Friday, July 24, 2009

The Little Green Book

Commenting on The Imitation of Christ [a 14th century work by Thomas à Kempis], the famous Monsignor Ronald Knox (who read a chapter every day) wrote: “...if a man tells you that he is fond of The Imitation, view him with sudden suspicion; he is either a dabbler—or a saint.” Well, I don't at all consider myself a dabbler or a saint by any stretch of the imagination! But my extreme fondness through the years of the Imitation dates back to 1950 or 1951 when my mother bought me a little green hardcover book from the Catholic Supply store in downtown Dayton, OH for my 13th or 14th birthday. The title was embossed in simple gold letters: The Imitation of Christ. I have no idea how my mother learned about it or what motivated her to buy it for me. But her serendipity purchase of my first spiritual book, other than the Bible, profoundly impacted my spiritual development for the years to come. When I entered Brunnerdale Seminary, staffed by the Precious Blood Fathers and Brothers, in 1951 the little green book came with me and was used for meditation and prayer many, many times, along with the work of another "Thomas", Thomas Merton, the Seeds of Contemplation. Both accompanied me through the time I left the priesthood in 1968. Regrettably, in a careless gesture of divesting myself of some of my "baggage" in a later move, the little green book was left behind. That being in the late '60's, I probably had become enamored of a much more liberal distaste for some of the "old stuff", a position I recanted, so to speak, in later years when I grew more mature in God's wisdom and grace! I've often pined for the little green book, wondering into whose possession it may have passed, hoping and praying that his/her life may have been enriched as much or more than mine. As Providence arranged it, the illustrated copy of the Imitation, published by the Confraternity of the Precious Blood in 1954, which I purchased for my mother and which was among her belongings after her death in 2003, passed on to me. I still have it and refer to it from time to time, along with a newer edition , in "plain English", by William C. Creasy and published by Ave Maria Press in 2004.

For a thorough account of Thomas Hemerken's life, I suggest consulting Fr. John Julian's new book: Stars in a Dark World.

I'd have to say that my favorite sections of The Imitation of Christ are: Book 1: Useful Reminders for the Spiritual Life, Chapters 1 "Of the Imitation of Christ"; 4 "Of Thinking Before You Act; 7 "Of Avoiding Empty Hope and Self-Praise; 11 "Of Finding Peace and Making Spiritual Progress; 16 "Of Putting Up with Others' Faults; 20 "Of the Love of Solitude and Silence; 21 "Of Heartfelt Remorse; 23 "Of Thinking about Death; Book 2: Suggestions Drawing One toward the Inner Life, Chapters 2 "Of Placing Your Life in God's Hands; 3 "Of the Good and Peaceful Person"; 7 "Of Loving Jesus above All Else"; 10 "Of Gratitude for God's Grace"; 12 "Of the Royal Road of the Holy Cross"; Book 3: Of Innter Comfort, Chapters 2 "That Truth Speaks Quietly to the Heart"; 4 "That We Should Live in God's Presence in Truth and Humility"; 6 "Of the Proof of a True Lover"; 10 "Of How Good It Is to Serve God"; 15 "Of What We Are to Do and Say About Our Desires"; 19 "Of Bearing Injuries and the Proof of True Patience"; 21 "That We Should Rest in God above All Else"; 25 "Of True Peace of Heart"; 37 "Of Gaining a Free Heart through Total Self-Surrender"; Book 4: The Book on the Sacrament, Chapters 2 "What Great Goodness and Love God Shows to Us in This Sacrament"; 5 "The Dignity of the Sacrament and of the Priesthood"; 9 "That We Ought to Offer Ourselves and All That is Ours to God, and That We Ought to Pray for All Others"; 13 "That a Devout Soul Should Wish Wholeheartedly to Be United with Christ in the Sacrament".

In the nearly 60 years since I was introduced to Thomas à Kempis' Imitation of Christ, God's grace has led me to realize that Thomas pretty much summarized what he had to say in the opening lines of my little green book:

" 'Anyone who follows me shall not walk in darkness,'
says the Lord. These are the words of Christ, and by them we are reminded
that we must imitate his life and his ways if we are to be truly enlightened and set free
from the darkness of our own hearts. Let it be the most important thing we do, then,
to reflect on the life of Jesus Christ.

Christ's teaching surpasses all the teachings of the saints, and the person who has his spirit
will find hidden nourishment in his words.
Yet, many people, even after hearing scripture read so often, lack a deep longing for it,
for they do not have the spirit of Christ.
Anyone who wishes to understand Christ's words and to savor them fully
should strive to become like him in every way...

...This is the highest wisdom: to see the world as it truly is, fallen and fleeting;
to love the world not for its own sake, but for God's;
and to direct all your effort toward achieving the kingdom of heaven."

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