Chapter 19 – Exercises of a Good Christian
Exercises of a Good Christian
“The Following of Christ,” in this chapter, treats on “The Exercises of a Good Religious.” Our title is a little different in one word. Instead of “Religious” we put “Christian.”
If you have the book, or can easily get it, I would advise you, before you proceed any further in reading this, to read that chapter in The Following of Christ. It is a chapter the nineteenth of book the first. There is so much said there that I cannot repeat here. Read it slowly. Pause after every verse and ponder it. Indeed, it is worth think over: every verse—so true—is of more worth than gold!
Now, let us go on. A good Christian means a good follower of Christ. It is you purpose, is it not, to become a good, true follower of Jesus? Then, look ahead! Jesus goes before you: keep up your courage and push on after you Saviour.
Here are a few rules, together with some points of good advice.
First: you must have a constant desire to become better, to get up nearer to Jesus. You must pray for this desire every day; pray that it may not get weaker, but rather increase in strength from day to day. “This is our life,” says St. Augustine: “to make progress in virtue by continual desire.” And St. Bernard says: “He that will not go forward, without doubt begins to go backward.”
Secondly: you must not be satisfied with having a general desire for perfection. You ought to have a special good resolution every morning to strive after perfection; to make good use of the means that will help you forward; to avoid all that might hinder you. “As our purpose is,” says Thomas a Kempis, “so will our progress be: and there is need of much diligence for him that wisheth to advance much.”
Thirdly: with this general desire and special purpose, you must unite those exercises that all good Christians who are earnest about their salvation undertake and perform. First come morning and evening prayers. I hope your parents have introduced it as a rule in the family, and have it observed strictly every day, to say morning and evening prayers together, parents and children. If not, you must do it alone for yourself. You need not expect that you will ever become a true follower of Jesus, unless you are punctual in this, saying your morning and night prayers! Next comes the daily examination of your conscience. Do that in the evening, before you retire to bed. Especially examine yourself as to your prevailing passion, or strongest evil inclination. After the examination, never fail to make an act of contrition. The acts of faith, hope and charity you might make in the morning, as part of your morning prayers. But do not fail to make them every day.
You should also receive the sacraments—go to confession and Holy Communion often,–at least once a month.
Lastly, I would advise you to make a resolution every morning to do something particular that day which will be pleasing to God. Once you might resolve to say certain short, ejaculatory prayers frequently during the day, to keep you mindful of the presence of God; another time you might resolve to mortify your appetite a little, or to guard yourself more carefully against a certain fault, or to keep silence more, or to practise little works of charity, and so on.
See, my children, these are some—only a few—of the exercises of a good Christian. What will you do, then?
You say: “It is so hard to keep one’s self always tied down to such practices!” I say to myself; it is a hard task. But just think: what will be your reward one day? A farmer, on his death—bed, called his sons together, and said to them:
“Listen, my children: somewhere on the farm that I leave you there lies in the hidden ground a ground a great treasure. Set to work and hunt for it; if you find it you will be rich.” The sons worked diligently. Every year, for a long period, they plow and work their farm hopes of finding the treasure. Did they find it? Yes; but not as they had expected. The farm, as fruit of the work done on it, produced the richest harvests; and in a few years the brothers were well-to-do. Do you understand the meaning of this parable? And can you make the application?
Pray often with Thomas a Kempis: “Help me, O Lord God, in my good purpose, and in Thy holy service; and grant that I may this day begin indeed, since what I have hitherto done is nothing.”