With the exception of the Bible, it is perhaps the most widely read spiritual book in the world. It was first published anonymously in 1418 and consists of a series of counsels of perfection that are as relevant today as they were when it was written.
It is The Imitation of Christ, and every Catholic should own a well-thumbed and much-consulted copy!
When its author, Thomas à Kempis, was a boy, he attended a school operated by the Brethren of the Common Life. He was so impressed with their spiritual ideals that he joined them when he finished his schooling; he lived the rest of his life in one of their communities. Although he carried out whatever tasks were assigned to him, Thomas preferred to devote his time to reflection, prayer, reading, training new brothers, and copying manuscripts. He copied the entire Bible four times!
The Imitation of Christ, also sometimes called the “Following of Christ,” was meant to instruct the soul in Christian perfection, with Christ as the divine model.
The book consists of a series of counsels, written in Latin in a familiar—and even colloquial—style.
Are you wondering what practical advice The Imitation of Christ could possibly offer us today? After all, it was written at a time when books were still being copied by hand! (Gutenburg's printing press wasn't invented till about 20 years after it was first published.)
Remarkably, it's practical and useful even in a digital age.
Take a look for a moment at Chapter 4. It offers some down-to-earth advice for us digitally savvy Christians. Our civic discourse these days is compromised by what I call the "virtual mobs" created by those who rush to broadcast their opinions through posts and tweets and comments before having non-partially examined all the facts.
Here is what The Imitation would advise us:
Prudence in acting
1. We must not believe every word or follow every suggestion, but carefully and prudently weigh the matter according to God (cf. Eccl 9:16).
Unfortunately, we are often quicker to believe and repeat evil about another than what is good: that is how weak we are!
The perfect, however, do not easily believe every report, because they know human weakness, which is both very prone to evil and liable to fail in words.
2. It is great wisdom not to do things rashly, nor to persist obstinately in our own opinion.
It is also wisdom not to believe the word of everyone, nor to immediately share with others what we have heard or what has been confided to us.
Consult the wise and conscientious (cf. Tob 4:19), and seek to be instructed by someone better than you, instead of relying on your own counsel.
A good life makes a person wise before God and expert in many things.
The more humble one is and the more docile to God, the wiser and more at peace that one will be.
Spreading false reports is imprudent and uncharitable. It causes enmities, hatred, and lost friendships. God does not simply forgive a person guilty of talebearing. To receive God’s pardon, the sinner must repair the harm done and reconcile with the persons offended. Although it is easy enough to hear things, be slow in speaking about them. Prudence never repeats what is heard about another, whether true or not.
At Pauline Books & Media, we have a beautiful copy of The Imitation of Christ in luxurious leatherette to accompany you on your Lenten journey. The excerpt above is from this edition which features a reflection and prayer for each chapter. Make this the Lent that you open your heart to God through this spiritual classic!
by Jeannette de Beauvoir