Monday, August 11, 2014

The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas à Kempis. Book 1, Chapter 22: Of the contemplation of human misery

Of the contemplation of human misery

Thou art miserable wheresoever thou art, and whithersoever thou
turnest, unless thou turn thee to God.  Why art thou disquieted
because it happeneth not to thee according to thy wishes and
desires?  Who is he that hath everything according to his will?
Neither I, nor thou, nor any man upon the earth.  There is no man
in the world free from trouble or anguish, though he were King or
Pope.  Who is he who hath the happiest lot?  Even he who is
strong to suffer somewhat for God.
There are many foolish and unstable men who say, “See what a
prosperous life that man hath, how rich and how great he is, how
powerful, how exalted.”  But lift up thine eyes to the good
things of heaven, and thou shalt see that all these worldly
things are nothing, they are utterly uncertain, yea, they are
wearisome, because they are never possessed without care and
fear.  The happiness of man lieth not in the abundance of
temporal things but a moderate portion sufficeth him.  Our life
upon the earth is verily wretchedness.  The more a man desireth
to be spiritual, the more bitter doth the present life become to
him; because he the better understandeth and seeth the defects of
human corruption.  For to eat, to drink, to watch, to sleep, to
rest, to labour, and to be subject to the other necessities of
nature, is truly a great wretchedness and affliction to a devout
man, who would fain be released and free from all sin.
For the inner man is heavily burdened with the necessities of
the body in this world.  Wherefore the prophet devoutly prayeth
to be freed from them, saying, Deliver me from my necessities, O
Lord. [Psalm 25:17]  But woe to those who know not their own misery, and yet
greater woe to those who love this miserable and corruptible
life.  For to such a degree do some cling to it (even though by
labouring or begging they scarce procure what is necessary for
subsistence) that if they might live here always, they would care
nothing for the Kingdom of God.
Oh foolish and faithless of heart, who lie buried so deep in
worldly things, that they relish nothing save the things of the
flesh!  Miserable ones!  they will too sadly find out at the
last, how vile and worthless was that which they loved.  The
saints of God and all loyal friends of Christ held as nothing the
things which pleased the flesh, or those which flourished in
this life, but their whole hope and affection aspired to the
things which are above.  Their whole desire was borne upwards to
everlasting and invisible things, lest they should be drawn
downwards by the love of things visible.
Lose not, brother, thy loyal desire of progress to things
spiritual.  There is yet time, the hour is not past.  Why wilt
thou put off thy resolution?  Arise, begin this very moment, and
say, “Now is the time to do: now is the time to fight, now is the
proper time for amendment.”  When thou art ill at ease and
troubled, then is the time when thou art nearest unto blessing.
Thou must go through fire and water that God may bring thee into
a wealthy place.  Unless thou put force upon thyself, thou wilt
not conquer thy faults.  So long as we carry about with us this
frail body, we cannot be without sin, we cannot live without
weariness and trouble.  Gladly would we have rest from all
misery; but because through sin we have lost innocence, we have
lost also the true happiness.  Therefore must we be patient, and
wait for the mercy of God, until this tyranny be overpast,
and this mortality be swallowed up of life.
Oh how great is the frailty of man, which is ever prone to
evil!  Today thou confessest thy sins, and tomorrow thou
committest again the sins thou didst confess.  Now dost thou
resolve to avoid a fault, and within an hour thou behavest
thyself as if thou hadst never resolved at all.  Good cause have
we therefore to humble ourselves, and never to think highly of
ourselves, seeing that we are so frail and unstable.  And quickly
may that be lost by our negligence, which by much labour was
hardly attained through grace.
What shall become of us at the end, if at the beginning we are
lukewarm and idle?  Woe unto us, if we choose to rest, as though
it were a time of peace and security, while as yet no sign
appeareth in our life of true holiness.  Rather had we need that
we might begin yet afresh, like good novices, to be instructed
unto good living, if haply there might be hope of some future
amendment and greater spiritual increase.

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