Chapter 21 – Sorrow of Heart
Sorrow of Heart
XXI Sorrow of Heart (download pdf)
“It is wonderful,” says Thomas a Kempis, “that any man can abandon himself wholly to joy in this life, when he considereth and weigheth his exile and the dangers of his soul.” Represent to yourself Jesus, your model. Can you think of him as laughing immoderately, breaking out into fits of unusual mirth, as we are sometimes apt to do? No. We behold our Saviour, both as a child, and as a grown man, always steady, earnest, and quiet. He was meek, friendly, and full of the most winning love, certainly: but withal, His countenance ever wore an expression of thoughtful earnestness, and His outward manner, though calm and gentle, bespoke a certain mournfulness of spirit. The gospels nowhere tell us that Jesus laughed, or even smiled; but we read that He wept now and then, maybe frequently. He had a great work to perform—to suffer and die for the redemption of mankind; and yet He knew that, in spite of His efforts to save them, so many, very many, would be lost forever. Hence, that sorrow of His heart, those tears He shed. It well becomes a follower of Jesus, therefore, to be sorrowful of heart. Yes, our Lord even gives this as one of the signs by which we can tell whether or not we are His followers. “Blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted.” And to His apostles He says—words, as it were, expressing His bequest to them: “Amen, amen, I say to you, that you shall lament and weep; but the world shall rejoice.” However, you must understand this aright. It is not said that you must always keep your spirit under pressure; that you must always mourn, and sigh, and weep; that you dare never be cheerful, dare never laugh, nor play, nor enjoy yourself in any way. Holy Scripture says: “There is a time to weep, and a time to laugh.” And The Following of Christ, speaking to us about the sorrow we ought to have in our hearts, tells, us, in the same chapter, where we can find true liberty and joy—“in the fear of God with a good conscience.” What should you do, therefore? In your dealings with others you must try to be kind, cheerful, and, as we would say, gentlemanly. Your looks, your features, all your actions should be such as to express the kindness and charity of your heart. Take care, also, not to go to extremes, never to be wantonly gay, nor unduly sorrowful. But for yourself, you must also cultivate a spirit of holy earnestness and sorrow of heart—in which Jesus sets such a good example. What are the motives that might tend to make us earnest-minded and sorrowful of heart? There are plenty of such motives. Consider, for instance, the misery of this world. Bodily, we are subject to sickness and pains and troubles of every kind. The greatest and last misery in this world is death. As to our souls, there are so many dangers and temptations to sin; the enemies that hate us and try to bring us to ruin are so watchful and cunning—you know we are never sure, even for one moment, but we may lose God, our souls, heaven, everything. Wherever we turn our eyes, we see so much wickedness, so much misery caused by sin—the poor oppressed by the rich, the righteous persecuted by the unjust. Who must not feel sad a heart, who would not rather sigh and weep than laugh and be joyful, when he sees and considers all this misery? Dionysius, the tyrant of Syracuse, one day invited a certain man, named Damocles, to come to his palace and be a guest at his table. Damocles had tried by flatteries to gain the king’s favor. He had praised him greatly for his wisdom and justice, extolled his power and riches, and therefore he hoped the king would reward him by making him one of the first officers in his kingdom. You may imagine what were the man’s expectations when the king sent him this invitation. Damocles came. First he had to change his clothes: he was clad in the finest, richest garments, like the king himself. Then he was led into the large dining hall, where he was given a place next to the king. The table was loaded with victuals and beverages most costly and delicious—more than ever he could have imagined or desired. Besides, he was honored by the other guest and servants as if he were the king’s own brother. Damocles was happy for once: yes, a regular sea of happiness, he thought it! In the midst of his pleasure, however, there comes a sudden terror. He just happens, once, to raise his eyes to the ceiling. What is the matter? He turns pale; he can eat no more, nor drink; he trembles in all the limbs of his body. There, right above his head, hangs a sharp, heavy sword; it hangs on a horsehair, only a horsehair! If the hair breaks the sword will fall and split his head. “Do you see now, Damocles, what it is to be king? I am not safe for one hour; any moment death and ruin may overtake me,” said Dionysius. This, my dear little follower of Jesus, is a picture of the vain and sinful joys of the world.