A Book for All Seasons

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis is, after the Bible, perhaps the best-known work of Christian spirituality, and one that I continually return to, not only in the penitential season of Lent but all year long. It is a work alternately blunt yet consoling, spiritual yet realistic. Here then are some excerpts from recent meditations:

A truly spiritual man does not consider by whom he is tried, whether by his superior, his equal, or his inferior; whether by a good and holy man, or by a perverse and wicked person. But however great or frequent the trial that besets him, and by whatever agency it comes, he accepts it gladly as from the hand of God, and counts it all gain (III.19).

Gratitude is one of the great hallmarks of the noble mind, a fact attested to by Christian writers like Samuel Johnson and pagans like Epictetus. It is also interesting how closely gratitude is allied with humility. On this score, Thomas writes:

[W]hoever has received abundant gifts may not on that account boast of his merits, nor exalt himself above his fellows, nor despise  any who are less richly endowed; for the greater and better a man is, the less he attributes to himself, and the more humbly and devoutly he returns thanks to God (III.22).

And perhaps most pertinent is Thomas’ chapter “On the Evils of Curiosity,” which seems attuned to today’s world of limitless preoccupation, however irrelevant, with the affairs of others:

Beware of vain curiosity… and do not busy yourself in profitless matters; what are they to you?…. What concern is it of yours whether a man is good or evil, or what he says and does? You will not be called on to answer for others, but you will certainly have to give a full account of your own life.  Why, then, must you meddle where you have no need? (III.24).

This is a sober antidote to the increasing censoriousness and invective of the public square, especially in an age when the notion of “tolerance” (contrary to the original sense of the word) has become hypocritical and politicized. Along similar lines I direct readers to this fine meditation by a blogger I have long followed. Pax vobiscum.

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