Chapter 25 – Amend Your Life
XXV Amend Your Life (click to download)
We now come to chapter the twenty-fifth, and that closes the first book of The Following of Christ. Let us hold a short review of what we have gone through so far; it will freshen things a little in our memories.
We began by laying out the road for you. Your intention is to be a follower of Jesus: then, walk after your Saviour, who goes before you, and take care lest you be misled by the vain, deceitful promises of the World.
The foundation you must build on is humility. Thomas a Kempis lays great stress on this. He treats on this virtue in an extra chapter; and off and on, all through the first book, he calls our attention to it. We need not imagine that we will ever become true followers of Jesus, unless we strive to be humble. Let us not forget this.
You need a teacher and guide: Jesus Himself wants to be both for you. You remember yet, I suppose, what you were told about the different ways in which Jesus can speak to us.
Jesus teaches you, and He confirms His doctrine by giving you His own example, that, besides humility, the fundamental virtue, there are some other virtues you must try earnestly to acquire and practise—prudence, mortification, obedience, patience, chastity, love for solitude, silence, and a wholesome sorrow of heart. There are particular faults you must guard against: avoid evil companions, watch your tongue, do not judge rashly, and so on.
Some of the means that you must use to perfect yourself—acquire the above-named virtues, and to avoid the faults mentioned—are the following: good reading, spiritual guidance from a good confessor, being watchful, so as to resist every temptation in the very beginning, imitation of the saints, faithfulness in the performance of your daily prayers and religious exercises, and lastly, frequent meditation on our last end death, judgment, heaven, hell. One very important thing is: you must pray much, even now, that God may point out to you your vocation, and lead you into it, and that He may keep you from entering a wrong one. So much for the repetition.
Our Lord says to His disciples: “Amen, I say unto you, unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Must we not all confess that we are very far from being like little children? It is necessary for us, therefore, to concert ourselves: and what a work that will be for most of us!
How good, how innocent, how holy is such a child—one in whose heart the grace and love of God dwell, and on which the blight sin has not yet fallen! St. Hilary, one of the holy Fathers, may tell us how such a child is, and what it does: “The child,” he says, “obeys its father, loves its mother, knows nothing of ill-will against its neighbour; it cares not for riches; it does not show itself proud, neither does it bear hatred, nor tell lies; it believes what others say, and takes as true what it hears.”
Well, then, my little followers of Christ, shall we not set to work earnestly to change and amend our lives? Yes, certainly. Here are a few points we must try to remember:-
First: we must study our own natures—mortify ourselves in what we are unduly inclined to, and strive after the good we stand most in need of. Secondly: We should imitate the good we see in others and avoid carefully what does not please us in their ways and actions. Thirdly: again and again we must set Jesus before our eyes, to meditate on His life, and to imitate Him. “Whosoever,” says Thomas a Kempis, “exerciseth himself earnestly and devoutly in the most holy life and passion of our Lord, shall find there abundantly all that is necessary and useful for him; nor need he seek out of Jesus for anything better.”
Fourthly: we must frequently renew our good resolutions. We must not lose courage when we find sometimes that we have forgotten them, and, therefore, have fallen back into our old faults. We must be sorry for what we have done, and make our resolution over again—not lightly, carelessly, but considerately, and in earnest.
There was a boy once who was very careless. He was good-hearted, yet he gave his parents much trouble. Often they corrected and admonished him; and he promised to do better, promised sincerely. But he was naturally so careless that his promises were soon forgotten.
One day, as he was skipping about the room, he bumped his head against a large, costly picture hanging on the wall, and knocked it down. The noise brought his father in, and the little boy was terribly frightened.
“Such carelessness! You only make promises to break them!” exclaimed the father.
“Forgive me this once, dearest father,” said the boy, weeping. “I will never be careless again. Let me get a hammer to drive the nail in; and then I will hang up the picture again.”
The boy brought the hammer, and having given the nail a few blows with it, he wanted to hang up the picture.
“This carelessness again!” said the father. “Whatever you do, you do only lightly, superficially. Shall the picture fall day again?” And he took the hammer himself, and drove in the nail with many strong blows, till it stuck fast in the wall. “The same must be done with your good resolutions and promises as was done with this nail,” remarked the father. “If they are to stick and hold tight, they must be driven deep into your heart. Pray to God; He will help you to strike the blows.” Do you see, dear children? It is thus we ought to make our good resolutions.
Lastly, we should often consider: the work is difficult, it is true, but les us persevere. A great reward will come hereafter. “Thou shalt labour a little now,” says Thomas a Kempis, “and thou shalt find great rest, yea, everlasting joy.”
I conclude with another passage from The Following of Christ: “Watch over thyself, stir up thyself, admonish thyself, and whatever may become of others, neglect not thyself. In proportion as thou dost violence to thyself, the greater progress wilt thou make. Amen.”