Thomas à Kempis is one of the people whose writings helped bring me into the Church. Now that Advent is upon us, I’d like to share with you his thoughts on the Advent season.
This is from his A Meditation on the Incarnation of Christ. It’s brief and to the point and a surefire way to recollect your thoughts for the next few weeks.
Of The Desire Of The Prophets And Of Devout Preparation For The Coming Of Christ.
Behold the desired of all nations shall come. Give heed and listen, all ye faithful and devout: to what the books of the prophets say of Christ. For it is becoming now in the so holy time of the Lord’s Advent to call to mind more particularly the prophecies that concern the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
For therefore are the writings of the holy prophets concerning Christ daily cited to us in public, namely that hearing the voice of the fathers who have gone before, the whole affection of our heart may be more and more enkindled in the love of the Word Incarnate. O with what desire the holy patriarchs and prophets burned of old concerning only the promise of what was to come.
It is matter of great shame to us if now we are inflamed with less desire towards the presence of Christ shown us in the flesh, when they were so ardent towards the memory only of the Word to be made flesh. Abraham, the father of all the faithful, rejoiced that he might see the day of Christ, Who, as he had foreseen in the spirit, would be born of his stock, and he rejoiced with no little joy, because of the certain hope which he had received of the Christ to be born (John 8.56).
And so also frequently desired the same many other saints of old, who foreknew this by the spirit; longing for the speedy fulfilment of so great a mystery; while we now rejoice that it is accomplished. Which the Lord showed clearly enough when present in the flesh He said to His disciples,
Many kings and prophets have desired to see the things that you see: and have not seen them (Luke 10:24).
Little love therefore he seems to have towards Christ, whoever does not reflect, in the love of his soul, how divine a mystery it is, how great a gift bestowed on man, that Christ willed to be made flesh. However the loving Lord is wont freely to bestow the grace of devotion On them that meditate upon him, who came into this world to give blessing. For Christ is not without unction; nor is Jesus contemplated without sweetness.
Nor can it be doubted that much far-reaching, vast and beautiful matter of holy meditation occurs to earnest minds, which is hidden and remote for the slothful and careless. Because they are not worthy to understand the mysteries of Christ, who do not seek them with humility and desire. Hence He Himself saith to the disciples,
To you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but to the rest in parables (Luke, 8.10).
But the love of Jesus mightily draws His lovers to ruminate on the honied words that flow from His mouth, and to ponder His divine works wrought in the flesh; to weigh which worthily, no times or moments suffice. To such it is customary in whatever their needs and concerns to have recourse to their most beloved friend and consoler, Jesus; because He is the source of all graces and virtues: Who by a mere word and one only nod is able to reform all that is ill-ordered.
And in divers ways they receive comfort from Him; and sometimes they merit very great illuminings of mind who thus devotely and humbly fly to Him. And the more intimately they turn themselves towards Him, so much the more sublime raptures of spirit do they enjoy when visited by Him.
Great pains therefore should be taken on these days of devotion, and some wholesome thought from the law or the prophets should be constantly turned over in the heart concerning the desire of the ancient fathers; concerning the depth of the heavenly mysteries; concerning the revelation of the things to come; but more fully concerning the accomplishment of all the promises.
Frequently also and earnestly must we pray, that our affection may be drawn inwardly to Christ. And the understanding of spiritual things be opened to us with the prophets. For thus shall we be able to make progress in the knowledge, and increase more fully in the virtues, of the Son of God, Who for our salvation deigned to be made man.
What excuse wilt thou be able to offer, my soul, if thou neglectest to ponder so great a grace? What, I say, wilt thou answer Christ in the time to come? If thou hast not been grateful for the so great benefits, wherewith He has honoured thee in preference to so many peoples and tongues. For how many there have been who have not known Christ, and have not heard of Him, how many also who have despised Him and refused to believe.
But to thee it has been given not only to believe and hear, but also to read and understand what things have been written and prophesied concerning Christ. Be thankful therefore to God for the bestowal of such blessings and be diligent in the study of the works of God. Without doubt all is full of spirit and truth; all full of love and sweetness, whatever is written or chanted concerning Christ.
There is no lack of matter to exercise devotion nor of time for sacred meditation. For the books are open, and the discourses of the saints numerous and all things have been well arranged by the fathers in the celebration of the divine offices. What cause therefore hast thou to say, I am not able to meditate well, seeing that so much has been prepared for the consolation of all the faithful?
This winter time also is fully suitable for the exercise of devotion and for acquiring union with the Lord. For though it be cold, still the fire of internal love cannot be hindered, or extinguished. But the nights also longer than wont, give opportunity for longer praying and chanting. So also the bitterness of the storms, the violence and cold of the winds take away occasion of wandering abroad. For all things appear now to say “let each abide with himself and busy himself only with Jesus day and night.”
Let no man therefore go outside the door of his tent, for the season does not suffer; but let him observe the sabbath of the soul and prepare within himself for the Lord the place of a most beautiful dwelling. For the more the outward senses are restrained and collected; so much the more the spirit is free within, and capable of contemplating things divine.
And now there seems to remain nothing more, save the grace and power of the Holy Ghost without which our life is utterly poor, and all man’s diligence of no avail. But if it be present, it quickly bears away to higher things and suffices the lover, even if he knows not letters. To him however that knows letters, the Spirit is necessary for without the spirit the letter is void; as also all prayers are lacking in savour.
Strive therefore after greater devotion in the so holy time of the Advent of the Lord. But especially from that day on which is chanted ” O sapientia,” on the feast of the blessed Lucy, virgin: then the heart and soul are to be raised with greater affection towards Christ, for He it is Whom holy mother Church desires to come. For this exclamation betokens the unbounded desire of the holy prophets, as also the affection of every faithful soul longing for the coming of Christ.
As if amid her ardent prayers she were to say,
O good most loving Jesus, true and eternal wisdom of the Father, Who didst wonderfully create us; come now and, as Thou hast ordained, even more wonderfully save us, fallen. Come to visit us in the prison of the flesh, being born free from the malady of the flesh; that Thy elect may be delivered, whom the weight of sin burdens; and the fear of death heavily oppresses. Come to enlighten the darkness of the world, and purify darkened consciences; so that freed from the chains of sin, we may rejoice in Thy compassion. And raised by Thy grace, be comforted by the hope of good things eternal. Through Thee, Christ Jesus, true light of the soul, born of the Father before the ages.