Posted by Frank
I mentioned in the last post in this series that I was jumping from the frying pan and into the fire when I set aside Blaise Pascal's Pensées and picked up The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis. Keep in mind that my intended mission in all this reading was to come up with ammunition proving how misguided and error-filled Catholicism is.
As Webster has written in an earlier post, there are many pathways to God. He cited this exchange between our Pope, Benedict XVI, and journalist Peter Seewald:
Seewald: How many ways are there to God?
Cardinal Ratzinger: As many as there are people. For even within the same faith each man’s way is an entirely personal one. . . .
The funny thing about that quote is that one of the main things I intended to try to prove was that the personal relationship with God was missing-in-action in the Catholic Church. So when I picked The Imitation of Christ off the Harvard Five-Foot Shelf, I was completely unprepared for the depth and breadth of personal relationship with Christ that is possible from the Catholic perspective.
Let's just take a look at the outline of the book, in four parts as follows:
Book One: Thoughts Helpful in the Life of the Soul
Book Two: The Interior Life
Book Three: Internal Consolation
Book Four: An Invitation to Holy Communion
I haven't even read a word yet, but already I know that there is going to be much rich food here. Book One for example has 25 chapters, most of which are the length of a short essay. Here are the first few titles: Imitating Christ and Disposing All Vanities on Earth, Having a Humble Opinion of Self (Marines are known for humility, not!), The Doctrine of Truth, Prudence in Action, Reading the Holy Scripture, Unbridled Affections, Avoiding False Hope and Pride, Shunning Over-Familiarity, and so on.
The book begins with the following sentence comprised mostly of a verse from John (8:12), "He who follows Me walks not in darkness" says the Lord. Uh-oh, I'm about to be schooled in scripture by a Catholic again!
Thomas continues as follows: By these words of Christ we are advised to imitate His life and habits, if we wish to be truly enlightened and free from all blindness of heart. Let our chief effort, therefore, be to study the life of Jesus Christ. I'm already thinking that this makes all kinds of sense. Who better a model to study than Jesus? This guy is on to something.
The teaching of Christ is more excellent than all the advice of the saints, and he who has His spirit will find in it a hidden manna. Now, there are many who hear the Gospel often but care little for it because they have not the spirit of Christ. Yet whoever wishes to understand fully the words of Christ must try to pattern his whole life on that of Christ.
There are plenty of times where "the words of Christ" are downright painful to hear, especially when you start trying to put them in practice. With that idea in mind, Thomas hits me with paragraph #3:
What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility, you displease the Trinity? Indeed it is not learning that makes a man holy and just, but a virtuous life makes him pleasing to God. I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it. For what would it profit us to know the whole Bible by heart and the principles of all the philosophers if we live without grace and the love of God? Vanity of vanities and all is vanity, except to love God and serve Him alone.
I love the Old Testament book Ecclesiastes, so "vanity of vanities" strikes a chord with me immediately. Then Thomas throws paragraph #4 at me,
This is the greatest wisdom -- to seek the kingdom of heaven through contempt of the world. It is vanity, therefore, to seek and trust in riches that perish. It is vanity also to court honor and to be puffed up with pride. It is vanity to follow the lusts of the body and to desire things for which severe punishment later must come. It is vanity to wish for long life and to care little about a well-spent life. It is vanity to be concerned with the present only and not to make provision for things to come. It is vanity to love what passes quickly and not to look ahead where eternal joy abides.
OK. After that paragraph, I'm on the ropes and stumbling around like some rookie fighter who has wandered into the ring with the mid-1960s Muhammed Ali. Sheesh! And this fight is only going for one round because paragraph 5 settles it with a knock out punch:
Often recall the proverb: "The eye is not satisfied with seeing nor the ear filled with hearing."(Ecclesiastes 1:8) Try, moreover, to turn your heart from the love of things visible and bring yourself to things invisible. For they who follow their own evil passions stain their consciences and lose the grace of God.
It's time to get back to work on these stairs, if I can think straight after this bout!