom of God arise within you. For the Kingdom of God is joy and peace in the Holy Ghost; and this is not given to the wicked. Christ will come to you and reveal to you His consolation, provided that you prepare for Him a worthy dwelling within you. All His glory and beauty are from within, and there He delights Himself. Many visits He makes to the inner man, and holds sweet colloquies with the soul, soothing it, filling it with peace, and admitting it to an exceedingly wonderful familiarity with Him” (Imitation, book II, chapter I).
Some of the interior issues that are tackled include: conversion, humble submission, peace, purity of mind and intention, knowing yourself, joy of good conscience, loving Jesus above all things, friendship with Jesus, the want for comfort, gratitude for God’s grace, lovers of the Cross, and the royal road of the Cross. Our Lord reminds us that “The Reign of God is in your midst” (Luke 17:21)
The first chapter of Book II deals with interior conversion. We will only find rest in our ability to reflect on the need for conversion. The need for conversion is ultimately, a turning back to God. This does require, however, a total act of the heart in order that we can abandon the wretchedness of the world. Conversion of heart includes examining ourselves for the errors of life. Each day requires an examination of conscience to see where we have failed in following the Commandments and the Beatitudes. Together, these make up the whole of what it means to live as a faithful disciple.
After reflecting on the need for inner conversion, we need to remind ourselves that we are but servants of the Lord. Sadly, today’s society has tricked us into believing we are the “king” and Jesus is the servant. A proper understanding of conversion involves total submission. Total submission enables us to stop worrying about who is on our side or not. Being a servant of Christ means God is always on your side. If we are clear in conscience, then we can be sure God is on our side.

Too Much Noise Around Us

Turning to Book III, we are reminded of the need to listen! After recognizing the need for conversion, followed by our need for a “servant’s attitude,” Jesus invites us to listen for His voice. God speaks to us in so many different ways and sometimes it is hard to pinpoint exactly where His voice is resonating from. The inability to pinpoint the place of Jesus’ voice is because we live with too much noise around us.
Each day we are bombarded with noise! The noise that distracts us from Jesus usually involves the cardinal sins. These are pride, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth. Together they make up a great deal of the noise we experience in our lives. Maintaining a good interior life requires us to do all we can to deafen this noise that hinders us from hearing the Lord’s voice speaking to our hearts.
The Imitation of Christ concludes by drawing us closer to the Eucharist. Book IV focuses on the Blessed Sacrament and exhortations for Holy Communion. After having discerned about our attachment to things in this life and getting to know Jesus better, and our need for interior conversion, Book IV summons us to develop a reverence for the Eucharistic Lord. This is so important because the Lord Himself in the Eucharist is where we gain the strength to persevere in the spiritual life. In the end, each and all are called to an intimate relationship with the Lord.
The Imitation of Christ has so much to offer us, that each of us must take the time to read this great work of our faith. Doing so opens our hearts more to Christ and being opened more to Christ, we can become like Him.

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