Thanks to Thomas à Kempis I

Posted by Webster
Jesus asks us to become like little children; he doesn’t ask us to be childish. I imagine it’s easy for a convert like myself to fall into temptation when the first rush of conversion is passed, when childhood ends, and the long journey of being and becoming an adult Catholic is underway. That’s where I find myself now. And sometimes I’m pretty childish.

Having rediscovered, thanks to Frank’s recent post, The Imitation of Christ, which I first read after the death of Pope John Paul I, I am dipping back into a bit each morning. Wow—it is every bit as cleansing as it was in 1978. Whatever is going on in my life, author Thomas à Kempis (left) has a way of cutting through the thicket of trivial, daily, self-centered concerns and getting at the treasure in the heart of the garden.

I picked it up again where my bookmark told me I had left off, and this morning I came to “Of the Lack of Solace and Comfort.”

It is no great thing to despise the comfort of man when the comfort of God is present. . . .

In other words, I thought, when, in the springtime of conversion, things are going great with God, who needs friends? Who needs life to cooperate?

. . . But it is a great thing, and indeed a very great thing, that a man should be so strong in spirit as to bear the lack of both comforts, and for the love of God and for God’s honor should have a ready will to bear desolation of spirit and yet in nothing to seek himself or his own merits.

There have been times in the past few months, including some this week, when the desire to pray has run dry, when the daily hour of Adoration seems nothing more than another daily hour, when it’s all I can do to get my body to mass. If those times coincide with easy living—friends are understanding, the money is flowing, along with the wine, and the Patriots are on a roll—no problem! But couple such a dry period with friends and loved ones who seem not to get it, let those dry periods come when finances seem tightest or the weather coldest, let those periods come during a losing streak, and then, as Dad used to say, it’s Katie, bar the door!

As usual, Thomas à Kempis has an answer—not an easy answer, but an answer nonetheless:

When spiritual comfort is sent to you by God, take it humbly and give thanks meekly for it. But know for certain that it is the great goodness of God that sends it to you, and not because you deserve it. . . .

When comfort is withdrawn, do not be cast down, but humbly and patiently await the visitation of God, for He is able and powerful to give you more grace and more spiritual comfort than you first had. Such alteration of grace is no new thing and no strange thing to those who have had experience in the way of God. . . .

The Holy Spirit comes and goes after His good pleasure . . .

There is no better remedy than patience, with a complete resignation of our will to the will of God.

I think of men I admire, and I wonder how they handle(d) the dry periods: Father Barnes, living alone in a rectory big enough to house the six priests who once lived there; Father Matthew, a Trappist for as long as I’ve been alive, since 1951; my grandfather, Dan Bull, who bravely outlived two sons and two wives; my father, Dave Bull, whose diagnosis of terminal melanoma plunged him suddenly into an unaccountable world of fear, loneliness, and love—How did each of them respond when life was hardest and God seemed most distant?

They probably had their childish periods, but I like to think they had their Thomas à Kempis moments, as well.

I never yet found any religious person so perfect that he did not experience at some times the absence of grace or some diminishing of fervor. . . . He is not worthy to have the high gift of contemplation who has not suffered some tribulation for God. . . .

And therefore the Lord says: To him who overcometh I shall give to eat of the tree of life.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    Timeless Classic that needs to be on everyone's shelves (or hard drives/kindle). Download it as a.pdf or read it on-line below. Copy & paste this link into your browser window.http://www.ccel.org/ccel/kempis/imitation.i.html

  • Mary P.

    Wow, I can't believe you posted this this morning! Yesterday I felt like I hit a brick wall going 90 mph. The last straw(s) was when 2 editors kicked work back to me yesterday morning for revisions. I'd never had trouble hitting the mark before, and I couldn't figure out why this knocked me flat. Then I considered everything else going on in my life, and other issues that I've been "successfully" dealing with, only because of the grace of God. Any single issue would have been okay, but with all of them, well, I guess it's okay for a mere human to be overwhelmed! So this morning, I went to Mass and and prayed for the strength to accept these changes in my life. And when I came out of Mass, I felt a peace that only comes through Him. And I know that He will see me through.So now I'd better get started on those revisions! Keep up the great work, Webster and Frank! Clearly, the Lord is using you both for His work!

  • Webster Bull

    Thanks, Mary, and thanks to my blogging partner, Frank, who reminded me of the book. Just picking it up and opening it, I felt the flood of peace I first experienced reading it 31 years ago.

  • Mary P.

    Well, I guess I just have to add another book to my shelf! Now where will I find the time to read all these great books? I'm still on Chapter 3 of Orthodoxy!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12442813565745123497 MUJERLATINA

    @Webster: I'm a "technology immigrant", so bear with me. Here's an inspirational video testimony that capsulizes how we can respond to tribulations as Catholic Christians. Enjoy the video!http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=th6Njr-qkq0

  • Webster Bull

    We may have to read The Imitation over at YIMC Book Club!

  • Webster Bull

    Dear Mujerlatina, Thanks for the fantastic video link to "99 Balloons." Can anyone tell me how to publish a "live" link in the comments section so you can just click on it? Meanwhile, please cut & paste the URL, because 99 Balloons is definitely worth seeing.

  • Anonymous

    Webster (and Mujerlatina),Thank you for the reference to "99 balloons." Fresh tears shed for my daughter who only lived 2 days. Nearly 24 years ago! This blog is a treasure trove….Sheila (yes, from choir)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08532906102654768874 William

    No doubt about it, Thomas A Kempis is full-strength Catholicism. If you've not already done so, Webster, read the earlier works of Thomas Merton. One does wonder why he was called to an untimely death.

  • Webster Bull

    Wm,Thanks. I have read Seven Storey Mountain, and of course it's wonderful, a classic. I have also read "The Life You Save May Be Your Own," a combo-bio of Merton, Day, O'Connor, and Percy–four twentieth-century American Catholic writers–which taught me more about Merton and also turned me on to Dorothy Day. I'd be happy to hear some other Merton suggestions from you or other readers.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    "No Man Is An Island" and "The New Man" are very good too.

  • Anonymous

    I read Imitations everyday. I have read it many times. Many Saints including St Therese of the child Jesus read the Imitations and kept it on her person.

  • Anonymous

    You can also get an audiobook version at librivox.org

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05059945211046227540 G. Clay

    My first copy of The Imitation of Christ was given to me by a nun 25 years ago. That meeting with the nun sparked my first awakening to Catholicism (I was raised Episcopal) and finally lead to my conversion 2 years ago. Only recently have I started to read another book written by Kempis: "The Imitation of Mary." It's not so much an imitation as it is a tender, heartfelt, and eloquent tribute to Mary. A must have if you are devoted to the Blessed Mother.

  • Webster Bull

    Thanks, G. Clay,I did not know anything about "The Imitation of Mary." I will look for it. The Blessed Mother is still a bit of a mystery to this former Episcopalian, also two years a Catholic.