Bishop Hying

If grounded in the love of Christ, everything else falls into harmony, right relationship

As published in the Northwest Indiana Catholic on November 12, 2017


       I recently discovered my mother’s copy of the “The Imitation of Christ,” a spiritual classic authored by Thomas a Kempis, (1380-1471) a priest who lived  during the surging of the Devotio Moderna, a reform movement in the Catholic Church which focused on a renewal of apostolic witness, prayer, humility, simplicity and devotion to Christ, especially among the laity. 

       For the majority of its history, Catholicism has had a devotional side, expressed in Eucharistic processions, veneration of the saints, the Rosary, various litanies, retreats and days of recollection and associations of the faithful dedicated to a particular spiritual cause. Our faith can never be solely intellectual or moral; we need to feed the emotional desire of our hearts for with God. Thinking, feeling, acting and willing with the heart, mind and soul all lead us to the Lord.

       In the context of contemporary language and societal norms, “The Imitation of Christ” may seem harsh, severe, a little too world-denying and penitential, but anytime I have picked it up, precious gems of spiritual insight fall from the pages, especially regarding humility and surrender. Following are several quotes from the book.

       “Everyone, it is true, wishes to do as he pleases and is attracted to those who agree with him. But if God be among us, we must at times give up our opinions for the blessings of peace. Furthermore, who is so wise that he can have full knowledge of everything? Do not trust too much in your own opinions, but be willing to listen to those of others.”  (Book One, Chapter Nine)

       “It is good for us to have trials and troubles at times, for they often remind us that we are on probation and ought not to hope in any worldly thing. It is good for us sometimes to suffer contradiction, to be misjudged by others even though we do well and mean well. These things help us to be humble and shield us from vainglory. When a person of good will is afflicted, he realizes clearly that his greatest need is God, without whom he can do no good.”  (Book One, Chapter Twelve)

       Thomas Merton, an American Trappist monk and a prolific author, wrote often of the spiritual journey as the death of the false self. In the constant whirl of our minds and hearts, we often are busily making plans, pronouncing judgments, seeking control, wanting approval and avoiding pain - in short, thinking that we are in charge. 

       Through prayer, surrender and humility, that noisy false self slowly dies away so that our true self, that inner person known and loved by God, can emerge. If we gauge our sense of self-worth and self-definition solely by human opinion, both our own and that of others, we will never escape the trap of illusion and fear.

       “The Imitation of Christ” bids us to set aside our delusional grandiosity and self- importance and to let God empty us out, so that we can be filled with the Holy Spirit. In such a pursuit of holiness, setbacks, contradictions, criticisms and failures actually become like sand paper to the soul, painful but necessary, as our rough edges of egoism are smoothed away. The saints found God so compellingly loveable that they could leave their egos behind. 

       The saints were so empty of the false self, that God and other people became their unconditional love.  In an age of tedious self-assertion and tell-all autobiography, the lives of the saints narrate a far more interesting story - the divine romance of God’s love for us.

       “The Imitation of Christ” speaks beautifully about our love for Jesus as the spiritual center and compelling passion of our lives. If we are grounded in the love of Christ, everything else falls into a beautiful harmony of right relationship and profound fulfillment.

       "When Jesus is near, all is well and nothing seems difficult. When he is absent, all is hard. When Jesus does not speak within, all other comfort is empty, but if he says only a word, it brings great consolation. It is a great art to know how to converse with Jesus, and great wisdom to know how to keep him. Be humble and peaceful, and Jesus will be with you.  Be devout and calm, and he will remain with you.” (Book Two Chapter 8)

       “Jesus has always many who love his heavenly kingdom, but few who bear his cross. He has many who desire consolation, but few who care for trial. He finds many to share his table, but few to take part in his fasting. All desire to be happy with him; few wish to suffer anything for him. Many follow him to the breaking of bread, but few to the drinking of the chalice of his passion. Many revere his miracles; few approach the shame of the Cross. Many love him as long as they encounter no hardship; many praise and bless him as long as they receive some comfort from him. Those who love him for his own sake and not for any comfort of their own bless him in all trial and anguish of heart as well as in the bliss of consolation. What power there is in pure love for Jesus - love that is free from all self-interest!”  (Book Two, Chapter Eleven)

       If we remain faithful to the spiritual quest, God will gradually take away our illusions, grandiosity, fears, sins and sadness. Our life is all about with the Lord, so the further we enter into the heart of Christ, the more fully ourselves we become.

       When have you most truly felt yourself?  Is it not the moments of love, prayer, grace, forgiveness and service, when we forget ourselves and taken up into joyous glimpses of our destined with God? 


       + Donald J.Hying

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