Wednesday, May 28, 2014
My Imitation of Christ
No, I’m not writing a review of this great book by Thomas a’ Kempis --- none of my words would be adequate to summarize one of the world’s most popular books --- ever, which is as popular today as when it was written 500 years ago. No, I mention this book merely in a continuation on my earlier meditations about the necessity of our being open to the opportunities God gives us to love our neighbor. But in those earlier thoughts I neglected to consider one very important thing: we also need to be open to opportunities God gives us to love ourselves.
If you’ve read my earlier words about how self-love, narcissism, is one of the major problems of our society today, you may read these latest words and think: “That’s it. He’s cracked up. He says self-love is an evil, but now he says we need to be open to opportunities God gives us to love ourselves? He’s getting confused in his old age.” Well, that may be so, but let me explain.
The Second (great) Commandment Jesus gave us was to “love your neighbor as yourself.” I explained how loving ourselves is something we naturally do; our culture’s problem today is that we are FOCUSED on loving ourselves, making that a priority over even loving God or neighbor. Our love of self IS in our nature, but that is only because our nature comes from God; we are created in His image. He, in the Trinity, loves Self. Our natural self-love comes from Him. He loved us first, that we might love others.
My copy of Thomas a’ Kempis’ book, The Imitation of Christ, lay on my family room coffee table, untouched, for at least the past 10 years. I only picked it up recently again because I was out of new reading material --- a rare thing for me. I’d only just started reading it again when at this morning’s mass in his homily the priest said these words: “Let me give you a quote from a great book you should read, My Imitation of Christ …”
And at his words I looked down at the book sitting in the pew next to me, that book which I hadn’t touched in 10 years, and which was being recommended to me the day I picked it up.
And then I suddenly recalled another day, long, long ago, when I also had run out of reading material. Then, with nothing else available, I picked up a book which also had lain on my coffee table for years, untouched, unread, --- ever. And at that time I opened that book and began reading it: Genesis, Chapter 1.
As I read it, I found the Bible to be an interesting and compelling book; I began to rise an hour early each morning to continue reading it, until I had read it through. I now look back and view that time as an opportunity God gave me to love myself, and to accept His love by knowing Him more. While I think of my trip to Medjugorje as my conversion story, the time when “the Light” went on in me, I think of that time I first read the Bible as the foundation for my acceptance of God’s call to make that Medjugorje trip. My opening of that Bible was my acceptance of God’s call to love myself.
Paul’s words, It is not I but Christ who lives in me, should be our words also, but we need to let Christ get into our hearts before we can say those words with meaning. Paul was thrown off a horse; I think our conversion opportunities or our opportunities to grow in holiness are likely much less dramatic, and we must be open to them. A book that sits on your bookshelf, or one that’s given to you or recommended by a friend, or your family Bible that “decorates” your coffee table --- these may be opportunities. Or if you are not inclined to read, then what about that Christian movie you heard about, or that roadside sign you noticed which read: “Did you take the time to pray today?” All these may be opportunities God gives you to love yourself, by accepting His love, learning from His life, learning how to truly LIVE life, and making a difference in this world.
I’ve often spoken of how much I value the book My Other Self, by Clarence Enzler. I have given away perhaps hundreds of copies of it, and leave a copy in every adoration chapel I visit. (And often replace it as people take the book home, unable to put it down.) In Enzler’s book, he writes in the first person, as Jesus talking to the reader. It is a striking book, and modeled after Kempis’ book. Looking back, it now almost seems funny, that I gave all those Enzler books away, when I’ve never given away a copy of Kempis’ book.
But I think I’ll accept this opportunity, which seems to have been given me, to change that, and will give others a chance to know Christ’s love through Mr. Kempis’ book, which I shall place in adoration chapels and routinely have on hand to give away – if the opportunity arises.
It’s just a little thing I’d be doing, but who knows, it might change the world --- for someone.