On Three Useful Instructions for the Following of Christ.
PRAYER BEFORE MEDITATION.
My God, I firmly believe that Thou art here present. I acknowledge that on account of my many sins I am utterly unworthy to appear before Thy sacred countenance. Yet, confiding in Thy infinite goodness and mercy, I venture to address Thee, to call upon Thy holy name, and meditate upon Thy commandments, in order that I may acquire a better knowledge of Thy holy will, and accomplish it with more fidelity. Wherefore enlighten my understanding that I may perceive what I ought to do or leave undone for the promotion of Thy glory and my own salvation; at the same time excite my will, that I may repent with my whole heart of my past sins, and resolve for the future to do all that Thou requirest of me. Grant me above all to know Jesus, my divine Teacher and Guide, more clearly, that I may love Him more dearly, and consequently labor, struggle and suffer with greater generosity and self-sacrifice in imitation of His example. Holy Mary, Mother of God and my Mother, show Jesus to me now, and let me study thy divine Son to the salvation of my soul. Holy Guardian Angel, keep far from me all distracting thoughts; my patron saint, come to my assistance. Amen.
On Three Useful Instructions for the Following of Christ.
Jesus, standing on the shores of the lake of Genesareth, is preparing to enter a boat and cross over to the other side, when a certain Scribe comes up to Him, who has seen with amazement the miracles the Lord wrought in Capharnaum and Bethsaida, and listened with admiration to the doctrines the divine Master taught. He now offers himself to Him, proposing to become His scholar, saying: “Master, I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou shalt go.” (St. Matt. viii. 19.) Keep in sight the scene here depicted while you consider the lessons to be learnt from it.
1st. According to the opinion of St. Paschasius, the Scribe in question did not desire to follow Jesus with an upright heart. It was because he saw that the blessed Saviour was greatly applauded and much sought after, and thought that the people who crowded to hear Him would in their enthusiasm lay money and offerings at His feet, that he determined to follow Jesus, and as His disciple share the credit and the gains of the great Master. But the Lord, who sees the hidden thoughts of the heart, gave him this unexpected answer: “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay His head.” (v. 20.) St. Augustine thus expounds this passage: By these words our Lord intended to say: You come to Me like a sly fox with your crafty calculations, and like a haughty, ambitious bird. You think by following Me to be well provided for, and to build your nest in a high position, but see, the Son of man seeks neither money nor renown, and. he who would follow Him must renounce all desire for both. Contempt, not applause, poverty, not riches, is the lot of the disciples of Jesus. You also, my soul, when you entered the Priesthood or the Religious state, said to Jesus: “Master, I will follow Thee.” Ask yourself now if you were not actuated by motives similar to those of the Scribe in following our Lord; ask yourself whether this may not perhaps even be the cause of your discontent, your continual restlessness, and reflect upon what Jesus says to you in the words of the Imitation (B. i. ch. 17): “The habit and the tonsure contribute little; it is a change of manners and an entire mortification of the passions that make a true Religious. He who seeks any other thing than God only and the salvation of his soul, will find nothing but trouble and sorrow. Thou camest here to serve, not to rule; know that thou art called to suffer and to labor, not to be idle and talkative.”
2d. Consider how immediately after the Scribe another man comes expressing the desire to follow Christ, but he entreats Him: “Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father.” (v. 21.) Our Lord refuses this request, saying: “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their dead.” (v. 22.) He who follows Christ enters upon a new life; for him all is dead which he does not take with him into that new life. Hence he ought to leave the burying of the dead to the dead, that is, to those whom he leaves behind in the world of unbelief where grace does not reign, those who are spiritually dead; whilst he makes it his sole concern to progress in the following of Him who, as St. Gregory says, does not inter those who are physically dead, but raises to life those who are spiritually dead. Lay this teaching to heart, my soul. Let not yourself be deterred by what has the appearance of good, for that is what is signified by burying the dead, from following Christ in a perfect and undivided manner, avoiding above all that which is so hurtful to the Priest and still more to the Religious, in ordinate affection for one’s relatives. Do not mix yourself up in their temporal concerns and circumstances; your heart must belong entirely to God; He will have your undivided affections. How much unrest, how much of detriment to the spiritual life is due to neglect of this teaching. The soul, says St. Basil, is filled with worldly thoughts and becomes indifferent to heavenly things; fervor grows cold, and imperceptibly a man returns to the world which he had abandoned. Sit alone – thus St. Bernard exhorts the monk – “forget thy people and thy father’s house, and the King shall greatly desire thy beauty” (Ps. xliv. 12, 13); and then as we read in the Imitation – “thou wilt have the first perfect relish for God, then likewise wilt thou be well content, whatever befall thee.”
3d. Consider the stern reply which our Lord gave to a third individual, who announced his intention of following Him, but wanted first to take leave of those who were at his house: “No man putting his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (St. Luke ix. 62.) With what terror this answer ought to inspire those Religious who, called to follow Christ, after they have already put their hand to the plough, that is, have begun to follow the evangelical counsels, look back, i.e., entangle themselves again in worldly business, dwell in thought and desire still in the world they have left, and continually cherish the wish to return thither, ostensibly to take leave of it, but really to cling more closely to that which they ought to hate for Christ’s sake. What would happen if you were actually to return to the world after having abandoned it? If, exclaims St. Theophylact, the young man in the Gospel was not permitted even to go and bury his father, woe betide the Religious who returns altogether to the world! If temptations of this nature assail you, if they rest, as in the case of the young man, on apparently good grounds, such as for the sake of supporting your parents, your relatives, reflect upon what we are told in the annals of the Franciscan Order: A monk who was assailed by the temptation to return to secular life on account of his mother being reduced to poverty, cast himself on his knees before the crucifix, and said: “I will not forsake Thee, Lord, I only want to assist my poor mother.” When he had spoken these words, his eyes fixed upon the crucifix, he saw blood trickling from the hands and feet of the figure, and he heard a voice saying to him: “Thou hast cost Me far more than thou didst ever cost thy mother, for I redeemed thee with My own blood. Therefore thou oughtest not to abandon Me for her sake.”
PRAYER AFTER MEDITATION.
My God, I give Thee heartfelt thanks for all the graces and all the light Thou hast conferred on me during this meditation. Pardon me all the negligence and the distractions of which I have been guilty, and give me strength to carry out the resolutions that I have made. Fortify me, that from henceforth I may diligently practise this virtue . . . avoid this fault . . . perform this action . . . to Thy honor. Help me to do this, sweet Virgin Mary; and if I ever forget my good resolutions, I entreat my Angel Guardian to recall them to my memory. Amen.
– Meditations on the Life, Teaching, and Passion of Jesus Christ
(Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur: New York, December 31, 1900)
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