16 March, Desert XIX: Detached lives

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In the hands of the wicked

Revisiting ‘The Imitation of Christ’ after many years, in my Grandmother’s 1936 edition, I realise that it is very self-centred. Here Thomas A Kempis takes the Desert Fathers and Mothers as examples of the Christian life; ‘They hated their lives on earth that they might have life in eternity. ‘ Is that what the Lord asks of us? Do we have to be strangers to the world in order to be intimate friends of God? I think not. Walking in charity and patience surely demands that we live in the world, and love the people in it and indeed the whole of creation, and our own life in it. Loving God’s creation which we can see, is to love the God we cannot see. Love of creation, rather than contempt for it, will bring us back from the brink of destruction. But here is The Imitation: I hope the time spent reading it is profitable!

Consider the lively examples set us by the saints, who possessed the light of true perfection and religion, and you will see how little, how nearly nothing, we do. What, alas, is our life, compared with theirs?

The saints and friends of Christ served the Lord in hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness, in work and fatigue, in vigils and fasts, in prayers and holy meditations, in persecutions and many afflictions. How many and severe were the trials they suffered — the Apostles, martyrs, confessors, virgins, and all the rest who willed to follow in the footsteps of Christ! They hated their lives on earth that they might have life in eternity.

How strict and detached were the lives the holy hermits led in the desert! …  They used all their time profitably; every hour seemed too short for serving God, and in the great sweetness of contemplation, they forgot even their bodily needs …

Strangers to the world, they were close and intimate friends of God. To themselves they seemed as nothing, and they were despised by the world, but in the eyes of God they were precious and beloved. They lived in true humility and simple obedience; they walked in charity and patience, making progress daily on the pathway of spiritual life and obtaining great favour with God. They were given as an example for all religious, and their power to stimulate us to perfection ought to be greater than that of the lukewarm to tempt us to laxity.

Taken from the translation by Aloysius Croft and Harold Bolton, Digitized by Harry Plantinga, planting@cs.pitt.edu, 1994. This etext is in the public domain.



Filed under Daily Reflections, Lent

2 responses to “16 March, Desert XIX: Detached lives

  1. This kind of language about Saints, saying that “they hated their lives on earth,” does seem to give the wrong understanding of Christian faith. Some words of St. Teresa of Avila can also be taken the wrong way, I’ve noticed lately in reading Interior Castle.

    God gave us our earthly lives. Should we hate the gift that God has given?

    The desire to live in the eternal bliss of Heaven may indeed make life on our imperfect Earth seem loathsome in comparison. But is it right to hate one’s earthly life in order to ultimately live in eternal glory? Is it not better to see the terrible beauty of God’s Creation and His love for every creature here and now? God put us here for a reason and that reason, surely, is not to bemoan and hate our existence here — it’s to experience God’s love and share that love with others. “Judge wisely the things of earth,” indeed. But hate?

    I think what is being spoken of by many Saints is the power of redemptive suffering and prayer for others’ souls. Perhaps, I have less faith in this power than in the power of hands-on charity. God only knows and is, thankfully, merciful. Having said that, however, with Thomas a Kempis I can say, yes, let us work tirelessly, neither for our own comfort nor, I would add, for our own eternal reward. Let us focus on the other and help our neighbor to experience God’s love in the gift of life that is lived NOW and fulfilled eternally. (And may God have mercy on each and every one of us for not working as hard as we could.)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Or indeed have mercy when we do not stop and take the rest that we need, and burn ourselves out, thus letting people down more than if we’d not overdone it.


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